Do you need to digitize handwritten notes to edit or index them? Or would you like to copy text from the picture of a handwritten quote? What you need is something called an optical character recognition (OCR) tool.
OCR tools analyze the handwritten or typed text in images and compare it with fonts in a database or check it against known features of letters. Some tools even have spell checkers that give additional help in the case of unrecognizable words.
Here are six of the best OCR tools available.
Availability: Windows, Mac, Web, iOS, and Android
Microsoft OneNote is actually a digital note-taking program. Some people use it as an alternative to similar programs like Evernote.
Right-click on an imported picture and you’ll see the option to Copy Text From Picture. Use this command to extract letters from the image and convert them to text you can edit.
This option works in seconds, and Microsoft OneNote is a free, cloud-based program that you can use across various devices, including smartphones, tablets, and computers.
However, it falls short in terms of accuracy for handwritten letters. It does best with printed text, such as that from a business card.
Availability: Desktop only
There is another OCR-based resource embedded into older versions of the Microsoft Office suite that you might not be aware of. Known as Microsoft Office Document Imaging (MODI), it also turns image-based text into an editable kind. Unfortunately, this handy tool was discontinued in the Office 2010 update, but there are still ways to access it:
- Simply install this MDI to TIFF file converter.
- Then download SharePoint Designer 2007 to install MODI.
You can find more detailed setup instructions at this Microsoft Support thread.
Once you have MODI available to you, open the handwritten image or picture file in it. Click on the eye icon (Recognize Text With OCR) and then the Microsoft Word icon, which sends the converted file to that program and opens it.
MODI, too, struggles with handwritten text, but typed text in images is likely converted relatively well. Give it a try if you have Microsoft Office on your computer.
Download: Microsoft Office 365 for desktop ($10 to $149 for home-use license)
3. Simple OCR
Availability: Desktop only
This freeware tool recognizes approximately 120,000 words and allows you to add more words to its dictionary. Boasting up to 99 percent accuracy, SimpleOCR even identifies formatted text, and it’s possible to set it to ignore formatting, too.
Use the despeckle or noisy document feature if the handwriting you’re converting is messy.
SimpleOCR is a speedy tool, especially since you can set it to decipher whole documents, portions, or multiple documents in batches.
However, the aforementioned accuracy rating is clearly for printed text in pictures and not handwritten media. When comparing SimpleOCR with either of the Microsoft tools, you’ll probably find the latter works better.
Download: SimpleOCR for desktop (Free)
4. Online OCR
This straightforward website allows you to go through the process of uploading an image, choosing an output format, and downloading the completed file in less than a minute.
Registration is not required for basic use of this free site. You’ll just have to complete a captcha.
However, during a test of a PNG photograph of handwriting to TXT format, Online OCR spit out random gibberish that failed to match the handwriting at all, so use this tool with a grain of salt.
Because it’s cheap and easy to use, there’s no harm in seeing if you get better results.
One possible perk of Online OCR is it recognizes many languages.
Try: Online OCR (Free)
Availability: Windows only
Using a sourced image captured by a scanner or digital camera, TopOCR offers a dual pane format that displays the original image on the left and the conversion on the right. Expect it to work reasonably well if your handwritten text appears from left to right. If it features columns, the program will likely not be accurate.
TopOCR is efficient, supports 11 languages, and has a PDF export feature. The free trial version is capable enough to enable you to easily verify whether or not it will work for your needs and make a decision about buying the full, feature-unlocked program. One possible limitation of TopOCR is it only works on Windows computers.
Download: TopOCR (Free trial or $4.99 for full program)
Availability: Windows only
Made for the Windows platform, FreeOCR works with images and PDFs. Conversion time is very fast, but accuracy is dismal.
The original technology that runs FreeOCR was never designed to interpret handwritten text. However, some users say after they used the program for that purpose repeatedly and carefully followed instructions in users’ guides and forums, accuracy got better.
Download: FreeOCR (Free)
How Many Images Will You Convert to Text Now?
Despite how much people love OCR tools when they discover them, these websites and apps aren’t super well known. Now that you know about them, how many images will you use them on?
If you found this article because you’re trying to digitize your handwritten notes, you might want to start looking into digital note-taking.
Do you know of any other OCR tools that aren’t mentioned here? Tell us about them in the comments section below!