Digital Scanner Pens

Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting.
Edmund Burke

A reader recommended using a scanner pen to digitize passages from books (thank you Amy :-)). Personally, I haven’t tried it, but it looks like a useful way to digitize text without damaging the book.

Amy writes about this (Ectaco C-Pen. 3.0 Multilingual Handheld OCR Scanner Pen) scanner pen:

I looked into several, and my model is not Bluetooth enabled, so I have to have a USB cable tethered. It’s a nuisance, but 1) it was cheaper to test a new gadget I might not keep and 2) some reviewers say the Bluetooth is spotty — that you have to “finish” a scan within 15 seconds or the connection gets garbled. But since the software concatenates line-break-hyphens, I can scan over about 10 lines, or a full paragraph without stopping if I wanted. But the Bluetooth would be handy when space is tight, like on a plane.

It’s been very useful. I find I can “highlight” even faster than I could with a regular highlighter and it still keeps up with me. It’s not good for very large print (like large chapter titles) but I usually scan the running heads, instead of the first page of the chapter. I also quickly scan over the page number so I don’t have to type it.

I read a mix of library books, preprints and printed magazines/newspapers, and have found it very quick for the collecting phase. You might like it.

I have to try it out if I start reading books on paper again, and I agree, it would be very helpful for magazines or other material. While some libraries have copy machines that quickly produce PDFs instead of paper copies, this is not commonly available in other places. In a pinch, you can simple take a photo (cellphone cameras usually have the resolution for it) and then either type the text or try OCR (can work when you open the graphic in Acrobat and run OCR). My “blind-spot” Evernote might also facilitate getting the text (but I don’t use it).

But the pen looks like an interesting solution if you want to have the OCR text quickly (but probably always with some editing). And if you need to digitize passages from books you don’t own, you might want to look into this pen.

Update: Amy just wrote me that she has put a video online (at Amazon), showing her using the scanner pen. It looks really nice and I see the advantages compared to an App. You have the text immediately on your computer and can directly work with it. OCR and all, and focused on the relevant text. Not to mention that taking photos in a library is not something I recommend. You need some distance to the book and the light is usually not that good.


  1. Scanner software for mobile makes this obsolete. It is really good, at least for iOS Apple products. It takes a picture automatically; all you do is flip the pages.
    . Plus it is $5 or less, and is always with you. Try it.

  2. Hoi Roger,

    thank you for the tip, and I agree that it is an alternative, esp. one you carry with you where ever you go. And I did use it and continue to use it. (Usually just taking photos and working with it later.)

    But I also think that the scanner pen does have some advantages. You can focus directly on the interesting passages, not taking a photo from a distance, and you get the text directly on your notebook. Sure, you can likely do the same with an App, if the app allows you to automatically send the text to the Mac. But I see the advantages of a workflow using the scanner pen.

    BTW, any App you’d like to recommend?

  3. I have a bunch of scanner apps on my iPad, because I have not taken the time to compare them fully. Scanner Pro works great. $5 and there is a free version that is decent also. I also try Scannable (comes with Evernote, and seems best for that), Genius Scan, and JotNot Pro.
    I am still exploring this ability. I have tried copying entire 40 page booklets this way, and it definitely works better than using a flatbed scanner. But I want to streamline the post-processing further.

    BTW thanks for this blog. I am currently trying to switch to Devonthink, and your blog is invaluable.

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