DIY Book Scanning – How to Scan a Book to PDF

When I purchased my first iPad in April of 2010 I realized it was going to change the way I read books and consume other media. I decided that I wanted a way to scan my existing library to take my books with me on my iPad. Finding out how to scan a book took a lot of research and trial and error. Let me save you some time by sharing the process that I’ve found most successful.

I should note that the instructions throughout this post assume you have a Mac. The same process can be accomplished on a Windows PC with some slight modifications to the process.

Ever Heard of a Kindle?

I do own a Kindle and it is my preferred method of reading books. I do purchase books for my Kindle and also borrow books from my local library for Kindle.

The problem is that I already had a lot of books that I didn’t want to purchase again for Kindle in an ebook format. In addition, I found that it was getting expensive to keep buying books for Kindle.

Why Convert Book to PDF?

There are many pros and one big con to consider when converting books to PDFs yourself:

  • PRO – Simplify your life with less possessions – One of my main reasons for converting books is that my library was getting out of control with too many books. I chose to simplify my life by having less physical possessions. This is a unique situation where you are able to get rid of a possession while simultaneously making that possession more usable!
  • PRO – Save money by purchasing used books to scan – Purchasing used books allows you to save a lot of money.
  • PRO – Carry ebooks with you in digital form – Obviously it’s a lot easer to carry a bunch of digital books rather than carrying physical books.
  • PRO – Access digitized books in multiple locations – Storing PDF books on Dropbox allows you to access your books across your multiple devices and computers.
  • PRO – Search your library – This process I describe for you will enable you to create a PDF that is searchable and highlightable.
  • CON – Destroys books - DIY book scanning involves cutting off their binding which renders them pretty much unusable. In most cases I’m fine with this because I’m not usually attached to the physical book. If you don’t want to destroy your book because it is sentimental then you may want to consider finding a book scanning service.

Is this legal?

There is a lot of gray area around what is considered “fair use” under copyright laws. Please make your own judgements on this. Keep in mind that using this for any purpose other than your own personal use would certainly be questionable if not blatantly illegal.

Hardware and Software You Need

This process is an investment if you want to do it right. Luckily many of the tools, such as the scanner, are excellent to have for more purposes than just scanning books.

  • Heavy-duty, guillotine-style paper cutter (≈$130) - If you have a large number of books (100+) you’ll want to purchase one of these paper cutters. The cost for one of these paper cutters is approximately $130 on eBay. You may be able to find one cheaper elsewhere. Just be careful with shipping costs because these are very heavy. I paid $135 in June of 2011 from eBay user EyePowerSupplies. I can vouch for this eBay user’s reputability.
  • Fujitsu ScanSnap (≈$470) - You will need a sheet-fed, double-sided scanner. I use my Fujitsu ScanSnap (model S1500M) scanner for this purpose. The prices on this scanner seems high but it’s important to note that it comes with a license for both ABBYY FineReader which handles optical character recognition (worth $100) as well as Adobe Acrobat Professional (worth $240).
  • GoodReader for iPhone/iPad (≈$5) – This software is awesome and will enable you to read your PDFs on your iOS device. I think GoodReader is the best option for reading books this way because this software thrives with a plethora of features and has excellent support. For example, unlike other PDF readers this one will remember your position when you open it again—this is extremely important when you’re reading a PDF that is hundreds of pages in length.
  • Dropbox (Free) - Dropbox is a file-sharing service that is integrated into many applications. You can use Dropbox on your computer to easily get files into GoodReader for iOS. Dropbox will also enable your books to be available to you on all of your computers.

Before Starting: Prepare Fujitsu ScanSnap Book Scanning Profiles

Before your first scan, you need to create two book scanning profiles in the ScanSnap software:

  • Books - This profile will be used for most plain-text books in which you do not want to scan in color.
  • Books in Color (e.g. Covers) - This is the same as the profile above except (1) it scans in color instead of just grayscale and (2) it isn’t for primarily text scans.

Books Profile

The table below shows all of the parameters within the profile you will need to set to convert a book to a PDF. This may look confusing without the software in front of you. However, once you are creating the profiles these settings will make sense. The links in the table will open a screenshot that will show you how to setup the profile.

Tab Setting Description Screenshot
Application Application Set to Adobe Acrobat Open
Save Image saving folder Set to the proper folder on your computer Open
Save File Name Format… Set this to the naming format of your choice. I use Scanned Book 001.pdf.
Scanning Image quality Best (Color/Gray: 300 dpi) Open
Scanning Color mode Gray
Scanning Scanning side Duplex Scan (Double-sided)
Scanning Continue scanning… Checkbox enabled
Scanning Option pushbutton All checkboxes enabled Open
Paper Paper size Automatic detection Open
Compression Compression rate Set slider to 5 Open

Books in Color (e.g. Covers) Profile

Set everything exactly the same as the profile above with two minor exceptions:

  1. On the Scanning tab set the Color mode to color. (open screenshot)
  2. On the Scanning tab click the Options pushbutton and uncheck the checkbox for text only document. (open screenshot)

Step 1: Remove the Binding from the Book

In order to scan the book you need to remove the binding so that you have single pages that feed through the scanner. Choose one of the options below to remove the binding from the book.

Guillotine-style Paper Cutter

Guillotine-style Paper Cutter

Guillotine-Style Paper Cutter

I have the guillotine-style paper cutter (pictured). This makes this process very simple and it’s a wise investment if you have a lot of books (100+) to scan.

A handle on the front of the cutter rotates to lower a clamp that holds the book place before cutting it. The long lever allows you to use leverage to slice through a 400-page book like it’s butter.

Lower-Cost Alternatives

There are other alternatives that would save you some money.

  • Local Printing Company – You can take your books to a local printing company and ask them to remove the binding. FedEx Office will perform this service for $0.50 to $1.00 per book.
  • Circular Saw – I have seen videos on the internet where people use an electric circular saw to cut off the binding of the book. If you already own this then you might be set!

Step 2: Book Scanning

These instructions assume you have the Fujitsu Scansnap scanner. This will obviously work with other scanners but it’s important to make it simple by choosing a scanner that has the following features:

  • Ability to scan to PDF
  • Scan both sides of page simultaneously

Process to Scan the Book

  1. Separate the front and back covers and set aside. 
  2. Flip through the pages to make sure they’re properly separated and not still glued. You’ll particularly want to pay attention to the pages close to the front or back cover.
  3. Set the scanner to the “Books” profile if the book is mostly text. If your book is mostly in color with photographs you’ll want to use the second profile.
  4. Scan the book in stacks of 50-pages at a time. Once each stack is done, the profile should allow you to continue scanning by simply starting a new stack.
  5. Save the PDF file as Title – Original Scan.pdf.

If you get any paper jams just make note of the page numbers and restart the scanning. You can delete the incorrect pages by deleting and resorting the messed-up pages later in Adobe Acrobat Professional.

Process to Scan the Front and Back Cover

  1. Set the scanner to the “Books in Color (e.g. Covers)” profile.
  2. Scan the front cover and quit the scan.
  3. Scan the back cover and quit the scan.

Step 3: Perform OCR in ABBYY FineReader

book scanning

Convert to Searchable PDF in ABBYY FineReader

Optical character recognition (OCR) is an important step if you wish to make your book searchable. It’s also important if you later want to perform tasks such as highlighting words/sentences while reading.

For books around 200 pages in length this process will take about 15 minutes. For longer books this process will obviously take longer. The length of time would also depend on the computing power of the computer you’re using.


  1. Open ABBYY FineReader.
  2. Click the Convert to Searchable PDF option.
  3. Choose the Title – Original Scan.pdf file you created in the prior step.
  4. Allow the OCR to run. When finished running, a Save Converted File As popup will appear to prompt you to save the file.
  5. Save the file as Title – OCR Only.pdf.

Step 4: Perform PDF Optimization using Adobe Acrobat Professional

book scanning

Optimize Scanned PDF

This step optimizes the PDF file and reduces the file size. It’s an important step for books because the file size of the scanned document can be quite large. For example, this step reduced one of my last scanned books from 63.4MB to 3.4MB. That’s a big difference.


  1. Open Adobe Acrobat Professional and open file Title – OCR Only.pdf that was created in the prior step.
  2. Choose Document → Optimize Scanned PDF from the menu options.
  3. Click the Defaults pushbutton to reset all fields to their default value. You can play with the values to get a file quality that works for you. After experimenting, I feel the default values are sufficient.
  4. Click the OK pushbutton to begin the optimization. This will take a few minutes and will depend on the size of the book.
  5. Choose File → Save As… from the menu options.
  6. Save the file as Title – Optimized.pdf.

Step 5: Add Covers and Book Metadata

While scanning the book we also scanned the front and back covers. These are currently sitting in separate files that we can merge into our PDF using the steps below.

Front Cover

  1. The same Title – Optimized.pdf file should be open in Adobe Acrobat Professional.
  2. Choose Document → Insert Pages… from the menu options.
  3. Select the PDF scan of the front cover and click the Select pushbutton.
  4. On the Insert Pages popup choose the option to insert the cover before the first page. Click the OK pushbutton.
  5. You should now see the front cover as the first page in the PDF file.
  6. Click the Save option to save your progress.

Back Cover

  1. The same Title – Optimized.pdf file should be open in Adobe Acrobat Professional.
  2. Choose Document → Insert Pages… from the menu options.
  3. Select the PDF scan of the back cover and click the Select pushbutton.
  4. On the Insert Pages popup choose the option to insert the cover after the last page. Click the OK pushbutton.
  5. You should now see the back cover as the last page in the PDF file.
  6. Click the Save option to save your progress.

Adding Metadata

There are certain types of metadata—such as the author and book title—that may be viewable in some software or on some devices.

  1. Choose File → Properties… to open the Document Properties popup.
  2. Add the book title in the Title field.
  3. Add the book author in the Author field.
  4. Click the OK pushbutton.
  5. Click the Save option to save your progress.

Step 6: Archive Files and Get Ready to Read

Archive Files

When you’re completely finished you should end up with six files if you scanned the book, the front cover, and the back cover. You can safely delete all files with the exception of these three listed below. These three files should all be archived for future reference just in case they’re needed.

  • Title – Original Scan.pdf
  • Title – OCR Only.pdf
  • Title – Optimized.pdf

Getting Ready to Read with GoodReader

Before starting you should create a folder in your Dropbox account to use specifically for books. You’ll then need to link your Dropbox account as a “Server” within the GoodReader software. Luckily you only have to do this once and then everything will stay synchronized going forward.

  1. On your computer, copy the Title – Optimized.pdf file to your Dropbox folder dedicated to PDF books.
  2. Rename the file to take the “- Optimized” off so you’re just left with Title.pdf.
  3. Synchronize GoodReader with your Dropbox folder on your iOS device.
  4. Open the file in GoodReader and enjoy!

Book Scanning Template

I created a Template (Mac pages document) that may be beneficial to you. You’ll find that you can scan and process multiple books simultaneously. This simple template can assist you with remembering what step each book is at as your processing them.

Let me know how your book scanning experience goes!

  • Eric

    Exactly what I was looking for. Thank you.

  • Americuss

    I have a privately family published genealogy book I would like to make into an e-book. Preferably searchable while maintaining the genealogical format. Would this procedure allow for that?

  • Philip S.

    You would recommend purchasing Acrobat Pro as a subscription vs. buying the program outright?

    • Wesley Brown

      This doesn’t exactly answer your question but I hope to answer the spirit of your question.
      With most scanners OCR will come with it. The Fujitsu ScanSnap series comes with ABBYY (mac) or Adobe (pc)