Converting scanned docs to Word, Excel or PDF with desktop OCR applications.

How to scan documents to searchable PDF files

Adobe Acrobat OCR to Searchable PDFIf you don’t already have a scanner, and scanning to searchable PDF files is the only thing you need to do, you will find many document scanners that can perform this function. Most desktop and high-speed document scanners come with software that has this basic capability. However these often have limited functionality and you may prefer a more robust application.

To create searchable PDFs with any scanner, use Desktop OCR software applications like FineReader, ReadIRIS, or OmniPage. These programs can also be used to convert images to MS Word, Excel, and other editable formats.

There are also more affordable PDF converters that have fewer OCR features and limit output to PDF files.

You can find a complete guide to OCR software here.

For high-volume applications, use OCR servers to give everyone on your network the ability to create searchable PDFs on a dedicated server.

Enterprise site licensing, concurrent user licensing and cloud-based solutions are also available. Please contact us for more information or a quote for desktop OCR and PDF converter site licensing options.

You may use SimpleIndex to automatically extract data from searchable PDFs for indexing, automatic file naming, and integration with custom database or document management applications. This is a very fast and accurate way to set keyword metadata for searching. It has both Tesseract and FineReader OCR options for creating searchable PDFs, and is available in desktop or server versions.

Why are the prices of OCR applications so different?

OCR software ranges in price from freeware all the way up to tens of thousands of dollars. What explains the difference between these applications? Here’s the breakdown:

  • OCR Freeware uses the SimpleOCR or Tesseract engines and provide limited scanning and output format capabilities. Recognition quality is generally poor except for the highest quality document images.
  • PDF OCR Converters provide good quality OCR engines like ABBYY, IRIS and OmniPage, but limit the output to searchable PDF files. These cost less than $100.
  • Standard OCR applications range from $100-$200 and provide full OCR capabilities including converting scans to Word, Excel, HTML and other editable formats.
  • Corporate OCR applications add advanced features like automated hotfolder processing, concurrent licensing and other features useful for business applications. Pricing for these is $200-$500.
  • OCR Servers provide scalable, enterprise OCR services for processing very high volumes of documents or providing OCR capabilities to users throughout the organization. Prices start around $1,500 and go up based on processing volume.
  • Enterprise Data Capture and Forms Processing applications are used to capture structured data from complex documents like healthcare claim forms and invoices that include things like tables, handwriting, checkboxes, and movable zones. These solutions can cost anywhere from around $1,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the document volume and complexity of the project.

Can OCR be trained for specific fonts?

OCR training was once a critical part of the conversion process. After a document was read, the operator would review the results to correct mistaken characters and these corrections would be used to train the engine so the next time you read a similar document the results are improved.

Modern OCR applications no longer rely on user training for accuracy unless you have very non-standard fonts. These engines have had decades of development and billions of samples used to train their algorithms. In most cases, the introduction of user training will only diminish the results for any documents that are different than the ones being trained.

The training functions still exist for these edge cases, but they are no longer an integral part of the OCR process.

Training in modern OCR is more likely to refer to enterprise data capture applications that use AI-based learning algorithms to find the locations of data points on documents with various different formats, such as invoices.

What are the best scanner settings for OCR?

Most OCR applications are optimized for 300 dots per inch resolution images.

While color is supported and most often performs better than black & white images, OCR algorithms will generally convert the color to B&W automatically as part of the OCR process. With color input, the dynamic conversion usually produces the best result, but not always.

Especially when an image contains stray markings, stamps, notes, colored paper or other elements that can throw off the binarization process, OCR results can be improved by paying careful attention to image processing settings and using a pristine black & white image for OCR instead of a color scan.

In forms processing and handprint recognition applications, guide marks in the form can often be removed during the scanning process, improving the OCR results when the software doesn’t have to distinguish between the form background and the words being recognized.

Using drop-out forms, traditionally printed in red or green and then scanned with a corresponding red or green light, automatically removes the form background during scanning and leaves only the text to be recognized. This can dramatically improve recognition results, especially for handprinted data.

Older, black & white scanners would require you to change out the lamps in order to perform color drop-out. All but the least expensive modern color scanners have the ability to enable drop-out colors in the scanner driver.

Advanced forms processing applications can perform color drop-out on-the-fly with scanned color images. Though this is generally not quite as accurate as scanning with a drop-out lamp enabled, it has the advantage of retaining a full-color original copy of the image with the form element and labels visible.

Using OCR to capture data from tables and reports

Data that repeats over and over again in a document can be OCR’d to Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets and other spreadsheet formats, or a SQL Database like Access, SQL Server, MySQL and Oracle.

Inexpensive Desktop OCR products like FineReader, ReadIRIS and OmniPage can automatically convert data from tables to Excel and other spreadsheets, as long as the columns are standard and don’t “overlap” such that different field values appear in the same column area, like when one row of each record represents one set of columns and a second row has additional column data.

Converted data will require some clean-up before it is usable in any database or software application, and it is difficult to convert large numbers of documents in batches this way. But it’s a good way to produce structured data from large single reports or small batches of similar report data.

For more complex tables, tables with similar data but different formats on different documents (like Invoices), tables with nested structure like header and detail rows, Enterprise Forms Processing software is required to turn these documents into structured data like XML, JSON or SQL database tables.

Does ReadIRIS, FineReader or OmniPage support Zone OCR?

The “Pro” versions of most Desktop OCR applications support the creation of zone templates that can be used to OCR specific regions on batches of documents.

Most OCR applications have “Lite” versions that don’t have the ability to manually create zones so it’s important to get the correct version.

With these applications it is often not possible to output this data as “fields” in a structured data file like CSV, Excel or XML. What you typically get a text file for each document with a line of text for each zone. The zones are designed more for excluding regions you don’t want or manually overriding the detection of text, tables and images in the document.

If you need to capture specific data in multiple documents and output them to structured data files or a SQL database, Batch OCR Applications are the best option for this.

If you need to capture data formatted in tables and output to CSV or Excel, desktop OCR applications do this quite well as long as the tables have a regular format with well-defined columns.

To capture handprint, irregular tables, large numbers of data points, or data that doesn’t always appear in the same place on every page, Forms Processing software is what you need.

Go to Top