Multi-function printers typically include scanning capability and provide many more features than a simple printer. One of the most time-saving features of a multi-function printer is the ability to scan to email and scan to a folder on a computer on the same network. These scan functions operate much the same way, yet have distinct differences. It is important to understand these differences when deciding which option is better for your unique environment. It is also possible that you will use both ways under different circumstances.

This post covers the main differences between scanning to email versus scanning to a folder on a computer on the same network as the printer.

Scanning to Email versus Scanning to a Folder


First, it is important to note the exact steps required for configuring either type of scanning varies slightly by printer manufacturers and printer models. However, the underlying functionality and requirements for each type of scanning are essentially the same. Second, the best way to find the exact steps to follow for either type of scanning is to visit the website for the printer manufacturer, go to their support or drivers page, type in the exact model of printer and follow the steps in their documentation. Lastly, the steps below help illustrate what it takes for both functions, how they differ and what needs they best meet.

The example steps below apply to using a Brother MFC-9340CDW printer.

Scanning to email

Scanning to email can be extremely convenient. Have a document you need to send to a client? This can be accomplished in no time once the settings are configured. Simply scan the document to email, enter the recipient email address, type a quick note and click send. Keep in mind, scanning to email requires the installation and configuration of a local email application.

In more detail, there are two main ways to access email: using web based email, or webmail, and using an email application. Examples of webmail accounts are Yahoo, Comcast and Gmail. Webmail is accessed by using a web browser like Chrome or Firefox. Webmail can also be accessed by email applications like Thunderbird and Outlook by configuring them. Email applications are locally installed software that can sync email, calendars and more. One benefit to email applications is that, unlike accessing webmail, existing emails remain accessible even when a device goes offline.

Scanning to email is useful and makes most sense when the scanned file:

  • Is in response to a verbal request - such as from a coworker or in a meeting.
  • Is only being scanned as a result of an email request that does not require explanation - such as a copy of a signed document or other form you otherwise do not need in digital format.
  • Is only being shared with a select few - meaning emailing the file makes more sense than storing it in a shared file location like a server or cloud storage.

Generally, the process for setting up scan to email consists of the following steps, though they may be slightly different or presented in a different order on your machine:

  • Start the scan in one of the following ways:
    • From the LCD screen on the printer, if applicable.
    • From the computer using the printer's software.
  • If the scan is initiated on the printer:
    • Select "Scan" from the menu.
    • Select the "Scan to email" option and click "OK".
    • Select the name of the computer to scan the document to.
    • Select "Start" to start the scan.
  • If the scan is initiated using the printer software on the computer:
    • Select the "Email" option.
    • Set the document type desired for the scanned document, e.g., .jpg, .pdf or other.
  • Click the send, scan or next button to start the scan and create the email.
  • Type the email address of the recipient and any necessary subject or text then click "Send" to send the email.

Scanning to a folder

Scanning to a folder is also very convenient, and within the software, you can set the default folder for scans so all files are created there. To make it easy to find scanned documents, create a folder called "Scans" or "Scanned Documents" in an easy to find location such as the desktop. This guarantees the files are easy to get to whether they are being sent in an email, scanned for recording purposes, or being stored in a shared file location with others.

Keep in mind, any important scanned documents should be stored in a location that falls within backups so make sure wherever the scans folder is created, it is included.

Scanning to a folder is useful and makes most sense when the scanned file:

  • Is being sent as a reply to an email - it is often much faster to open the existing email thread and attach the scanned file rather than typing context into a new email.
  • Is going to be stored on the local computer or network - meaning anyone with permissions can access the file directly and there is no need to email it.
  • Is shared via online storage - these files can be uploaded by a single person and use less storage this way in contrast to when they are emailed to everyone.

Generally, the process for setting up scan to a folder consists of the following steps, though they may be slightly different or presented in a different order on your machine:

  • Start the scan in one of the following ways:
    • From the LCD screen on the printer, if applicable.
    • From the computer using the printer's software.
  • If the scan is initiated on the printer:
    • Select "Scan" from the menu.
    • Select "Scan to File" and click "OK"
    • Select the name of the computer to scan the document to.
    • In the scan summary, select "Start" to start the scan.
    • If the scan is initiated using the printer software on the computer:
      • Select the "File" option.
      • Set the name of the file and the document type desired for the scanned document, e.g., .jpg, .pdf or other.
      • Click the scan, send or next button to start the scan.
      • The file will appear in the default folder created for scanned documents unless otherwise specified.

    Sometimes scanning to an email is more efficient while other times scanning to a folder makes more sense. Both options save time, are efficient and have specific times when they are the better choice. It is important to note that the scan to email function is only possible when combining the printer software with an email application, rather than webmail though a webmail account can be configured in an email application. Additionally, both devices must be on the same wired or wireless network for either scan option to work. This does not mean both devices must be wired or wireless, rather that they need to be on the same network to be able to communicate with one another.

    As always, knowing how to take advantage of more of the built-in features in existing equipment helps make sure you get the most out of it!