Need to deposit a check? There’s an app for that.

PNC Bank, the Washington area’s sixth largest bank with $8 billion in deposits at 171 branches, has launched an application allowing customers to deposit checks using their iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad 2.

Here’s how it works: Customers log in to their PNC account via the app, select “deposit,” key in the amount and take a snapshot of both sides of the check with the device’s camera.

No need to mail in the physical check, all the bank needs is a clear picture of the signature as well as account and routing numbers.

While PNC is the only bank with this capability in the Washington area, it is not the only one in the country employing the technology, called mobile remote deposit capture. USAA Federal Savings first introduced mobile deposit in 2009, followed a year later by J.P. Morgan Chase and a handful of other institutions.

Financial institutions are intrigued by the possibility of steering more customers to self-service channels and away from pricey branch operations. Yet many have shied away from mobile deposit out of security concerns. Industry insiders say continued advances and growing customer demand are now driving more institutions toward adoption.

Pittsburgh-based PNC initially offered mobile deposit in April to its customers who had signed up for Virtual Wallet, an interactive financial management tool. All consumer and small-business customers can now use the deposit service free of charge.

There are a few limits. Within 30 to 90 days of using the app, customers can deposit only $500 per transaction, or $1,000 per calendar month. After 90 days, the amount rises to $1,000 a day, or $3,000 per calendar month — standard limits among banks offering the service.

“As the technology has gotten better and more intuitive, we’ve been able to fall in and deliver services and products that are easy for any of our customers to use,” said Richard Bynum, executive vice president and retail market manager for PNC Bank in Greater Washington.

A study recently released by comScore, a market research firm in Reston, found that 30.8 million people in the United States had accessed their bank accounts via mobile devices in April alone, up from 26.7 million at the end of 2010.

And more financial institutions are stepping up to meet anticipated demand. Wisconsin-based Fiserv, a leading provider of technology services to the financial industry, counts a few dozen institutions under contract for mobile deposit. Likewise at software company mFoundry, where mobile deposit has become the most requested feature from clients. Neither company could disclose the names of clients gearing up to launch the service, but noted that some have locations in the Washington area.

“When you look at the advertising effort that was put in place by Chase, it’s intriguing how that has facilitated a lot of interest,” said Gary Brand, director of source capture optimizations at Fiserv.

The threat of fraud has slowed the pace of mobile deposit deployment at some banks. But Bynum noted that PNC’s imaging software can detect duplications of checks and forged signatures. What’s more, the program deletes snapshots of the check from the customer’s phone, an added protection in case the device is lost or stolen.

“You’re using the phone as a factor of authentication. Somebody can’t pretend to be you as easily as online,” said Drew Sievers, chief executive of mFoundry, which developed PNC’s app. “A scammer would have to have your credentials and your physical phone to hack your account.”