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Quite 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) How To Extract Text From Images (OCR) - Windows Only How To Extract Text From Images (OCR) - Windows Only Read More 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.

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ocr software

  • 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.

ocr software

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.

ocr software

  • 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 PagePaste 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.

free ocr

  • 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.

best ocr software

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.

ocr software

  • 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

  1. Elisabeth
    September 26, 2016 at 5:17 am

    Thanks. For someone who became dependent rather than addicted to OCR when I discovered it on my HP printer/scanner when I was teaching, but didn't bother to look into it, I have missed it sorely now I am retired but enmeshed in Committee work and creating documents from several sources with information that needs to be presented in both original and edited formats...Lordy what a time saver! Thanks again for making the choice clearer.

    • Saikat Basu
      September 26, 2016 at 2:01 pm

      Thanks Elisabeth.It's always a pleasure when a simple article becomes so useful for our readers. OCRs have got so much better now!

  2. Harold Graham
    August 31, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    Thank you very informative I was jus about looking a OCR software ... OneNote is good enough for what I want to do. did not know onenote could do it

  3. mahadev
    August 2, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    free ocr is good, gt text sucks...i downloaded it and it looks shitty

  4. Dave
    June 6, 2016 at 10:45 am

    GT Text is very good too.

  5. Barcelona
    June 3, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    Very very very good post. Thank you very much for your work. It is very simple to do it with OneNote.

    Best Regards.

    A Friend who liked your post.

    • Saikat Basu
      June 6, 2016 at 4:57 am

      Thanks so much Barcelona. OCR has matured tremondously since I wrote this article. And yes, OneNote is great.

    • Shamas
      July 15, 2016 at 7:18 pm

      I tried with OneNote and it keep telling me that I have old version. I have 2010 version Office. I appriciate for your help Saikat Basu.
      Here is my email: shamas.butt@outlook.com
      Thanks

  6. Yuvarj
    April 16, 2016 at 11:55 am

    Hi,

    I have abbyyfine reader but it not give 100% accuracy.guide me

    • noz1995
      April 29, 2016 at 3:29 am

      Actually, there is currently no software that can give you 100% accuracy. In the best condition, OmniPage OCR can give you 99.2% accuracy for recognizing, it's the highest ever

    • Saikat Basu
      April 29, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      True. But things are improving at a fast clip thanks to machine intelligence. Even 99.2 is significant compared to a few years back.

  7. Fijoy
    February 4, 2016 at 7:08 am

    Hello,

    I want to convert images to text that have mathematical notes printed. So these notes has mathematical signs and I sued Abbyy Find reader but having problems with that. Can you suggest a good software that will probably convert the accurate sign in the text format ?

    Thanks in advance!!

    • Saikat Basu
      February 4, 2016 at 9:07 am

      Head below to read the suggestions I gave Piyush. Hope those help.

  8. Marlene Stewart
    January 29, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    I already had OneNote on my computer and I just used this to convert the text from a PDF that I just scanned in. Thanks so much it worked perfectly! Yay!

    Marlene Stewart :D

  9. Akshita
    January 22, 2016 at 11:47 am

    i need to convert cursive writting test image to simple text .Please suggest me software.

    • Saikat Basu
      January 22, 2016 at 2:43 pm

      Another reader had the same query. I am redirecting you to the MakeUseOf Answers page where this is discussed.

  10. Taben
    January 21, 2016 at 11:09 pm

    I tried both the TopOCR and the SimpleOCR to convert some papers I had written in high school and both failed. Instead of coherent words, I got a bunch of letters, numbers, and punctuations. I don't know if it's my handwriting, if because the other side can be faintly seen, or a combination of both. Oh well back to the standard way of typing them out

  11. Cscope123@gmail.com
    January 21, 2016 at 8:39 pm

    Hi Saikat,

    what is the best OCR to use for extracting information from receipts? And is there an OCR that allow rules to be written and define for images. Example if the OCR scan an predefined image of a house, then it writes the word assigned to that image?

    • Saikat Basu
      January 22, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      Not sure about the second part of your question.But for receipt scanning, try tools like Receipts by Wave [iOS & Android].

      Smart Receipts is another Android app.

      Neat.com also looks good and has a free trial.

      Shoeboxed.com is full-fledged servvice for receipt management.

  12. Piyush
    November 25, 2015 at 5:53 am

    I would like to convert some mathematical algorithm with supper script. OCR will be best for my solution?

  13. ramesh
    November 16, 2015 at 6:46 am

    Hi Saikat

    Can You guide me

    How to compare in word ducuments

    One more thing i have image and txt ducments also that i want check for accuracy

    please give me a any software link. fastest QC software i need error report also

    Regards
    Ramesh

  14. ramesh
    November 13, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    HI

    I have image documents and txt ducments both i want compare for accuracy pls guide me for

    • ramesh
      November 13, 2015 at 2:25 pm

      any software i need

    • Saikat Basu
      November 14, 2015 at 6:07 am

      Hi Ramesh,

      Do an OCR on both. Take the results and create two Word documents. Then compare both. There are also online document comparision tools available, but Word can do it very well.

  15. Rik Datta
    November 2, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    I installed FreeOCR and that seems to work very well for me. I have only used it on typed and clear documents and not anything with freehand writing. But, it did the job I was looking for it to do.

    I tried to install Simple OCR but didn't. They seemed to want you to create an account with all sorts of information. I didn't want to do that for something that's supposed to be free.

    So, my vote goes to FreeOCR.

    • Saikat Basu
      November 3, 2015 at 10:41 am

      Simple OCR seems to have changed since I wrote this article. Thanks for the feedback.

  16. May Zhu
    October 27, 2015 at 5:39 am

    Thanks for your suggestions. They are helpful for me. Simple OCR looks cool because it can recognize handwriting. When choosing OCR software, I always think about the recognition accuracy and recognition speed. As I know, Yunmai Technology is also very professional on OCR technology. Yunmai Document Recognition is really great for me. The average time for recognition of a document less than 6 seconds. The recognition accuracy can reach 99%. It can convert documents into PDF, Word, Text format files.

    • Saikat Basu
      October 28, 2015 at 5:39 am

      Thanks May. Will check it out.

  17. Saikat Basu
    September 4, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    Looks good. Thanks for the suggestion. Maybe, it's time to come back with updated and new tools on OCR :)

  18. Jawahar
    February 22, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    Please tell me how to convert an image which has a font type which is not in the free OCR database and any other database. I have the ttf file for the font type in the image. Please tell me how to add in any ocr database and convert them?

    • Saikat
      February 23, 2015 at 5:58 am

      I am flummoxed. Maybe our Answers community can help you out.

  19. Zvika
    February 17, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    threw at it .. not "through" at it :-)
    Thx for the post ... very informative

    • Saikat
      February 17, 2015 at 2:57 pm

      Ah. Typo. Thanks for the catch :)

    • Swarm Catcher
      October 9, 2015 at 7:13 am

      While we are on it - one i regularly make accidentally

      read their How to Get the Best - not read there How to Get the Best

    • Swarm Catcher
      October 9, 2015 at 7:14 am

      Sorry meant to say interesting review thankks, looking to see if buying HP's Readiris is worth it - any thoughts

  20. sufran chaus
    January 17, 2015 at 9:33 am

    hi i tried to convert "Vladimir Script" font image to text but it not works .

  21. Jullie
    January 9, 2015 at 9:01 am

    Hello! I used kitpdf.com to convert webpages into pdf documents and it generated good and fast results. It's simple to use, no need to install the tool, just upload the needed files. I recommend using it.

    • Saikat
      January 9, 2015 at 3:03 pm

      Thanks for the name. It looks simple and useful.

  22. Anthony Alesi
    December 21, 2014 at 5:56 am

    I was looking for the simplest thing... to convert a jpg file to word text. I did not need any of the fancy features. The cost of the software was outrageous. Then I read your article. One Note is free and does what I need. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. You are a life saver.

  23. Man
    July 12, 2010 at 3:05 pm
  24. Globinch
    July 12, 2010 at 1:04 pm

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

  25. Dr Web
    February 11, 2010 at 4:05 am

    Great post. I have FreeOCR - is good enough

  26. TecheSpot
    February 1, 2010 at 6:58 am

    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.

  27. Guy Adami
    December 21, 2009 at 9:40 am

    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.

  28. OCR Software
    December 5, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Great Article and overview of tools.

  29. jitenderpalingh
    December 5, 2009 at 2:24 am

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

  30. Online OCR
    December 2, 2009 at 8:42 am

    THIS is good and like it...............dud

    • TANU
      February 10, 2015 at 9:16 am

      ITS NOT GETTING DOWNLOADED

  31. Arnav
    November 13, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Thanks buddy !

  32. klu9
    November 4, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    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.

  33. John Ward
    October 31, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    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.

  34. klu9
    October 27, 2009 at 10:13 am

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

  35. jcocchiaro
    October 6, 2009 at 6:49 am

    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?

  36. Dominique
    September 12, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    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

  37. observer
    September 4, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    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
      September 5, 2009 at 12:52 am

      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
      September 9, 2009 at 5:46 pm

      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
      September 9, 2009 at 5:47 pm

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

  38. Naren
    August 30, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    oh great! i m searching for this software

  39. Ravi Balla
    August 30, 2009 at 7:29 am

    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.

  40. Jshm2
    August 29, 2009 at 8:46 pm

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

  41. Chuckles
    August 28, 2009 at 4:39 pm

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

    • Saikat
      August 29, 2009 at 5:45 am

      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.

  42. Ravi Balla
    August 26, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    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
      August 26, 2009 at 11:30 pm

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

  43. Anon
    August 26, 2009 at 11:13 am

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

    • Saikat
      August 26, 2009 at 11:36 pm

      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.

  44. Rob v
    August 26, 2009 at 4:23 am

    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 150x150 pixels. read the online manual.

    • inrasto abram
      April 29, 2015 at 10:57 am

      I wanna get the images to word but I not getting a software please share to me.

  45. Alex
    August 26, 2009 at 2:38 am

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

    • Alex
      August 26, 2009 at 5:25 am

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

    • Annu
      February 13, 2010 at 12:05 pm

      I have used Image To OCR of Soft Solutions
      The only good quality ocr software I was able to freely download and try was Image to OCR Converter available at http://products.softsolutionslimited.com/img2ocr/index.htm
      It does a fairly good job of ocr processing.

  46. Anonymous
    August 26, 2009 at 2:21 am

    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/

  47. Bharath Ambati
    August 26, 2009 at 1:20 am

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

    Regards,
    Bharath

  48. RichGillott
    August 25, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Any good OCR applications for mac users?

    • Saikat
      August 25, 2009 at 3:03 pm

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

    • Ciaran
      November 6, 2009 at 6:35 pm

      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
      November 19, 2009 at 4:50 am

      You might want to try ABBYY FineReader

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