The 3 Best Free OCR Tools to Convert Your Files Back Into Editable Documents
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Believe it or not, some people still print documents on 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 Free vs. Paid OCR Software: Microsoft OneNote and Nuance OmniPage Compared Free vs. Paid OCR Software: Microsoft OneNote and Nuance OmniPage Compared OCR scanner software lets you convert text in images or PDFs into editable text documents. Is a free OCR tool like OneNote good enough? Let's find out! Read More and compared them for you here.

No OCR program is perfect, so you’ll have to 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. All of them will get the job done.

The Methodology

To compare these tools, I took a screenshot of MakeUseOf’s Privacy page and saved it as a JPG file.

The 3 Best Free OCR Tools to Convert Your Files Back Into Editable Documents OCR 1

Then, I used that JPG to test out the following OCR services.

However, you could also scan a printed document if that’s what you want to edit.

If you go that route, it’ll work best if the page features common fonts, such as Times New Roman or Arial. Also, make sure the image is right side up before scanning it. Aim for scanned material with a file size of less than 2 MB, too.

Now, let’s dig in!

Google Drive & Google Docs

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

To get started, save the picture you want to send through the OCR to your computer.

Next, open the Google Drive website and upload your file into the application.

The 3 Best Free OCR Tools to Convert Your Files Back Into Editable Documents OCR 2

Pro tip: If you’re a Gmail user, you can also attach the scanned document to an email. The attachment features a button that lets you transfer the file to Google Drive without leaving your inbox.

After putting the file in Google Drive, locate it and right click. Then select Open With and choose Google Docs.

The 3 Best Free OCR Tools to Convert Your Files Back Into Editable Documents OCR 3

Your scanned image then appears as a new, editable text document in Google Docs! Google will keep your original image at the top of the document, and automatically create editable text using OCR below it.

The 3 Best Free OCR Tools to Convert Your Files Back Into Editable Documents OCR 4

The combination of Google Drive and Google Docs did a pretty good job here. It struggled to understand the web addresses, but that was the case with all the tested tools.

Many free online OCR tools 4 Free Online OCR Tools Put to the Ultimate Test 4 Free Online OCR Tools Put to the Ultimate Test With advances in OCR technology, converting text and Images from your scanned PDF document into the editable text formats is easier. We tested a few free online OCR tools so you won't have to. Read More , like Free OCR Convert Images To Text Online With Free OCR Convert Images To Text Online With Free OCR Read More , limit your uploads. Google Docs is advantageous because it doesn’t have page upload limits.

Microsoft Document Imaging

Microsoft also offers support for OCR, but only for Windows users. Do you use a version of Microsoft Word from 2010 or older? It already has Microsoft Document Imaging.

Otherwise, you need to install SharePoint Designer 2007.

Okay, now before we get too far into this, it’s important to note that you’ll need to have Microsoft Word in order for this OCR method to truly work.

Microsoft Word is not a free program, I know. However, because this OCR method is SO effective, and because access to Word is so easy (go to any library or college campus) I’m making the executive decision to include this in our free OCR tools list anyway.

Moving on…

Install SharePoint by going to this URL. When you click Download, you’ll be presented with some options. Click the SharepointDesigner.exe field and hit Download.

The 3 Best Free OCR Tools to Convert Your Files Back Into Editable Documents OCR 6

After accepting the software license, choose the Customize option.

The 3 Best Free OCR Tools to Convert Your Files Back Into Editable Documents OCR 7

Look for the Installation Options tab in the top left of the box on your screen (this should be the default tab the program takes you to). Notice the drop-down menus to the left of many of the options.

Find the drop-down menus for Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer, Microsoft Office Shared Features, and Office Tools. Select the Not Available option for all of them. It includes a red X, making it easy to spot.

The 3 Best Free OCR Tools to Convert Your Files Back Into Editable Documents OCR 8

Expand the section for Office Tools, then locate the Microsoft Office Document Imaging option. Pick the Run All From My Computer option. Be careful not to select the similarly worded Run From My Computer entry on the drop-down instead.

The 3 Best Free OCR Tools to Convert Your Files Back Into Editable Documents OCR 9

Finally, click the Install Now button. It’s in the bottom right of the dialog box you’ve worked with throughout this installation. (Note: This installation may take a few minutes.)

You’re now ready to use the MODI feature!

The next step is to scan your document or save your image from the web. Then, convert it to a TIFF file.

Microsoft Paint is one example of a free TIFF conversion option. Just open your file in Paint and click Save As. Select Other formats.

The 3 Best Free OCR Tools to Convert Your Files Back Into Editable Documents OCR 5

Select the TIFF format from the drop-down menu and save the image.

The 3 Best Free OCR Tools to Convert Your Files Back Into Editable Documents OCR Paint 1

Then, launch MODI on your computer.

Just search your computer for Microsoft Office Document Imaging and open the program.

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After that, click File, then Open and find your image document.

Then, click the OCR button on the menu bar.

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Once the program finishes the OCR, click the Tools menu and select Send Text to Word.

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The program will automatically open a new Word document and paste your OCR text into it.

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The result gives you editable text within a program you know well.

Having to download the supplementary software first might feel a bit intimidating. However, the process itself isn’t hard and Microsoft does a better job than Google Drive at recognizing text. For instance, this program had no problem picking up on the website URL for MakeUseOf.com, and it didn’t smush any words together.

One major downside, though is that MODI is not available for Mac computers. If you have a Mac, check out these alternatives.

Download: MDI to TIFF File Converter and SharePoint Designer 2007 (Free for Windows)

OnlineOCR.net

Maybe you’re only getting started with OCR tools and want an extremely straightforward, non-platform-specific option. A website called OnlineOCR.net meets those needs.

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It supports over 40 languages, which is good news if your document contains one other than English.

Look for the blue Select File button on the left side of your screen. Because you can upload files as large as 15 MB, this service works well for graphic-heavy materials.

After that, use the drop-down list and select your desired output language. Look to the right of that menu and notice there are three choices of file formats. You can select Microsoft Word (which is the route I took), Microsoft Excel, or Plain Text.

The 3 Best Free OCR Tools to Convert Your Files Back Into Editable Documents OCR 15

The Excel option may be useful when working with a scanned price sheet that includes graphics. It’s also potentially helpful with any other source material that with numbers. OnlineOCR supports documents with tables and columns as well.

After tweaking the options, click the Convert button. Then, download the output file the tool spits out and, voila! Editable text at your fingertips.

The 3 Best Free OCR Tools to Convert Your Files Back Into Editable Documents OCR 16

This free tool didn’t work as well as the other two here, but since you can use OnlineOCR without registering it’s super convenient and easy. Plus, it did do a half-decent job recognizing the text from my image. It’s a smart choice if you want to try a tool without making commitments or providing information.

Also, this free option allows for converting up to 15 documents per hour. That benefit makes it appropriate for medium-volume OCR tasks.

The Verdict

Each of these programs has its strengths.

  • Google Docs can OCR documents without downloading anything to your computer, but you do have to sign up for a free account.
  • Microsoft Office Document Imaging is easy enough to use and extremely accurate, but it takes a little bit to install the necessary software.
  • OnlineOCR.net is a simple-to-use browser-based tool that doesn’t require registration and supports multiple languages.

With any tool, once you’re done with the OCR process How to Extract Text From Images (OCR) How to Extract Text From Images (OCR) The best way to extract text from an image is to use optical character recognition (OCR). We show you seven free OCR tools for the job. Read More , you may want to spell-check your document How to Spell and Grammar Check in Microsoft Word How to Spell and Grammar Check in Microsoft Word You can customize Microsoft Word's built-in spelling and grammar checking tools to meet your needs. You can even use AutoCorrect to speed up your typing. Read More . That’s especially true if you’re just starting out with a tool and don’t know if it’s accurate.

And, 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, for example.

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.

Did you know that you could also turn handwriting into text using OCR How to Convert an Image With Handwriting to Text Using OCR How to Convert an Image With Handwriting to Text Using OCR To convert an image of handwritten text into digital text that you can edit and search, you need an OCR (optical character recognition) tool. Try one of these OCR tools to digitize handwriting. Read More ?

Image Credit: nikolay100/Depositphotos

Originally written by Chris Hoffman in March 2012.

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  1. Jack
    October 28, 2017 at 4:39 am

    wretye5ryabcd.com

    • Chris
      October 29, 2017 at 2:03 am

      This whole article
      is OUTdated and useless.
      Plus, (see other comments below),
      the "OnlineOCR.net" contains spyware!.

      Shame on you to publish this crap...

  2. lina trevor
    January 24, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    This is very educational! Thank you! I have a low quality scanned PDF files and unfortunately, the free online converters did not work. I came across this software called PDF2XL Enterprise by Cogniview. I tried to convert few of my documents and I’m satisfied with the result. The software has advanced OCR settings you can adjust like tweaking and force dpi which totally improved the character recognition. I would definitely recommend PDF2XL Enterprise to anyone.

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. Anonymous
    May 23, 2016 at 3:25 am

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

  7. Anonymous
    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.

    • Anonymous
      May 23, 2016 at 3:25 am

      Should say, To open PDF in "DOCS".

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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.

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

    Tesseract via sourceforge.net for the win.

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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,

  17. 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!

  18. 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

  19. 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.

  20. 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

  21. 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.

  22. 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?

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

      Does OminPage read handwritten text?

  23. 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.

  24. 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!

  25. 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.

  26. 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.