Top 5 Free OCR Software Tools To Convert Images Into Text

Thumbnail8   Top 5 Free OCR Software Tools To Convert Images Into TextQuite frankly, I wish I knew about this simple way to use freely available OCR software back in my school days. Of course, we didn’t have camera mobile phones or inexpensive Digicams, but wouldn’t it have saved hours of copying notes!

Ah, modern technology is wonderful; take a scanned image (or take a snap using a mobile camera/Digicam) and presto ““ OCR software extracts all the information from the image into easily editable text format.

Optical character recognition (OCR) is a system of converting scanned printed/handwritten image files into its machine readable text format. OCR software works by analyzing a document and comparing it with fonts stored in its database and/or by noting features typical to characters. Some OCR software also puts it through a spell checker to “guess” unrecognized words. 100% accuracy is difficult to achieve, but close approximation is what most software strive for.


Maybe you have already come across our previous How to Extract Text from Images (OCR) post and used JOCR, a a free OCR software tool. Or you might have set your preference for a few online OCR tools. Then again, if you have thought up ways to exploit OCR software for productivity shortcuts, then let us give you a few more tools to play with.

We will be looking at 5 free pieces of OCR software and to start off let’s see the overlooked two that are already installed on our systems.

OCR Using Microsoft OneNote 2007

For the occasional basic OCR stuff, MS OneNote’s optical character recognition feature is a timesaver. You might have missed it”¦it’s called Copy Text from Picture.

1 OneNote   Top 5 Free OCR Software Tools To Convert Images Into Text

  • Drag a scan or a saved picture into OneNote. You can also use OneNote to clip part of the screen or an image into OneNote.
  • Right click on the inserted picture and select Copy Text from Picture. The copied optically recognized text goes into the clipboard and you can now paste it into any program like Word or Notepad.

OneNote is simplicity personified. But it’s not too great for handwritten characters or even fuzzy ones. But for a quick job, I am all for OneNote’s clip and paste.

OCR Using Microsoft Office Document Imaging

Another little used tool within the Microsoft family. It’s right there under Menu – Microsoft Office ““ Microsoft Office Tools – Microsoft Office Document Imaging.

2 MS Office Doc Img   Top 5 Free OCR Software Tools To Convert Images Into Text

Doing OCR using the document imaging tool is a bit limiting because it accepts only TIFF (or MDI) formats. But that’s not too much of a bother as any graphic application can be used to convert an image to TIFF. In the screenshot below, I have used MS Paint to convert a JPEG to a TIFF.

2ii MS Office Doc Img   Top 5 Free OCR Software Tools To Convert Images Into Text

  • Open the file in Microsoft Office Document Imaging – File ““ Open.
  • Click the little eye icon – Recognize Text Using OCR.
  • Click on MS Word Icon ““ Send Text to Word.
  • A MS Word File opens with the editable converted text.
  • Alternatively, you can also use MS Paint to select a specific area and copy it to the clipboard. Open MS Office Document Imaging ““ select Page ““ Paste Page to copy the selection for OCR.

Again, MODI handled printed text ably, but my handwritten text was met with an “˜OCR performed but could not recognize text prompt’. Of course, do try out with your own handwriting.

So, now let’s leave the Microsoft family behind and look at three free tools which call themselves OCR Software”¦

SimpleOCR

The difficulty I was having with handwriting recognition using MS tools, could have found a solution in SimpleOCR. But the software offers handwriting recognition only as a 14 day free trial. Machine print recognition though does not have any restrictions.

3 SimpleOCR   Top 5 Free OCR Software Tools To Convert Images Into Text

  • The software can be set up to read directly from a scanner or by adding a page (jpg, tiff, bmp formats).
  • SimpleOCR offers some control over the conversion through text selection, image selection and text ignore features.
  • Conversion to text takes the process into a validation stage; a user can correct discrepancies in the converted text using an in-built spell-checker.
  • The converted file can be saved to a doc or txt format.

SimpleOCR was fine with normal text, but its handling of multi-column layouts was a comedown. In my opinion, the conversion accuracy of the Microsoft tools was considerably better than SimpleOCR.

SimpleOCR (v3.1) is a 9MB download and is compatible with Windows.

TopOCR

Just what I was talking about in the beginning!  TopOCR,  in a breakaway from typical OCR software, is designed more for digital cameras (at least 3MP) and mobile phones along with scanners. Like SimpleOCR, it has a two window interface ““ The source Image window and the Text window.

4 TopOCR   Top 5 Free OCR Software Tools To Convert Images Into Text

The image sourced from a camera or a scanner in the left window gets converted to the text format in the text editor on the right. The text editor functions like WordPad and can use Microsoft’s Text to Speech engine.

  • The software supports JPEG, TIFF, GIF and BMP formats.
  • Image settings like brightness, color, contrast, despeckle, sharpen etc. can be used to improve readability of the image.
  • Camera filter settings can also be configured for enhancing the image.
  • The converted file can be saved in a variety of formats ““ PDF, RTF, HTML and TXT.
  • TopOCR functions well with straight oriented text but the usual failing of OCR with columned text remains.
  • The software though, parses a mixed page (text plus graphics) well and processes the text only.
  • The software works with 11 languages.

For best results with your camera read there How to Get the Best Results with TopOCR page.

TopOCR (v3.1) is an 8MB download and is compatible with Windows (not tested on Vista).

FreeOCR

This free OCR software uses the Tesseract OCR engine. Tesseract OCR code was developed at HP Labs between 1985 and 1995 and is currently with Google. It is thought of as one of the most accurate open source OCR engines available.

FreeOCR is a simple Windows interface for that underlying code.

5 FreeOCR   Top 5 Free OCR Software Tools To Convert Images Into Text

  • It supports most image files and multi-page TIFF files.
  • It can handle PDF formats and is also compatible with TWAIN devices like scanners.
  • FreeOCR also has the familiar double window interface with easy to understand settings.
  • Before starting the one click conversion process, you can adjust the image contrast for better readability.

FreeOCR (v.2.03) requires Microsoft Net 2.0 framework. The Windows XP/Vista compatible 4.38MB software can also be downloaded from this alternate site.

Free OCR tools come with their own limitations. And scanning a page has to do a lot with resolutions, contrasts and clarity of fonts. From an average user’s standpoint, 100% OCR accuracy remains a pipedream.

Though the free tools were adequate with printed text, they failed with normal cursive handwritten text. My personal preference for offhand OCR use leans towards the two Microsoft products I mentioned in the beginning.

Your own say matters. Which is your tool of choice? Do the free OCR software recognize what you through at it? And more importantly, do you recognize what they throw back at you? Let us know”¦

Image Credit: kalleboo

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38 Comments -

RichGillott

Any good OCR applications for mac users?

Saikat

Couldn’t find any through a Google search. All of them seem to be paid. Maybe, Mac users can drop a hint.

Ciaran

Although it is paid, a great mac app for ocr is Prizmo. It is incredibly accurate – I used it for a low-light picture I took on my iPhone 3g (2 megapixels), and every word was perfect – with a bit of fiddling.

the-hijacker

You might want to try ABBYY FineReader

Bharath Ambati

Google has entered into OCR…tesseract-ocr which can used in your applications.

Regards,
Bharath

Anonymous

Mac users can use online OCR applications, one of which has been covered here before – http://www.makeuseof.com/dir/ocrterminal-convert-scanned-documents-into-text/

Alex

hi,excuse me…
I installed “Microsoft Office Document Imaging. But why not see? Not appear in Microsoft programs

Alex

ok I solved … I tried both SimpleOCR, TopOCR, but with poor results

Rob v

mac users could try pretending they own a Canon Pixma MultiFunction Printer and download the attendant software. Then read from image files already scanned ( or screen-grabbed ) from elsewhere. But make sure your DPI is 150×150 pixels. read the online manual.

Anon

How about JOCR (everrex.com/)? How does it compare to the above tools?

Saikat

Haven’t used it extensively. But it’s small and quick. It’s officially a screen grabber with OCR features.Ultimately it uses MS Doucument Imaging (MODI). You cannot use it if MODI is not installed. I have given the link to a previous post we had done on it. Do read it.

Ravi Balla

I have been looking for something to do such thing with scanned pages in a pdf document. With the above cue I was able to copy text from entire pdf scanned pages. I had to insert the pdf in OneNote and use the option to insert all pages and convert into text. Now I have my 250 page user manual, which was all paper, in a searchable, editable word document!

Thanks
Ravi

Saikat

Great!I also use the two MS tools. They are pretty effective for simple needs of the average user.

Chuckles

The freeOCR.net site says it does not work with PDF?

Saikat

I also wrote the wrong version nos. It should be v2.6 instead of 2.03. The PDF issue was resolved in version 2.5 itself. There’s an ‘Open PDF’ button on the menu.

Jshm2

Abbyy Finereader, nothing comes close. Not free but for ocr or doc conversion it’s not got a real rival.

Ravi Balla

I realized I have ScanSoft PDF converter, which seemed to be the best. It is not free but came in my laptop through my work company.

Naren

oh great! i m searching for this software

observer

I am puzzled that the title of the post is “top 5 free”, yet your first two of five are paid Microsoft products – neither free as in freedom, nor free of charge.

Saikat

I certainly wouldn’t want you to buy Windows for these two :)…but “free” in a sense means that it’s there as a part of our installed OS. We don’t need to look elsewhere for the software.Apart from Linux, we have to pay for all OS,don’t we. We feature a lot of MS Office tutorials here too…Office isn’t free too in that sense.

klu9

Microsoft Office was not there as part of my installed OS. (Windows XP, bundled with Microsoft Works). I would need to look elsewhere for that software. And then I would need to buy it and install it before it would be there.

klu9

But thanks for writing about the others, will try them out.

Dominique

PLEASE, PLEASE, HELP;

I am in need to be ability to scan my hand written documents (via my scanner) into my MAC and edit the scan documents.

The scan converts into a pdf file, however, I am not able to make any edits….HELP PLEASE.

DQ

jcocchiaro

same as last post. but i’m also looking for a tech that can extract contact information (wherever it may be located on my system) and automatically organize it and load it into my address book.

any ideas?

klu9

Does anyone know where to get other languages for FreeOCR? The link provided in the software is 404.

John Ward

Using EPSON WORKFORCE 500
Scanning old paper manuals
Using Tiff Combine to merge them
Using MS Office Document Imaging to OCR
Now have a sort of indexed electronic version of manual

Have noticed if I clean first with Paint the OCR doesn’t work.

klu9

I needed to OCR a pdf in Spanish: FreeOCR’s link for languages is 404, SimpleOCR doesn’t do Spanish, TopOCR I forgot to try (doh!)

But I got great results from the online ocr service OCRterminal. I just had to wait 18 hours for it.

Arnav

Thanks buddy !

Online OCR

THIS is good and like it……………dud

jitenderpalingh

hi jitnderpalingh i hv used your freeocr that was good i m happy use it. try it and check it

OCR Software

Great Article and overview of tools.

Guy Adami

I have been searching for these free tools for a while and I realized after reading this article that I forgot Microsoft Offices comes with one.

TecheSpot

Great Post, i have searched for google to get some useful info on how to convert images into text but found nothing better than this Post.

Thanks Alot for sharing such useful piece of information.

Dr Web

Great post. I have FreeOCR – is good enough

Globinch

This is really useful article. Thank you for sharing this tools

Man