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ocr softwareBelieve it or not, some people still print documents to physical pieces of paper. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software takes those printed documents and converts them right back into machine-readable text. We’ve found some of the best free OCR tools and compared them for you here.

No OCR program is perfect, so you’ll have to double check the results and fix a few problems. Still, it’s a lot faster than typing the entire document back into the computer. Each of these free OCR software tools has its own strengths, and all of them will get the job done.

The Methodology

To compare these tools, I printed out MakeUseOf’s About page About MakeUseOf About MakeUseOf Read More  and scanned it back into the computer. With multiple columns and imperfections, this is not an ideal document to OCR. But that’s a good thing – real-life OCR operations will often be with imperfect documents.

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Google Docs

Google Docs has integrated OCR support. It uses the same OCR engine that Google uses to scan books and understand text in PDF files.

To get started, open the Google Docs website and start uploading a file. You can’t scan directly from your scanner The Best Printers & Scanners For Your Scanning & Printing Needs [Gadget Corner] The Best Printers & Scanners For Your Scanning & Printing Needs [Gadget Corner] Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Printers & scanners? Yawn. Who cares about those? They’re not thin, they don’t run apps (usually), and they’re made by companies like HP, which as a brand, is every... Read More  into Google Docs; you’ll have to scan the document as an image or PDF file first. If you don’t have a scanner, you can try scanning a document with your smartphone’s camera Scan Documents On Your Phone With CamScanner [Android & iPhone] Scan Documents On Your Phone With CamScanner [Android & iPhone] When it comes to smartphones, many of us want to be able to use them to do all manner of useful home office tasks just to make our lives easier. So it's a phone, a... Read More .

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Enable the “Convert text from PDF and image files to Google documents” check box when you upload the file.

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After you upload the file, it will appear as a new text document in Google Docs.

Google Docs did a pretty good job here. It struggled to understand the web addresses, but all these tools did.

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Unlike many free online OCR tools 3 Online OCR Services To Convert Scanned Docs To Text 3 Online OCR Services To Convert Scanned Docs To Text Read More , like Free OCR Convert Images To Text Online With Free OCR Convert Images To Text Online With Free OCR Read More (which is different from the FreeOCR below), Google Docs doesn’t have any limits on the amount of pages you can upload.

FreeOCR

Editor’s Note: users have reported malware bundled with recent versions of FreeOCR; we recommend you not download the software at this time. Links have been removed, article content remains for reference.

FreeOCR is a simple, easy-to-use frontend for the open-source Tesseract OCR engine, originally developed by HP Labs. FreeOCR comes bundled with Tesseract, so you don’t have to install anything extra.

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Use the Scan button to scan a page directly from your scanner or use the Open option to open an image or PDF file.

Click the red X button to clear the pre-filled text before continuing. After opening the file, click the OCR button on the toolbar and FreeOCR will start crunching away.

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FreeOCR gave good results on the main block of text, but it was confused by the columns. To fix this, I selected the block of text I wanted and used the “Crop image to selected area” option.

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The results were much better after running the OCR operation on a specific section of the document.

Cuneiform OpenOCR

Cognitive Technologies developed Cuneiform as a commercial OCR solution, but eventually released it as freeware. Cuneiform OpenOCR has an unpolished interface, but there’s an excellent OCR engine underneath.

The download page is in Russian — scroll down and click the “english version” setup link to download and install Cuneiform.

After you install it, you’ll find that it didn’t create appropriate Start menu entries. The “NewShortcut6” shortcut will launch OpenOCR.

From the File menu, use the Open option to open a file or the Scan option to scan a document.

After it’s in OpenOCR, use the Recognize option in the Recognition menu to OCR the text. Cuneiform OpenOCR will save it as a file.

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Cuneiform OpenOCR provided good text recognition. It also preserved the formatting and text size differences – unlike the other programs here.

The Verdict

Each of these programs has its strengths.

  • Google Docs can OCR documents without downloading anything to your computer.
  • FreeOCR offers a very easy-to-use interface, but requires some fiddling if a document contains columns.
  • Cuneiform OpenOCR preserves much of the original document’s formatting, but its interface lacks polish.

Once you’re done with the OCR process, you may want to spell-check your document The Top 5 OCR Spell Checking Tools The Top 5 OCR Spell Checking Tools Read More . Depending on your use, you may not even have to OCR documents at all – you can convert a paper book to an ebook How To Convert Scanned Pages Into eReader eBook Format How To Convert Scanned Pages Into eReader eBook Format Read More without OCRing it.

Which OCR software works best for you? Do you have a different favorite OCR program that we didn’t mention here? Leave a comment and let us know.

Image Credit: Woman’s Hand With Working Copier via Shutterstock

  1. ayush
    August 1, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    it works only when the text of the image is in normal font that is "times new roman" but fails with other fonts.
    is there any software that recognises all the types of fonts

  2. yup
    June 30, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    Thank you Chris Hoffman for your helpful article.

    FreeOCR looks just what I'm looking for. Unfortunate to read your note that it has been reported to contain malware. Could you tell us if it is still the case? I see your article was written in 2012. Perhaps the note was a later update? Or could you share how I can find out for myself whether it is still contains malware? Thank you.

    My alternative would be to work with Tesseract, but that looks more complicated to install and I read that it is not the most user friendly.

  3. Michelle
    June 2, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    I am trying to get the ability to edit PDF documents and convert PDF to Excel or word. I work in a medical office and every site or option I find ends up being blocked by the administrator. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Tx Michelle

  4. Steve Hughes
    May 23, 2016 at 3:25 am

    To Open PDF's in DOCS, see my first post.

  5. Steve Hughes
    May 23, 2016 at 3:23 am

    Drive instructions are beyond outdated. Here is how it is done these days.

    To open PDF in Drive:
    --Open Drive,
    -----Select Settings (gear icon far right-top),
    -------Select Settings again,
    ---------Click "Convert uploaded files to Gooogle Docs format".

    Now only imported files will open. PDF's that were already in Drive will need to be "Uploaded" from the Drive folder to the Drive folder. Basically, any files already there need to be selected and "Downloaded"
    This goes for all Office files as well as PDF's.

    • Steve Hughes
      May 23, 2016 at 3:25 am

      Should say, To open PDF in "DOCS".

  6. Thu Nguyen
    April 8, 2016 at 7:37 am

    You can visit inFORM decision to find which is the best for you. My company also choose this web. That is so fancy!

  7. May
    December 14, 2015 at 7:12 am

    The free OCR tools you suggest are great for me. I heard of them before, but I did not use it. I am using Yunmai Document Recognition, a document reader developed by Yunmai Technology. It enables scanned documents and images to be transformed into searchable and editable document formats. It is able to extract the text from an image of a document, and then save it as text file. This software is a demo of Yunmai Document Recognition OCR SDK.

  8. kons Tom
    June 4, 2015 at 11:44 am

    I use GTText also. It is quite accurate. You just contr+V any image, select region and its copied. Pretty awesome.

  9. Steven Hodgin
    May 18, 2015 at 5:10 am

    Hello Chris,

    Thanks you for sharing a great online tool in this post. Free tools have their own features, but that are negative points too. Free online converter store your PDF file on their sever (your pdf file could be have some personal information).

    Personally I would like to share a tool here i.e. "PDFWARE Image to PDF Converter". This software has many options to add Images in a PDF document. It convert all types of Images into pdf document. I will recommend it to other user.

    Best Regards

  10. Pedro
    April 11, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    Hi, Chris!

    Could you tell me the name of the best freeware for printing searchable PDFs?

    Thanks.

  11. Mr Silly
    March 8, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    Tesseract via sourceforge.net for the win.

  12. Jacob Eeckhout
    March 6, 2015 at 9:08 am

    Thanks for the 'Google Doc'-tip. It took me a lot of time to find the best solution. Google Docs keeps the formatting of the document, which saves me a lot of time. Thanks!

  13. dave
    February 28, 2015 at 4:08 am

    Hey bro - as a reviewer you should take the time to review the product EULA and data / security policies.
    These are at least as important as the features offered.

    I did not appreciate the spyware packaged with your recommendation (FreeOCR), or the agreement that would allow collection and use of personal data.

    You should have mentioned these negatives. No prize for this review.

  14. Dave
    July 27, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    GT Text is also very good.
    It supports Chinese (just downloading the language in preferences)
    Japanese and a myriad of languages
    http://gttext.googlecode.com

    • Chris Hoffman
      August 1, 2012 at 10:24 am

      Thanks for sharing. It's open source, which is pretty awesome.

    • Pramila
      September 4, 2012 at 6:02 pm

      Does any of these Open Source software's have scheduling feature. Because OCR'ing big files and numerous of them take long time. So I am thinking of scheduling them. The feature that ABBY Prof.Edition has?

      Thanks,

  15. Frank
    June 21, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    I like to professionally use OCR (50 pages/day), but i don't like to spend thousands of dollars; what is a good program to buy? Is Omnipage the best option?

    Thanks, Frank

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 21, 2012 at 11:19 pm

      I haven't used any commercial OCR programs myself, so I don't feel comfortable recommending any specific ones.

      You should ask this question in MakeUseOf Answers: http://www.makeuseof.com/answers/

      The question will get more attention and people with experience can give you a better answer!

  16. Jackie Freeman
    June 21, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    I need a program to scan & read handwritten and digital text, convert it to pdf, searchable and networkable.

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 21, 2012 at 11:16 pm

      Handwritten text is a much harder problem, as handwritten characters aren't as distinct as typed ones. It's difficult to find a program that will work well for this.

      You might try SoftWriting, which has a free trial: http://www.charactell.com/SoftWriting.html

      You might also try SimpleOCR, which seems to have this feature -- but it doesn't seem to work very well: http://www.simpleocr.com/Download.asp

  17. mathematrucker
    June 8, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    Not sure whether Google Docs ever had this same limitation, but Google Drive (which it appears Google plans to eventually replace Google Docs with) limits its OCR'ing of any PDF you upload to just the first ten pages. The 2 MB file size limit also still applies, but this ten-page limit is even more restrictive.

    However it's good they still don't restrict the number of documents you upload. As a result, you can still OCR an arbitrarily large number of pages for free on Google Drive -- ten pages at a time.

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 10, 2012 at 8:38 am

      That's unfortunate. It's still a pretty great service, though -- hard to complain when it's free and happens on their servers.

    • mathematrucker
      June 10, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      I agree Chris. Also note, since the ten-page restriction applies only to PDF format there could be a simple workaround. There might be another multipage file format such as TIFF that a person could convert their PDF to before uploading.

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 15, 2012 at 6:59 am

      Thanks, great tip!

      It's clear that Google Docs is supposed to be a very basic OCR tool, not an industrial-strength one.

  18. Alicia
    May 1, 2012 at 4:00 am

    Hi Chris Hoffman,
    I like Cuneiform OpenOCR,
    but Cuneiform OpenOCR is not support to do OCR on PDF files
    do you know how to make coneiform openocr to do ocr on pdf files?
    thanks

  19. Mark
    March 26, 2012 at 5:48 am

    The OCR tools seems to be great.

    • Chris Hoffman
      March 26, 2012 at 9:39 pm

      Thanks, Mark! I tried to choose a variety of tools with a variety of engines and strengths.

  20. carie
    March 26, 2012 at 5:34 am

    I use ocr a lot and have tried almost every free option out there. For straight forward text they handle just fine, but send through complex layouts and expect to spend hours editing. Recently I forked out for the premium Omnipage, and although I am now broke, I have to admit that the program makes everything else look inefficient. Simple pages are ocr-ed in seconds and are perfect. Complex layouts take a little longer because you need to define graphic, text and table areas, but the results are near perfect. I am not saying that the options mentioned here can't do the job, but if you have big projects in need of ocr, or ocr documents regularly, then save the headache and pay for the master!

    • Chris Hoffman
      March 26, 2012 at 9:40 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Carie. I've never used Omnipage so I can't speak to it, but it may well be a good idea to pay for more powerful OCR software if you need it.

    • Jackie Freeman
      June 21, 2012 at 4:43 pm

      Does OmniPage read handwritten text?

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 21, 2012 at 11:13 pm

      Apparently it isn't designed for handwritten text, so it may not be the ideal solution. Here's the official answer to your question:

      http://nuance.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/828/~/does-omnipage-recognize-handwritten-text%3F

    • Jackie Freeman
      June 21, 2012 at 4:43 pm

      Does OminPage read handwritten text?

  21. Ekus
    March 20, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    What? No OneNote? It OCRs all pasted pictures by default, so you can easily find them. I don't use Evernote but expect it to be similar.

    • Chris Hoffman
      March 21, 2012 at 8:45 pm

      I've heard good things about OneNote and we've covered it in the past, but I wanted to cover free OCR tools here. Many people may already own OneNote, but it is a commercial product that costs money to use.

  22. Gordon Hay
    March 20, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    I use ABBYY Finereader Sprint free version - works fine for home/personal use.

    • Chris Hoffman
      March 20, 2012 at 8:10 pm

      Thanks, Gordon -- why did you choose it? What makes it better than the other options to you?

    • Thalita
      July 9, 2012 at 11:22 am

      Hi! I also use Sprint but, probably, for big projects with a lot of formatting and complex layout I need a full product that will save the original structure and convert pdf. Not sure what product to buy, do you know if I can upgrade from Sprint (and if it is cheaper) to complete version of finereader ?

    • Chris Hoffman
      July 17, 2012 at 2:29 am

      I'm not sure what the best paid product to buy is either -- you might try asking on MakeUseOf Answers to get more feedback: http://www.makeuseof.com/answers/

      I'm sure you can upgrade to the full version though -- since it's just a matter of paying for the full version and downloading it.

    • Oron
      August 2, 2012 at 7:17 pm

      The best two packages bar none for accuracy, layout preservation etc (not necessarily for speed or ease of use) are Abbyy FineReader Pro and Nuance OmniPage Professional. Personally, I prefer the Abbyy product which is much more elegant and flexible (allowing you, for example, to define specific character sets which can enhance the accuracy of the document). However, the Nuance product is also very good.
      Another big player is IRIS, whose products are are geared towards "productivity" rather than for accuracy. They are much faster, and most of the IRIS packages are largely "hands off" (no interactive layout recognition or spell checking, for example). This is suitable for those who are scanning into searchable PDFs, where absolute accuracy is not paramount, but speed is!

  23. Danny Manno
    March 20, 2012 at 11:58 am

    Google Docs while not having a page limit does have:
    Sorry, this file is too big. We can only convert files up to 2 MB in size.
    :(

    • Chris Hoffman
      March 20, 2012 at 8:16 pm

      Thanks for sharing that, Danny!

      I'm sure all services have a max file size -- it's sad that Google Docs' file size is so low.

      However, you could always split the document into several files and upload them one by one -- Many free services say "x pages" or "x documents" as a limit; that's no fun.

  24. Stan
    March 20, 2012 at 3:52 am

    Does it support chinese ?

    • Chris Hoffman
      March 20, 2012 at 8:21 pm

      I believe that Google Docs does. Tessaract (FreeOCR) also seems to support Chinese. Cuneiform may -- I'm not sure.

      But one of these solutions should definitely work for you!

    • Stan
      March 21, 2012 at 3:45 am

      Thank you very much, it is useful.

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