Going Paperless: Scanning Receipts and Business Cards

Back in 2013, I wrote a post about digitizing your life and getting rid of the dead-tree paper taking up space in your day-to-day. I’m happy to say that I am still using that exact same paperless system to awesome effect. But I’ve also since left my corporate job moving to freelance full-time and, if you’ve gone that route, you know that the one thing you amass in a short amount of time is the small stuff: business cards and receipts.

Rapid Reduction.

As a small business owner, you need to document your business expenses. No exceptions. After meeting clients for lunch, dinner, evening drinks, coffee, or purchasing supplies and buying hardware… it’s pretty crazy how quickly receipts can pile up. When I finally noticed it was genuine problem it was almost too late. A physical file system of tiny sheets of paper was clearly not sustainable. I was already misplacing receipts in my wallet, back-pockets, folders, my back-pack – to either be worn down and unreadable or worse, to go through the wash and become a small blob.

Without a doubt. I needed a quick way to archive this stuff.

There are a lot of scanner apps out there and I’ve used the bulk of them. Basically what they do is allow you to take picture of a document with your device and convert that picture into a .pdf file that you can store locally on your device, or in cloud storage. This isn’t going to be a review of those apps, this is a detailing of what I’ve specifically integrated into my workflow. Luckily I’ve only needed two apps to accomplish this. They are beautifully developed, fast as hell, and they are a genuine joy to use.

For Receipts? I use Scanbot.

Scanbot is an app for iOS and Android that does what a lot of other scanning apps do, but it does so with flare and style. UI and UX aside, it also is thoroughly exceptional at the following:

  • It has excellent corner/edge recognition to limit the cropping you’d have to do after snapping a pic of the receipt.
  • OCR. Any app that you choose should have the ability to OCR 1 the receipt/document so that its contents are searchable as a PDF document. Scanbot does this accurately and, most importantly, very quickly.
  • Contrast. Your receipt scans don’t need to be full high res. color pictures. Color adds unnecessary size to your files which can take longer to upload and open. Scanbot offers four options: no filter (full resolution), a color filter (image compressed/optimized), grey scale, and a straight up, high contrast, black and white filter. I use the black and white filter. Scanned receipts and documents are crisp and readable and this particular filter reduces the size of your scanned pdf’s to smallest size possible.
  • Cloud storage options. Once your scan is complete and OCR’ed, you should be able to quickly upload to your file system of choice in the cloud. Scanbot support nearly all of them. I have my current file system on Dropbox. A very appreciated bonus: Scanbot also offers one-tap shortcuts to upload files to a specific location in cloud storage. So if you have a “receipts” folder that you always upload to on your cloud solution of choice, you can link that up specifically so that after you scan your doc, you just tap that shortcut and it gets uploaded automatically to that folder. Fast, simple and convenient. You can also upload your pdf’s manually of course, but the shortcuts are a really nice addition.
  • Prepended Titles. Scanbot allows you to prepend your titles with a naming convention of your choice. So if you like to add the date of a receipt to the front of the title of your scans, you can do so automatically. This saves you time and gives you confidence that the repeatable stuff you always do to organize your documents by title is automated.
  • Security. On the app level, Scanbot offers password protection and (if your device supports it) Touch ID if you want to restrict access to the documents stored locally on your device. Open the app? It asks for a password.
  • Document options. Scanbot adds a lot of convenient features that allow you to augment your files after they’ve been scanned. Stuff like high-lighting text, password protecting your files on the file level, leaving comments to share, adding additional pages after the fact, and the ability to add a digital signature, are wonderful options that can take your pdf editing capabilities to the next level. All on a portable device too, it’s kind of crazy!

In short, Scanbot gets my full endorsement. I’ve used it for almost a year now, often daily, and it has eliminated so much friction in my business organization workflow that I honestly can’t stress it enough. I use it on receipts, hardware manuals, insurance policy documentation, monthly invoices… anything I need to file away and search for later.

The barrier to entry is low too. You can download the app for free, but with limited features. To unlock much of what I detailed above you need to buy the “Pro” module which you can get in-app after you download it. It’s only $4.99, and what it adds is invaluable in my opinion. Definitely worth the five-spot.

For Business Cards? I use Evernote’s Scannable.

Relatively new to the scene, Scannable is Evernote’s answer to Scanbot. It’s sole purpose is to create digital documents and then share them. My only issue with Scannable is that it’s a little too stripped down for my use-cases. It does create digital documents to share quickly, but it doesn’t:

  • OCR them (unless you export to Evernote). It also scans them to .jpg files and I prefer the pdf format. UPDATE 01/26/15: As of a few hours ago, the fine folks at Evernote updated Scannable to export to either .jpg or .pdf formats! W00T!
  • Doesn’t offer color filter options. You just get color. Though it is optimized and compressed when saved.
  • Baked in sharing options are limited 2. It does, however, allow you to auto-export to Evernote. Which is nice if you use it.
  • There is no in-app editing tools. None.
  • There are no prepended title options.

But, what it does do exceptionally well, is scan business cards.

It seems funny to have an app dedicated to doing such a small task, but Scannable scans business cards so well, it’s hard to pass it up. There is a caveat though. Scannable’s full potential hinges heavily on your use of Evernote. Which I do 3. I use Evernote as my space to put things that I need to permanently archive at a glance. Business cards fall into this category for me. But they might not for you.

Caveat aside, using Scannable couldn’t be easier. Put a business card on the table in front of you, fire up Scannable, it rapidly finds the edges of the card 4, snaps and loads it optimized in under two seconds, making it ready for you to share or export. If you do export to Evernote, it will OCR it on the fly so that it’s searchable within Evernote’s interface.

One added bonus! If you are a LinkedIn user it will also scan its vast user-base, find the business card owner and add any additional information from their profile to your scan! Complete with their profile snap, clickable email addresses, web site urls, and phone numbers. All beautifully formatted, looking wonderful in Evernote. You can even add them to your address book if you want. But if they are not on LinkedIn, you don’t get this additional feature, which is kind of a shame. It’d be awesome if it added the same exact fields that are on the card itself. Not to mention, LinkedIn isn’t always up to date.

But it’s hard to criticize an app that is free, that gives you this much. When it works, Scannable is kinda magical! And even when it doesn’t, it’s still incredibly useful.

Soooo… Should I Get One? Or Both?

Well, obviously I chose both. But everyone’s needs are different. If you can swing the investment, I’d definitely snag Scanbot. If not, and you are a staunch Evernote user, Scannable will take great care of you.

If two apps are too many options for this particular task, Scanbot does take excellent scans of business cards and it even auto uploads to Evernote too. It just doesn’t have the LinkedIn profile info injection, which I really like.

It’s also important to note that’s still very early days for Scannable. Evernote is a really reputable development house with a wonderful history of implementing user requests. So I am sure Scannable’s feature set will only grow with time.


  1. Optical Character Recognition

  2. but it does give you access to the iOS share sheet which, in theory, is limitless.

  3. and do so gladly

  4. Unbelievably, I’ve never needed crop an image in Scannable or Scanbot. Not once.

Software: All About Digital Memory

I’m constantly amazed by how much my brain is bombarded by information (let alone raw stimuli) every second of everyday. If I’m honest, most of it is completely useless fluff; entertainment at best, advertisement at worst. But a good amount of it is still worth looking at and remembering. In it’s current state, my life doesn’t always allow the time to look at everything when it presents itself. I mean, how could it? Because of this fact, I’ve come up with a few app systems that allow me to curate most, if not all of it. I figured I can’t be the only one with this kind of life, so I thought I’d do a post about the different apps I use to remember things and how I specifically use them. Most of the apps I am about to talk about are free and are available on many different platforms. So this isn’t yet another Mac-based software post. I know I tend to focus on those.

Also, please note that these aren’t reviews of these apps. Some of them I use to their fullest extent, but most them, I use for that one function that they do extremely well. The good news is that most of these apps have been around for a good amount of time and have been reviewed extensively. So feel free to Google them afterwards if you want to know more about them. As always, I’ll also have links at the bottom of this post to their downloads and dev sites.

Ok. So, here we go. Without a doubt the following instances come up several times a day for me:

  1. I come across an article, review, link to an event, video, etc. that I either want read later or share with another person. There’s one caveat though: I have no intention of keeping it. I’ll read/view it later and then I’ll delete it.
  2. I come across web content that is more of a resource. Something that I will need and continue to reference in the near and very distant future. It’s that tidbit or object that you know you’d absolutely regret losing or forgetting.
  3. Lists. We all have them! Grocery lists, to-do lists, gift lists, travel prep check lists… they’re those lists of important things that you check off immediately after you do them. When the list is done? You happily delete it feeling that warm sense of accomplishment.
  4. Tiny notes. Particularly ones that you need to share across devices. Like a Post-it note but more permanent. I won’t need it all of the time, but if I am flaking out and just can’t remember, it’s in it’s separate app waiting.
  5. Password and Account info. Between my wife and I alone we have, sickeningly, close to a hundred different logins to a host of websites that vary from yoga studios, to credit card accounts. We could use the same user ID and password for all of them, but shouldn’t and we don’t (nor should you). For this, I need an app that wrangles all of these accounts and passwords, so that they are easily found and encrypted to the hilt.

Those are the scenarios! Now I’ll go through each app that I use to combat them.

Situation One: Disposable, yet still worthy of consumption…

Instapaper Logo

For these situations I rely on “Instapaper“. Marco Arment’s Instapaper is worthy of an entire post alone on this site, but when it comes to shelving a movie review that I really want to read but don’t have the time to? Instapaper is perfect and is my go-to app. Through it’s applets and API I can send anything on just about any app on any platform (computer, phone, tablet) to my Instapaper account to read later in it’s now extremely popular stripped down format. No distractions, stripped of ads, viewable offline, lots of choices to suit my reading aesthetic, all wrapped up in a solid, dependable platform.

I use Instapaper to save so much of what I find in my daily travels on the internet crazy that the service is free. And when I’m done with the content, I delete it! I don’t have to, there are plenty of options to archive things in Instapaper, but it’s not how I happen to use it. Browser-based, it’s available anywhere there’s an internet connection. There are also native apps on iOS and Android platforms as well, and though I don’t own an Android device, the iOS apps work flawlessly.

Situation Two: Non-disposable Resources. In other words, that stuff you want to keep.

Evernote Logo

In these cases, I rely almost exclusively on “Evernote“. Evernote is one of those software solutions that is completely adaptable. There are just so many ways to use it! Their approach is simple: offer any and every way that you could think of to upload anything digital, permanently to the cloud. Oh, and make it super easy too!

Me? 95% of the time that I use it, I utilize their very handy web-clipper browser add-on to send snapshots of web sites onto Evernote’s cloud storage. I do tend to tag my additions and add them to folders, but that isn’t really necessary. Once clipped into Evernote, your entry is saved, completely searchable and, at the very least, auto-organized by date. Just a couple weeks ago I saved a dozen different web sites on shower heads. Tagged “shower”, it was simple to bring up everything I’d found weeks later when I was ready to pull the trigger and buy one. Easy!

But you can also use it in other handy ways. A perfect use case of this is when I used it the other day when we bought and enjoyed a bottle of wine while out for dinner. After we drank the wine I took a picture of the label on the bottle, tagged the variety (“red” “malbec”) and, because I took it with my phone, Evernote used the GPS coordinates to log where the photo was taken, so we could remember where we drank it. Months later, we wanted to have the same wine out for some friends who were coming over for dinner. When I was at the wine shop, I opened up Evernote on my iPhone and knew precisely what I was looking for. It also helps A TON when someone asks to help you.

This exact same approach is also incredibly handy when you park you car in an airport parking lot before leaving on three week trip to India. Take pic of the lot and space number. Save it. Get on with life and focus on other things. Simple.

In the end, Evernote’s service is definitely one of those “what you make of it” situations. But don’t let that deter or overwhelm you. Trust me, I don’t even use it tonearly the degree that others do. My workflow is simple by design and, because of that, it’s been pretty damn invaluable over the years.

Situation Three: Lists

Grocery IQ Screenshot

There are three types of lists that I typically keep.

  • Lists before an event, like a vacation, making sure we have everything we need.
  • Grocery Store lists.
  • Any trip to a hardware store inevitably should have a list.

In this case, simple is always better for me. I don’t want any crazy or feature-rich todo app. I just want something with text, check boxes and something that syncs across devices. The syncing option is only optimal to me for when my wife and I head out to the dreaded grocery store. With a list that syncs between our phones, we can divide and conquer. She knows I grabbed the eggs because she sees that I checked it off when I went down the milk aisle. If this situation sounds bad ass, that’s because it is. ;)

My apps of choice are “Grocery IQ” for grocery stores and Apple’s own “Reminders” app on the Mac and on iOS for everything else. Both sync across multiple devices. Grocery IQ gets a leg up over Apple’s own “Reminders” app because it offers up coupons as well as the ability organize your list by aisle if you already have your favorite grocery store layout memorized. It’s super simple to use and always handy when someone is home and remembers something while you are on the way to the store.

Apple's Reminders App Screenshot

The “Reminders” app is baked into iOS (so it’s free), syncs with iCloud and is backed by Apple, so you can’t go wrong with it. It’s quite simplistic (just multiple lists of check boxes and text) but it does what it does very well.

Situation Four: Tiny Notes

Apple'ss Notes App Screenshot

What’s a “tiny note”? Tiny notes are those incomplete sentences of info that you need handy at any given moment in time. An example of this is an address to a party or a security code into someone’s place that you occasionally visit. It’s not worth permanently archiving, but it’s also not really disposable either.

A perfect use case for this is my sister recently moved into a new flat that has a security code at the front door. She told it to me and I instantly jotted it down on my phone. I don’t want to memorize it right away and I certainly don’t want to keep badgering her for it whenever I visit. For all of these scraps of important andconvenient info, I use the “Notes” app in iOS. It’s super basic, baked into iOS (again, it’s hard to beat free) and because I don’t use it for anything else, it’s not terribly crowded with other bits of info. As of today, I still only have one note in the app with a small list of things that I need occasionally and because it’s synced through iCloud, I don’t need to read it out loud or send it in an email or text to my wife. I simply tell her it’s in “Notes” and she knows exactly what I am talking about.

Situation Five: Accounts and Passwords

Alt text

If there is only one thing you take away from this post, I hope it’s this: take the protection of your ID and password info seriously.

There are a lot of password generators out there and just as many apps that work well at encrypting and storing your personal info remotely and securely. I personally love, and use Agile Bits app “1Password“. They work on the simple premise that the safest password you could ever have, is one that you do not know. Basically it works like this. You have one password to memorize, and that is the password to the 1password app itself (see what they did there?). Inside this app is a highly encrypted database of all of your user ID’s and passwords (which can be created in-app with their password generator), support for full credit card info, personal documents, personal info, you name it. It’ll accept just about anything you want protected, yet accessible.

For all it is under the hood, it’s quite incredible how easy it is to incorporate it into your life! One way it really saves time, is in it’s ability to auto populate web fields with the click of a button when using their feature-rich (yet easy to use) browser plugin. Go to a site, click the 1Password button in your browser’s toolbar, type in the one password for the app, click the link that corresponds to the site, and you are on. It takes it from there, auto-populating the fields and even logging you in with an incredibly hard-to-crack password that you have no chance in hell of remembering. In addition to logins, the auto-population is borderline magic when you face situations where you have to fill out forms for anything online. Not having type in your mailing address or credit card info instantly becomes addictive.

It’s not all roses, there’s a good bit of manual setup involved, but once you get your info into 1Password, you are set and life becomes way more convenient (not to mention way more safe).

1Password also isn’t free, but in my opinion it’s worth every penny you spend and then some. I think you’ll find that you’ll use it mostly on your home PC, but it’s also available on iOS and Android devices as well.

Forget about forgetting…

So that’s it! With the above apps, I’ve streamlined a ton of useless crap out of my day to day. I no longer sweat nearly as much about remembering non-critical moments or things. In all cases I have access to everything on every device I own with a screen and an internet connection. Errands are cut short, time is gained, your important info is protected…. Even if you were to try just one of these above situations out, I promise you, you’ll see the benefits.

Give it a shot! Let me know what you think on Twitter.

App Links:

The fine Developers of these apps:

  • Marco Arment – Instapaper
  • Evernote.com – Evernote
  • coupons.com – Grocery IQ
  • Agile Bits – 1password
  • Apple – Notes and Reminders iOS Apps

    All pictures in this post are linked to either the app store or the developer’s own sites/presskits with the exception of the 1Password app logo which I’d be happy to swap out if they have an official presskit that I link to. Thanks! :)