What You Should Be Paying For Document Scanning Services

As progressive organizations consider going digital, one of the most important factors in deciding on whether to digitize documents is the upfront cost weighed against the long term return on investment. While many online resources are available to get an idea of total cost involved, it can often be difficult to pinpoint exactly how much a document scanning project will cost, both up front and over the long run.

Unlike purchasing a product or a software solution, it is not always a clear cut process to arrive at your final price. At ILM, we use 40 years of historical project data as well as samples of your own materials to generate estimates. Listed below are some of the many factors that affect the overall cost of a typical document scanning project.

Factors Affecting Document Scanning Prices

Document scanning prices vary and depend on many different factors which is why most service providers avoid cost advertising on their websites. It’s not that the prices are secrets, but no two projects are the same and should be treated as such.

Volume of Materials

In order to provide an accurate price estimate for document scanning services, it’s essential to know how many pages, boxes, or filing cabinets worth of documentation you’re thinking of converting to electronic TIF or PDF images. The table below serves as a high-level reference for estimating the total number of pages you have based on how they are currently stored.

  • Loose paper | 150 – 180 pages per inch
  • Copy box | 1,800 – 2,100 pages per box
  • Banker box | 1,900 – 2,200 pages per box
  • Lateral file cabinet | 5,000 – 6,000 pages per drawer
  • 4 drawer file cabinet | 2,500 pages per drawer
  • Linear foot | 1,800 pages per linear foot

As with any service, most document scanning providers will lower their unit prices the more volume you have. For large volume projects, you might find a unit price half the amount of a smaller project. The greater the volume, the the better the economies of scale.

Packing and Transportation of Materials

In planning out the logistics of a document scanning project – whether paper or microform materials – it is important to consider how the source documents will be securely transported from your location to the service bureau’s facility.

One of the first steps is packing the materials into boxes. While this is always a task you and your staff can perform, most service providers will offer this service at a fixed price or a price per box.

Once packed, the documents will need to be transported to the scanning facility. The number and frequency of trips over the course of the project will have an impact on total cost. For instance, could all the boxes be picked up at one time or would you need them picked up in multiple shipments over a weeks or months?

Material Preparation

The more time spent preparing documents for the scanning process, the higher the cost involved. This usually includes removing fasteners such as staples, paper clips, and other bindings. At ILM, we like to first start by processing a sample box of your materials – at no cost and no obligation to you – so we can see exactly how much effort is involved in preparing the paper documents for scanning. Over 80% of the labor cost involved in a document scanning project is in material preparation.

Indexing Methodology

One of the benefits of transforming hard copy materials into readable digital data is being able to find what you need easily through keyword or full-text searching. The more detailed and complex the indexing requirements, the higher the price.

There are a number of ways in which indexing can be performed; the two most common are folder-level (or roll/fiche card level with microfilm or microfiche, respectively) or document-level. A folder-level index produces and electronic file, such as a PDF, that matches up with your physical folder in both contents and name. For over 90% of our document scanning projects at ILM, our clients have us name the electronic file the same way the physical folder tab is named.

There are certain document types that would require looking at the first page or two in order to find one of the required indexing fields. If you have student records, for example, and you want last name, graduation year, and student ID number as the three indexing fields (and thus producing a document such as Smith_1998_54688.pdf) but your folders are only labeled with last name and student ID number, we would need to look inside each folder to find the graduation year, perhaps on a registration form. This extra step would have an added cost involved.

A second indexing methodology is document-level indexing. This means each individual document within your folder is indexed. Practically, the end result can either be a PDF with bookmarks, for example, or an electronic folder with a PDF for each document. If you have employee files and each folder has four documents – offer letter, salary history, medical information, and position descriptions – the scanning service provider can create a PDF for each of those four types and place them into a folder with the employee’s name, for example. Generally speaking, the more work required in indexing will come with higher costs involved.

Reassembly and Refastening Work

Once documents have been scanned, processed, and converted into searchable PDFs or TIF images, it’s possible you want your documents returned to their original state and condition. This reassembly or refastening is oftentimes just as time intensive as the original preparation work, especially if there are a large volume of staples, paper clips, or fasteners that must be used to return the source documents to their original condition. Most of our clients at ILM will opt for shredding their documents – either internally or by using our shredding service – thereby eliminating the need for reassembly. For specific retention guidelines that require paper preservation, you would want to consider long term or archival paper storage.

Data Storage

Once documents have been scanned, they need to be integrated into existing databases, content management systems, and workflows. While in most cases this is not something you will need to pay the scanning provider for, it is an important cost consideration for your organization, especially if it is a large volume of electronic data. If you have a document management system in place, it will be important to determine the extent to which an influx of data will impact your ongoing electronic storage costs. At ILM, we employ a thorough setup, programming, and testing phase in which we work with you or your provider to ensure the documents upload easily into the document management system.

Thinking about starting a project? Use our Scanning Price Estimate Tool.

How much can I expect to pay?

While every project is unique and must be carefully discussed before a pricing estimate can be generated, the table below highlights typical prices for the various tasks required in an average document scanning project. When there is a wide range listed for a typical unit price, this is largely due to differences in volume. For reference below, a double-sided piece of paper is considered two images, while blank images are typically not charged.

Line ItemUnitTypical Unit PriceFactors Affecting Price
Paper ScanningImage$0.07 – 0.12Volume, level of effort to prep the materials, quality of materials
Large Format ScanningImage$0.75 – 2.00Volume, quality of materials
Microfilm Scanning (16mm)Image$0.02 – 0.06Volume, quality of materials
Microfilm Scanning (35mm)Image$0.04 – 0.10Volume, quality of materials
Microfiche Scanning (16mm)Image$0.05 – 0.10Volume, quality of materials
Microfiche Scanning (35mm)Image$0.09 – 0.15Volume, quality of materials
Pack BoxesBox$5.00 – 8.00Volume, total number of times to pack
Pickup/DeliveryRound Trip$25.00 – $150.00Total number and frequency of trips
Indexing (Folder-level)Record or Folder$0.08 – 0.25Number of indexing fields, length of fields, ease of identifying indexing information
ShreddingStandard size box$10.00 – 12.00Volume, size of boxes

For more information, consider reading our resource The Cost of Document Scanning.

Estimating Document Scanning Prices

The Key – Flexibility

As you consider the costs involved in a document scanning project, one of the primary factors in determining project feasibility is the flexibility of the service provider in helping you meet your goals. At ILM, we understand the many roadblocks that can often keep our prospective clients from being able to get a project, most often related to budget constraints. By offering flexibility in both the work process and pricing structure we offer our clients, we make every effort to help our clients get their projects off the ground.

For example, if a certain budget has been allocated to a project, we can work to a dollar cap. Similarly, we can offer a firm fixed price rather than our standard unit pricing. At times we have also offered to perform the work over a longer period of time to spread the cost out over a longer time period so that smaller organizations are not required to bear a heavy up front cost.


The best way for scanning service bureaus to generate an accurate estimate is to first process a sample box. At ILM, we are proud to offer prospective clients the opportunity for us to fully process an entire box at no cost and no obligation. The end result is twofold: we understand your materials and can provide an accurate pricing estimate and you can see our capabilities firsthand before you sign an agreement.

Get Started with ILM Today

Do you have a document scanning project you’re ready to tackle? With over 40 years of experience, we provide expert document conversion, data entry, and information management services to businesses of every size. If you have a project in mind and would like to get started, call us today at 540-898-1406 or visit us online at ilmcorp.com.

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