Going from Paper to iPad: How to Digitize Stuff

Discussion in 'iPad' started by palpatine, Jul 26, 2011.

  1. palpatine, Jul 26, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2011

    palpatine macrumors 68040

    May 3, 2011
    I've gotten a few questions from people in the past about how to digitize textbooks and other materials, and how to make these useful, so I thought I would post a thread about it here. The iPad is a wonderful device for a paperless life. Some of you are headed to school soon and might find this timely advice. It's long, but perhaps helpful (stop carrying around textbooks). If you have any methods, please suggest them!

    1. a computer
    2. a scanning device
    3. a tablet reader

    I have a Macbook Pro 2011 13" with 8GB RAM, but any computer will do. Processing scans requires quite a bit of power, and the more powerful your computer is the better. Ideally, at this point you will settle on one operating system, because the software can start to get expensive if you are buying for two. Obviously, everyone has their own personal preference, but I found the 13" to be the most affordable computer for what I wanted to do: dual core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM costs less than the Macbook Air while providing more power, more RAM, and more HDD memory. There are tradeoffs, of course (resolution, no SSD, etc.), but I value power over portability. The Macbook Pro 15" is considerably more expensive, and supplies far more power than I really need.*

    I use three methods. The most inexpensive is a high quality point and shoot camera (I use the Canon SD 1400 IS) + *a tripod. This is also the fastest method to scan materials, but OCR sometimes isn't quite as accurate as it is with regular scanners. Basically, with this method you convert the camera into a scanner by propping up the tripod and pointing the camera at a book. For best results, you'll want lots of even lighting. I prefer a sunlight room, but you could purchase special lamps if you'd like, or if you google online, you can find all sorts of diy enthusiasts who have built fabulous contraptions that work the same way as professional digitizing equipment. Here is a link to a setup I use with just a coathanger, tripod, and camera.

    You could also purchase a scanner. The ScanSnap by Fujitsu is quite strudy, portable, and easy to use. It will apparently even scan, do OCR, and send your notes to Evernote for you. The only drawback to this is that it obviously will not scan books unless you tear off the spines, and large documents (B4) will not fit, so you have to cut those in half. Also, the PDF software version will do basic stuff, but ONLY with the documents scanned by ScanSnap, so it is not a fully functioning program like Adobe Acrobat Pro.

    You could also use an office quality scanner/copy machine. Most of these have a large variety of settings so that you can create great images of books (lay flat, black and white, 600 dpi, low/no compression) or you can feed paper through the top feeder just as you would with the ScanSnap (except faster). You might be able to gain access to one of these at your workplace, school, or copy center, but I think they are too expensive for regular folks to buy.

    Reading on the computer is not much fun. Of course, you can, and I do, but only for short durations. I don't know of anyone who regularly reads entire books or articles on it. So, as nice as the Macbook Air or Macbook Pro is, I think to take full advantage of your digital life, you'll need some way to read it. I recommend the iPad. Occasionally, files sometimes cause trouble, because they contain incompatible elements (or perhaps require too much RAM), so if you have Adobe Acrobat Pro, you just optimize the files for an earlier version of Adobe and they work fine.

    1. Adobe Acrobat Pro (maybe)
    2. A PDF reader (for iPad)

    When you scan materials, you end up with files of some sort that need to be combined, OCR'd (optical character recognition), and occasionally optimized for use with the iPad. I have found Adobe Acrobat Pro to be perfect for the task. It is expensive in the wild, but if you can find one with a student discount, then it is reasonable (under 100). You could conceivably get away with avoiding this purchase if you get the ScanSnap scanner.

    I prefer GoodReader.

    1. take notes by hand with paper and pen (i remember better this way)
    2. read on iPad (everything is digitized)
    3. write papers on iPad (first drafts and revisions--final drafts usually need to be completed on the computer)

    Most days I don't carry a backpack. I carry a manly bag (otherwise known as a murse--the Waterfield Vertigo) that holds my iPad, my bluetooth keyboard in its Incase Origami sleeve, my BookGem book stand, and my iPod Touch. And, because everything is digitized in my life, I have my entire personal library and all of my papers accessible anywhere I go.

    This hardware can work together in several ways, but one I particularly like is to put the iPad on the BookGem stand, the iPod on the Origami stand, and pair the keyboard up with the iPod so that I can take notes/write while reading or looking up information using the iPad.

    I have often thought about getting an 11" Macbook Air, because that would easily fit in the bag, but to be honest, it is totally unnecessary for me right now. I prefer the iPad because of it's flexibility--consumption (reading) or creation (writing) depending on where I am and what I want to do that day.

    My goal is to carry as little as possible, while getting as many things done as possible, and at this system seems to be working really well at the moment.
  2. Agent-P macrumors 68030


    Dec 5, 2009
    The Tri-State Area
    Very nicely written. I am planning on doing exactly this when the school year starts again this fall. However, I am skipping the step of writing notes on paper and then scanning them by purchasing a stylus and downloading an app that'll convert my handwriting to text notes. I haven't found an app that suits me yet, but I'm still looking. Until then, I will stick to typing notes on my MacBook Pro keyboard. Also, I am planning on getting all my textbooks in e-book form. Then I will have very minimal items to carry around campus (iPad + MBP in my bag and smartphone in my pocket).
  3. seajay96 macrumors 6502

    Jun 26, 2010
    Have you tried WritePad? Great handwriting recognition and 2 way sync with Evernote.
  4. CHSeifert macrumors 6502


    Dec 28, 2010
    Copenhagen, Denmark - Scandinavia
    Thanks to the OP for this informative post !!

    I plan on taking photos of all my study books to avoid having to carry them around. Will then use a PDF reader on my iPad 2.

    But I also plan to take all my note on MBA 13 - so no pen & paper for me :)

    Why do you carry an iPod Touch with instead of the iPhone 4 ?
  5. sumone macrumors regular

    Mar 23, 2011
    :eek: I didn't know Apple made Macbook Pros in 2001.

    But in all seriousness great tips. I plan on getting an iPad for this upcoming school year. I wasn't planning to digitalize everything but I think this semester, especially since i'm commuting, I might give it a shot.
  6. CHSeifert macrumors 6502


    Dec 28, 2010
    Copenhagen, Denmark - Scandinavia
    Hell, I wasn't even born in 2001 :D
  7. palpatine thread starter macrumors 68040

    May 3, 2011
    LOL. I had to go back and edit that. I had a Sony Vaio and an iMac in 2001.

    Thanks everyone for the kind comments. I had bookshelves of binders with carefully organized notes and many more bookshelves full of books, printed out dissertations and articles, and loose papers that had not yet found a home. Most of that is gone now, and I find life is much, much more pleasant paperless. Getting rid of the backpack, in particular, was a real treat. Thank goodness for the iPad :)

    I have had disappointing experiences so far with the stylus and iPad method. It is an annoying distraction, the stylus is like a big crayon, the text doesn't appear as quickly as I would like, it does a horrible job rendering Asian characters (complicated strokes don't even register unless you go achingly slow), and it requires lots of work as I move along through my notes. In short, it is (in my opinion) a step backwards from pen and paper. If you run notes through ScanSnap at the end of the day you have high quality scans of everything in a few seconds.

    I actually type at a good clip (80+ wpm) and I have used computers in the past in class. The clickety clack of keyboards has become a kind of background noise in most classrooms these days. It is really convenient to have everything recorded that way. However, for me there was a big drawback. I wasn't learning so well. Typing uses some kind of different brain process, and whatever gains it offers in efficiency, it wasn't worth it. I want to learn, after all. Getting rid of gadgets on my desk helped me focus and take better notes (more useful).

    If you are going to type your notes, I have no idea why you would bring your computer (mba or mbp), because a bluetooth keyboard syncs nicely with the iPod or iPad. Basically, instead of lugging around those computers in your backpack in order to do things the iPad can do, you leave the computer at home with the backpack and just bring a tiny man bag. I highly recommend it. Your back will also thank you.

    Sure, the iPhone will work just as well as the iPod Touch. I use the iPod Touch because I don't want to buy a crappy data plan. It is also inexpensive, compact, and everything I need. I make very few calls outside of Skype these days. I don't even remember the last time I thought about those annoying minutes and all of the other gimmicks the phone companies tried to pass off on me. Instead, I have a wifi hotspot that enables me to access the Internet on every device.
  8. spammerhamster macrumors 6502

    Feb 5, 2010
    I have the scansnap (best tech thing I've ever bought, second to the iPad).
    You get a copy of adobe acrobat with one of the packages. Not that i use it much.
  9. wx4olf macrumors regular


    Jun 15, 2010
    OP, can you elaborate on your settings for converting and optimizing your files for the iPad? I've tried doing this myself previously with mixed results. I have a Scansnap that I have ran several books through and then processed with Abby fine reader or Adobe Acrobat for OCR and PDF creation. However, when I open the files on my iPad the page transitions are unbearably slow. The latest version of Goodreader has improved the page transition speed but my homemade PDFs still don't have the smoothness of a commercially made PDF book. I am thinking that I need to work on optimizing my PDFs for iPad but am not sure what the best settings are.
  10. palpatine thread starter macrumors 68040

    May 3, 2011
    By mixed results, you seem to be saying that page transitions are sometimes slow. You can change settings in GoodReader to improve this, but the fact of the matter is that a commercially produced PDF file is text, and the scanned ones you make are images, so they will be many, many times larger. Until Apple upgrades the iPad with a faster processor and more RAM, there is no way to escape some slow page turns. Even my MBP is sometimes a little slow. I don't find them unbearable, especially when reading straight through a text, but if you plan to flip through and skip around, then you'll have to make extensive use of bookmarks.

    I suppose you could copy all of the text in an OCR'd file, paste it into Word, and save it as a PDF to get that small size, but I suspect it will be a garbled mess. Even the best OCR doesn't get it all right, and you would lose all of the formatting.

    The optimization I do is to make the files readable. Files with images tend to crash applications, so I optimize to remove the incompatible elements. If you produce PDFs with lots of color images, you'll probably want to do this.
  11. Agent-P macrumors 68030


    Dec 5, 2009
    The Tri-State Area
    I just looked it up and it looks intriguing. I'll give it a try. Thanks for the suggestion.
  12. CHSeifert macrumors 6502


    Dec 28, 2010
    Copenhagen, Denmark - Scandinavia
    First of all - I might be wrong - but doesn't the onscreen keyboard show up even when you use the Bluetooth keyboard giving one very little screen estate to overview what and where you are in your notes ?

    Secondly - an MBA 11" doesn't exactly weigh a lot, and the full version of Pages is far better than the iPages version and writing on a laptop for creation must always be better suited for taking serious notes than using a light note version of the same program on a device with an even smaller screen........

    Thirdly I follow where the teacher in class is in my education book, and since that book is scanned in PDF into the iPad, you would need two iPads (in this case an iPad + MBA 11 is superior and not much more expensive) or you would have to do a whole lot of impractical multitasking during class......

    So in my world - if you do plan on taking notes with an computer and have digitalised all your books, the iPad 2 + the MBA 11/13 MUST be the far superior solution in my mind ;)
  13. palpatine thread starter macrumors 68040

    May 3, 2011
    No. It does not appear.

    The mba is great for taking notes, creating documents, and other computer "stuff"! The iPad is far superior for reading. I think we agree here. I don't know what you mean by serious notes. As I think I said, I generally take my serious notes on paper, and if I write them, I do it in Evernote. I would do that with an iPad or MBA. All I need is someplace to put text. When it comes to the final version (formatting), I always turn to my MBP (at home). But, that is many, many drafts down the road. For this reason, I would not recommend the iPad as the only computer for someone. If you have to choose between the two, the MBA is the obvious answer. However, I would say most of my time is spent reading, rather than writing (I imagine most students are like this) and the iPad is simply wonderful.

    I would like four or five! Seriously, though, this is not an issue if you take notes with pen and paper (as I do). If you do want to use a keyboard to type notes (I sometimes do this when taking notes on reading materials or when I am doing translations), then you can pair the bluetooth keyboard with an iPod (this is what I do). After all, if you are a touch typist, there is no need to look at the screen while taking notes. I call this my "ideal" setup.

    Why not? I am sure a lot of people would prefer to carry both around. No worries. My main point with this post was to explain how to digitize your stuff and use it with the iPad. In my world, though, I prefer to go as light as possible. If you must have a second screen, the iPod is more than sufficient, and your bag will be much lighter :)
  14. adisquare macrumors newbie

    Jun 13, 2010
    Hi there... First of all, great post!
    I was just wondering, which model of the Fujitsu ScanSnap would you recommend?
    (I'm thinking about scanning my textbooks which have page numbers ranging from 800 to 1300ish per textbook).
    Do you also happen to know how long would it take to scan that many pages with the mentioned models of the ScanSnap?

    And how is the Fujitsu ScanSnap compared to the NeatDesk for Mac (from those people at NeatReceipts)

  15. palpatine thread starter macrumors 68040

    May 3, 2011
    Hi. Glad to hear that my post helped. Those are some big textbooks! I have the S300, but if I were to buy one today, I would get the
    Fujitsu SCANSNAP S1100 CLR 600DPI USB Mobile Scanner (PA03610-B005) because of its amazing portability. It says that "ScanSnap S1100 can scan a letter size page in about 7.5 seconds" but I don't know what setting. Obviously, a 600 dpi color scan is going to take longer than a 300 dpi black and white, so time may vary, but it will take at least one hour for 500 or so pages. It will take a while :)

    If you are not concerned with mobility and you think you may be a power user (scanning your personal library), then another model with 20 pages per minute or more might be a better investment. It is certainly worth considering. My university has a larger model one (I forget which) and it is very, very nice to use :)

    I cannot comment on any other scanner, since Fujitsu is the brand I mainly use, and it is the one I see most often in offices and so forth. However, I imagine that any reputable company would be fine.
  16. cdcastillo macrumors 6502a


    Dec 22, 2007
    The cesspit of civilization
    I've never tried to scan a whole text book nor anything similar to that, however, I've scanned important financial, university and governmental documents on my iPhone with Genius Scan, and they look great both in the iPad and on my mac.

    It is a much more simpler workflow than what the OP suggested and I've not noticed any quality problems with the images.

    Give it a try.
  17. palpatine thread starter macrumors 68040

    May 3, 2011
    1300 pages with an iPhone? I certainly wouldn't recommend it for projects you want to make searchable (OCR), and I think there is nothing simple about using Genius Scan to mess around with all of those photos.

    If you prefer to take pictures rather than scan (as cdcastillo suggested), I think you will find the camera + tripod method I suggested in my original post far more effective (in terms of time spent and quality of final results). I have done this for lots of books with great success.

    That said, cdcastillo is right about small projects (bills, receipts, class handouts, etc.). I use my iPod4 (camera quality lower than iPhone) for this and it works OK. Still, the scanner is quicker and cleaner.
  18. AppleDApp macrumors 68020


    Jun 21, 2011
    All this seems great my only concern is once you've scanned a textbook where is it stored on the iPad? Is it within an app?
  19. palpatine thread starter macrumors 68040

    May 3, 2011
    1. scan the textbook into a pdf. scansnap does this automatically. you will need some kind of software to convert pictures if you are using a camera (i recommend adobe acrobat pro with a student discount if you can get it).

    2. save the file into your computer somewhere.

    3. load it into your iPad (everything in your iPad is basically stored in an app). i use goodreader usb (app for osx) to side load (via cable) my pdfs into the goodreader app (the best pdf reader i have seen). it is quick and convenient. or, you can just use itunes to put the pdf into your app of choice (ibooks, goodreader, etc.). it is a little slower and annoying (in the way that itunes always is) but no big deal.

    *the time consuming part is making the pdf. depending on your equipment and the settings you choose (i generally prefer 600 dpi low compression black and white) this can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours. after that, you just have to decide where you want to read it.
  20. AppleDApp macrumors 68020


    Jun 21, 2011
    Once texbooks are scanned are they searchable in the sense that you could do the equivalent to cmd + F and find a section? Also if the prof says turn to page ... is there a way you can easily get there?

    How much space does a textbook use once it is scanned? If I get an iPad I would only store podcasts,textbooks and school related apps no music or movies unless I go on a trip.
  21. Struan macrumors newbie


    Aug 1, 2011
    OP great thread to start. As someone who has been down this same road I would suggest following.

    If your department, library, or local copy shop does not charge for scans I would highly suggest using a modern mfd as most now scan to PDF with built in OCR on the fly. This will be much faster since there will be little post processing and will have much smaller file sizes. In other words a little more time up front finding the resource can save you hours on the backend. Many even now convert to a word file on the fly.

    Everyone keeps mentioning Acrobat, but Nuance has a complete package with PDF convertor and omnipage. I picked up both online with a student discount a few years ago and still use it for less than Acrobat. Does a great job.

    Your photos or scans do not need to be more than 200dpi for your OCR program to create a text searchable PDF. Anything higher is a waste of storage. So whatever your workflow down sample from your camera/scanner.
  22. AppleDApp macrumors 68020


    Jun 21, 2011
    Palpatine you've gotten me really motivated about this If I can get borrow my textbooks from the library and scan them for cheap I will definitely get an iPad. As long as my previous questions are also answered see previous post.

    At first I tought it was rediculous to buy textbooks then buy an iPad but if I borrow the textbooks I've paid for the iPad in a semester or so.
  23. firestarter macrumors 603


    Dec 31, 2002
    Green and pleasant land
    A slight variation that I use...

    I have a ScanSnap and an 3G iPad.

    I'm not at school - but I do have a reasonable amount of documents to organise. I end up scanning, then storing them in a Dropbox-mirrored drive on my Mac. I pay for the 50G Dropbox service.

    Now I don't have to worry about syncing documents to the iPad - everything is available on my Dropbox. The Dropbox app on the iPad has a perfectly good PDF viewer - and you can also mark docs for local storage.
  24. vitzr macrumors 68030


    Jul 28, 2011
    I use WritePad and a fabulous Pogo Sketch Pro Stylus. It took awhile to find the right stylus. This one makes a very dramatic difference. It's so easy, fast and error free. Before I found it I tried five others and nearly gave up. They were simply too uncomfortable and error prone.

    This combination along with Evernote & Catch Notes, is the ideal solution for me. I've used Evernote for quite some time. Then about six months ago I found Catch. What I like about it over Evernote is it's ability to use hashtags. They make tagging easy, fast, and since you simply put the # symbol before any word to make a tag, it doesn't interrupt my work flow.

    Like Evernote, Catch syncs to their cloud for free. You can access it via their web site via computer. Soon they will have a downloadable desktop app like Evernote.

    This is the stylus
  25. palpatine thread starter macrumors 68040

    May 3, 2011
    Yes. If you run ocr, then you'll be able to search them. The results depend on the quality of the original text and so forth. I am afraid it is never quite 100 percent, but pretty good. The iPad is not super fast, so it can be tough to get to a page right away. It's a really good idea to bookmark important texts you use a lot. That will make it easy.

    Thanks. And, thanks for the advice.

    I agree. If you can get access to some kind of office scanner, that would be the best deal.

    I only mention Acrobat because it is the one I know. As long as the software can do things like combine files, ocr, bookmarking, and so forth then it will be great.

    I always choose 600 dpi myself. I have found anything lower than 300 dpi to affect the quality of the text. I am surprised to see you say 200 dpi is OK, but I will say that some people argue that lower dpi actually results in better ocr (optical character recognition) quality, so there may be something to that.

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