Working with text on your computer offers a range of possibilities in searching and editing that simply aren't available with hard copy text. Check out these five text recognition tools to get your printed text into your computer.
Photo by mmechinita.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR) has been around for decades but only recently has become both economical and easy enough to use that it is within the reach of the average consumer. Today we're looking at Lifehacker readers' five favourite applications for turning physical text into machine-readable virtual text.
Adobe Acrobat (Windows/Mac, from $130)
A solid OCR system is one of the most overlooked featured of Adobe Acrobat. Included in all versions from Adobe Acrobat Standard to Pro Extended and tucked in a sub-menu, the OCR functionality in Adobe is robust and works with both scanned and already saved documents. Many people already have a copy of Acrobat at home or at work and find that the OCR quality is high enough that they have little reason to invest the money in a dedicated OCR tool.
We grouped Evernote and OneNote together because they share a common limitation. Neither application was designed to serve as a standalone OCR tool, so the OCR capabilities of both are intended simply to supplement the primary purpose of the tool—taking great notes. To that end, however, if your OCR needs are few and mostly centered on pulling in hard-copy text to your note-taking/research workflow, both Evernote and OneNote are great solutions. If you need text recognition with a large volume of documents with high page counts, however, you'll likely want to find another OCR solution, as these two apps aren't particularly well-suited for dealing with anything bigger than indexing the text of business cards and low-volume documents.
OmniPage (Windows, From $US149)
At this point we're getting away from products that serve the needs of infrequent OCR users and moving into products that are feature-packed and exclusively focused on OCR. OmniPage has a powerful OCR engine, excellent format and layout recognition and preservation, and integration with popular applications—including one-click text-recognition support in Microsoft Office and a send-to-Kindle function. OmniPage supports multiple languages, batch processing, and exports to multiple common document formats.
ABBYY FineReader (Windows/Mac, $US399.99)
ABBYY FineReader has an astounding number of features and OCR tricks—as it should, for the hefty price tag of $US399. FineReader excels at recognition of text and formatting across a wide range of inputs—scanned text, existing documents, camera captures, and more—with support for over 180 languages. It can recognise text in images, barcodes, and other elements most basic OCR tools would miss. FineReader integrates with popular office applications and comes programmed with "quick tasks" to make common scanning workflows a one-click affair. ABBYY FineReader is available for both Windows and Mac OS X, although Mac users are limited to the FineReader Express package ($99), a light version of the full FineReader package.
Readiris (Windows/Mac, $US129)
Readiris technology is the OCR engine behind the OCR features in popular applications like Adobe Acrobat, but it's also the same tech that powers their standalone OCR software. Readiris supports over 120 languages—with additional packages available for Asian and Middle Eastern languages. The application scans and sends documents directly to your favourite application, creates and converts PDF files, and generates smaller documents by using their propriety compression techniques to radically shrink documents for easy transmission and archiving. Readiris also supports text recognition in images and handwritten notes.
Have a tip, trick or tool you want to share to help your fellow readers get better OCR scans? Let's hear about it in the comments.