Optical Scanner

What Does Optical Scanner Mean?

An optical scanner is an input device using light beams to scan and digitally convert images, codes, text or objects as two-dimensional (2D) digital files and sends them to computers and fax machines. Flatbed scanning devices are the most popular optical scanners. Optical scanners are used for many purposes, including reading customized response forms, creating automated data fields and recording fingerprints.


Willard Boyle and George Smith developed the optical scanner technology in 1969.

Techopedia Explains Optical Scanner

An optical scanner is based on a charge-coupled device (CCD) composed of light-sensitive receptors. CCD capacitors respond to up to 70 percent of incident light versus photographic film which respondg to only 2 percent.

Optical scanners cannot differentiate between text and graphics. Thus, all scanned content is converted to bitmap images, and scanned text cannot be edited. However, optical character recognition (OCR) systems translate images of handwritten, typewritten or printed text into American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) characters. Most modern optical scanners are standard OCR package components.

Optical scanners normally include proprietary software for consistent imaging. They attach to computing devices using external input/output (I/O) channels such as universal serial bus (USB), small computer system interface (SCSI), FireWire and wireless adapters.


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Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.