How To Scan Two-Sided Documents With A Single Sided Scanner

I recently purchased a Brother MFC-7365DN laser printer to replace my inkjet printer. For whatever reason, inkjet printers simply don’t perform well for me; it’s like the ink keeps drying out and my printed documents are unreadable. This could be due to the high altitude and arid climate of Colorado Springs. I’ve been quite happy with laser printers in the past, I can live without having a color printer in the house, and the price was right on this one at Sams Club.

Another advantage of this new printer is that it also serves as a scanner. Since I want to get rid of shelves full of binders, I was quite happy to see this additional feature — until I realized that it will only scan one side of the page.

Le Sigh.

I looked for some kind of add-on for the printer that would enable me to scan both sides of documents at once but could not find one (Brother, if you’re reading this, it would be a nice little addition that I’d gladly pay a few bucks to own!). So I went out looking for other solutions.

Enter PDF Split and Merge (PDFSAM).

This is free (open source) software that does exactly what I want, i.e.:

  • I scan both sides of my document.
  • The scanner puts each side into its own PDF document.
  • PDFSAM merges the two documents, taking one page from the first document, then the second document, etc. until all of the pages are in one PDF document in the proper order.

Problem solved!

As always, if open source software solves a problem you are facing, I encourage you to compensate the creators. In this case, there is a paid version that allows for additional features. I don’t think I’ll need the features, but the creator is only asking for 8 Euros (somewhere around $10 at current exchange rates), so I’ll upgrade to show my thanks.

How It Works

Here’s how the software works. These instructions were tested on PDF Split and Merge Basic Edition, version 3.0.2:

  • Scan both sides of your document into PDF files. In my case, the Brother MFC-7365DN automatically saves the documents to my computer, making it easy.
  • Check your PDF documents to ensure they look OK. Not that you would do it, but I have a bad habit of scanning pages upside down… 🙂
  • Note which document contains the first page. This is important because you want the final document’s pages to be in the right order.
  • Open PDFSAM.
  • When you first open it, you’ll see several options on the main screen:
    • Merge. This does a basic merge of PDF documents.
    • Split. Takes a single PDF and splits it.
    • Split by Bookmarks. Splits a PDF based on pre-defined bookmarks.
    • Alternate Mix. Merges two PDFs, allowing you to select varying merge options.
    • Rotate. Rotates the pages of multiple PDF documents.
    • Split by Size. Allows you to specify a destination size, then the software will “roughly” split a PDF into files of that size.
  • Click on “Alternate Mix”.
  • Click on the “Browse” button to the right side of the top text input box and browse to the first PDF you want to merge.
  • Do the same for the next field – except this one will be for the second PDF that you want to merge (e.g. the second side of your documents).
  • The second document will be in reverse order (or at least it will be if you’re lazy and simply flip over the pages like I do). That’s OK; PDFSAM will reverse the order of the pages in the second document (very thoughtful!). Just ensure that the “Reverse Second Document” option under “Mix Settings” is checked (it is checked by default).
  • Click on “Browse” next to “Destination File”, navigate to the folder where you want to save the output document, give it a name (i.e. “output.pdf”), and click “Open”.
  • When everything is set up, click on the “Run” button at the bottom left corner of the window.

When your document is ready, you’ll hear a funny noise from the software; that’s about all the warning you’ll get. A little popup would be nice, but that’s a feature suggestion, not a complaint.

One last tip: My document consisted of a combination of slides, which were landscape oriented, and a transcription, which was portrait oriented. I scanned them into separate PDF documents just to make it easier to read the final output.

With a little bit of creativity, it looks like PDFSAM will do quite a bit to help me reach my “almost paper free” goal.

Final Action Steps

In conclusion, I’m using PDFSAM to scan lots of paperwork into PDF format so I can get rid of the paper, and PDFSAM lets me merge two sided documents even though my scanner can only scan one side of a document. It is going to allow me to use a decent quality, low-cost printer / scanner to get rid of a lot of paper and can do the same for you.

Got questions, comments, or suggestions to do this better? Please leave a comment below!

Update: May 2016

I updated this post on May 8, 2016, to reflect software updates.

Which leads to a funny story… I had forgotten about this post and wanted to scan some documents two-sided. When I searched Google, I found my own post.

Blogging is good for you. 🙂