Android iPhone and iPad

How To Build Your Own Smartphone Document Scanner

Christian Cawley 04-07-2012

smartphone document scannerHave you ever tried to take a photo of a document with your smartphone camera, hoping to convert it using OCR software into a PDF or Word document later on? Perhaps you’ve attempted to take a photo of an existing photograph, only to find your angle was slightly out. No matter how hard we try, it seems you can never take the perfectly-aligned photograph with a smartphone.


What you need, therefore, is surely some sort of device that will provide a sturdy platform for your smartphone while ensuring the scan subject is flat, correctly aligned and well-lit. Some sort of “scan box”, perhaps?

What Is a Scanbox?

Put simply, “Scanbox” is the name given to a highly portable, flatpack box that can be used as a mount for a smartphone to take photos of documents – effectively scanning them.

Launched as a Kickstarter project, Scanbox solves the problem of big, bulky scanners, driver issues and even needless smartphone peripherals acting as scanners. Taking advantage of smartphone cameras for scanning documents is nothing new, but Scanbox adds a level of professionalism to the end product by providing a solid, level platform from which to scan.

While we would encourage anyone interested to get involved with raising the necessary funds for that project, however, what is fascinating about Scanbox is that it is such a simple concept – one that anyone could build.

Build Your Own Cardboard Document Scanner

Scanbox features useful adjustable magnets, folds down into a flatpack and even comes with an LED lamp.


The MakeUseOf Cardboard Document Scanner doesn’t have any of those qualities, but you’ll find that it is simple to make and easy to use nonetheless. Most importantly, it delivers the same results, enabling you to scan documents, photos and even objects using your smartphone.

To begin, you will need the following:

  • A3 size white card (420 x 297 mm)
  • Craft knife
  • Hard pencil

smartphone document scanner

All you need to do is cut the A3 card in half resulting in two A4 pieces, and then divide one of the A4 pieces into 4 strips, each 52.5mm wide and 297mm long, as shown above.


smartphone scanner

The legs should be scored down the middle, and a small tab (about 5mm deep) cut into one end. Matching L-shaped slots should then be cut into the remaining A4 card, around 7mm in from each corner.

Finally, measure the central point of the A4 card and cut a hole. This is where your smartphone camera will be placed.

Your Cardboard Scanner Components

The scanner is built from card as a basic platform. Thick card should be used to support the weight of your smartphone which might be placed upon it for some time. You may also notice that the length of the legs reflects the focal length required to capture the A4 document being scanned.


Construction of the MakeUseOf Cardboard Scanner does not require any glue – the legs will slot into place through the upper platform.

Note that when you cut the hole you might need to use some fine glasspaper to smooth any rough or square edges. Construct the device by sliding the tabs on each leg through the platform, and a few moments later you should have your MUO Cardboard Scanner!

smartphone scanner

With the scanner constructed, place an A4 document below, with the legs tight to the edge of the sheet of paper and check the view hole is wide enough using your smartphone camera. You may need to adjust the size slightly. Once you’re happy, align the smartphone and lightly mark its position in pencil for future reference.


Using The MUO Cardboard Scanner

Once your cardboard scanner is constructed, you should be able to use it with ease.

Simply place the document face up in the area between the legs, line your smartphone camera up with the hole on top, launch the camera app and start snapping! You can use the zoom function on your camera if necessary and scanned documents can then be emailed, sent to a local wireless printer (if supported) and even converted into PDF using OCR technology.

smartphone document scanner

The concept of scanning with your mobile phone is sound – using a cardboard platform to provide a means of support and stability is one of those immensely simple ideas that should really take off!

Once your document is photographed – or scanned – you can then use a suitable mobile app to share or even convert the image into a suitable format.

Alternatives To The MakeUseOf Cardboard Scanner

You don’t have to use cardboard for this sort of project. There are various household objects that could be used as smartphone scanner mounts, enabling you to easily scan documents with your mobile device.

Using a similar shape and principle to the Scanbox device is the children’s chair. These are often around 300mm from the floor and therefore have almost the right dimensions for scanning a document placed underneath. All you need to do next is drill a hole through the centre, line up your smartphone (perhaps with a small amount of foam padding to hold it in position) and scan your document or photo.

Similarly, you might build a device from Lego, or simply cut a hole in an upturned box (cardboard, wooden or plastic), remembering to remove as much of the sides as possible to allow natural light through.


Smartphone cameras are capable of excellent resolution which makes them ideal portable scanners. The problem with this has always been one of gravitational stability, but with a steady platform on which to place the camera, this is no longer a problem.

Our cardboard smartphone document scanner is an ideal solution, but isn’t the only way around the problem. You might use an existing cardboard box, a construction toy such as LEGO or even a chair.

Alternatively, you can go for the portable option, Scanbox. It really is a great concept, one which deserves to succeed. If you’re impressed with the MUO Cardboard Scanner, don’t use it as a replacement for the genuine Scanbox. Instead, see it as a proof of concept and if you like it, go and support the project, which you’ll find at!

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  1. Anonymous
    December 14, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Never thought of that!!

  2. Douglas Mutay
    December 14, 2012 at 9:31 am

    What about the quality of the image, the light, etc... is it really going to give a readable document? Anyway, will give it a try once I have some free time because if it's really working it's will be very useful.

  3. Dads House Ed Center
    October 9, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    I'm going to obtain materials and try this, though I will need to borrow a phone to test it as I do not even own a cell phone. I have been looking for something to promote to the Dads House members, for scanning documents from a family law case file.

  4. Sriram Gopalakrishnan
    July 12, 2012 at 7:44 am

    it's very cool stuff.thanks

  5. Ernest
    July 10, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    Great! Now I don't need to buy a tripod.

    Do you feel tired... Well there's a Napp for that ... lol (joke)

    You get it?

  6. Deep Patel
    July 10, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Not very portable though is it?

  7. Dan Griffiths
    July 10, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Nice and simple! Beats a tripod because it flat-packs so it's more portable.
    I found a nice email to PDF tool at that works for all platforms & doesn't need any installs on your phone. Bonus! :)

  8. Omstavan Samant
    July 9, 2012 at 6:58 am

    nice method... i used to take pics but had to take several pics till i got one which was just good enough...

  9. Anoop V
    July 6, 2012 at 12:33 am

    Yes, CamScanner is a great app for this purpose. No hardware required. Just take a pic, and it'll automatically correct for the lighting. It also allows you to change the perspective angle and image region and gives a really high-res image.

  10. Chris
    July 5, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    very clever idea but nor sure I'd want to carry one around!

  11. Ben
    July 5, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    Nice idea. You need a phone / tablet with a good camera though and ample lighting.

  12. Hindie
    July 5, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    This is just what I was searching for because even with an ipad, I have difficulty holding it steady enough to take a good scan.

  13. nitin m
    July 5, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    gr8 !

  14. Fayz
    July 5, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    This was a very weird read.

  15. Damian Castillo
    July 5, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    There is an app for that. I use JotNot Pro. It's a scanner app that allows you to take a picture of something at an angle, with wrinkles and shadows. The result is a clear flat scan, with no wrinkles or shadows.

    You can then export it in many ways to include Email, Print, Fax, JPG, Send to iTunes, Evernote, Dropbox, Box, etc. Super easy.

  16. Scott
    July 5, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Your kidding right? Did you ever think of using a camera tripod, which is adjustable vertically? Just use a piece or pieces of string or yarn, and hang your camera beneath the top mechanism of the tripod. Then create a "cradle" to hold your phone level. It really is very simple, believe me, I got it on the first try.

  17. Laga Mahesa
    July 5, 2012 at 8:27 am

    haha nice, this has been on my todo list for a year. :p

  18. Daniel Escasa
    July 5, 2012 at 4:49 am

    Can't I just use the tripod I already have?

  19. Garey Boone
    July 5, 2012 at 3:13 am

    This along with camscanner is awesome thanks for the idea.

  20. Chris
    July 4, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    There's an app for that! (iPhone: Turboscan)

  21. JD Reedy
    July 4, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    Don't see a template link anywhere? Just wondering.

  22. Truefire_
    July 4, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    I just take a picture, then crop out anything not necessary. I did that in school and got away with it.