Optical Character Recognition

During your foray into the world of document scanning, you’ve probably come across the term “OCR“. You may even know that it stands for “Optical Character Recognition“. But what is OCR, really, and what do you need to know about it to make the best use of this sophisticated and valuable tool?

We’re here to give you a run-down on Optical Character Recognition, answer any questions you might have, and recommend the best OCR software for your scanning project. Let’s begin!

What is OCR?

The primary purpose of Optical Character Recognition is to quickly and automatically convert scanned images of machine-printed (typed) text – which to a computer are no more meaningful a collection of pixels than any other image, such as a landscape photo – into actual text data that you can search through and modify. The exact mechanics of this process are complicated, but suffice to say that an OCR engine will look at pixel data and search for patterns resembling letters, numbers, and other symbols and create a digitized record of these symbols.

Types of OCR

There are two major types of Optical Character Recognition:

Full Page OCR – Converts the entire page into one of the below mentioned formats:

  • Plain Text – Only basic text information on the page is retained in a consecutive order.

  • Formatted Text – Text information is retained in consecutive paragraphs, saving font size and style. This can also conserve tables in a tabular format, such as spreadsheets.

  • Exact Copy – All information on the page is retained, including graphics, and placed on the page in such as way as to most closely recreate the original document.

  • Searchable File – Text information is retained on a hidden layer behind the scanned, image, allowing the file to be searched while retaining the appearance of the original.


Zone OCR – Recognizes strings of text located on particular areas of the page. This is usually for the purpose of indexing and document management. The information can be used to name a file, save it to a particular location, or archive particular pieces of data into an organized format, such as a database.

Levels of OCR Software

OCR Software comes in many different types, which vary in price range based on their features, speed, and accuracy. For instance, you can get a freeware such as SimpleOCR that will serve in a pinch, but it will only be able to convert BMPJPG, and TIF images of English or French text into plain text documents of TXT or DOC format, one page at a time.

On the other hand, you can invest a few hundred dollars in a Batch OCR or even Server OCR software that will be able to watch particular folders for incoming documents in a variety of image formats and languages, then automatically recreate exact copies of all of the pages therein in a format of choice.

You can also find Desktop OCR software, which will bridge the price gap and include many of the features of the Corporate editions but still require some user input during conversion.

Improving Accuracy

Although some OCR engines are better than others, no software can guarantee 100% accuracy. This is because there are other factors in play, including scan quality. Recognition software will not be able to do its work if the scanner is not properly digitizing the page.

It is recommended to scan at a resolution of 300dpi for best results. Black & White (Bitonal) is preferred over Greyscale or Color modes, and although most modern scanners are fairly well configured out of the box, you may want to adjust your Brightness and Contrast settings for your particular documents.

If you do not have a scanner that has the necessary speed, quality, or other features that you require to scan your documents, you can always find a large selection of scanners at ScanStore!
ScanStore even has a handy scanners guide to help you find the perfect scanner for your specific requirements and price range.

Limitations of OCR

OCR software is also limited in what it is able to recognize. Most OCR software are only designed to recognize machine printed text, as opposed to handwriting. While there are ICR software that can recognize handwritten information, they tend to be enterprise level solutions for forms processing work, rather than full page recognition.

Similarly, most OCR software are only able to convert traditional machine fonts, not cursive scripts or calligraphy. There are many fonts out there, and OCR engines depend on common, separated letter shapes to recognize the text, so fonts that are unusual or flow together will not be recognized.

OCR Software Guide

There are several OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software solutions available to convert scanned images to text, Word, Excel, HTML or searchable PDF. The differences between them can often be obscure, leaving many to wonder why some OCR software cost about $100 while others cost $500 or more.

The main features that differentiate OCR software are:

  • Character recognition accuracy

  • Page layout reconstruction accuracy

  • Support for languages

  • User interface design

  • Output file formats (Word, Excel, PDF, eBook, etc.)

  • OCR speed and support for multi-core CPUs

  • Batch processing modes

  • Advanced PDF encryption or compression

  • Special features for niche projects

Because of the infinite combinations of document types, OCR engines, project requirements and special features, it may be possible that one engine will perform better with your particular documents than another. Use our handy OCR feature comparison chart to determine which OCR program best meets your requirements. ScanStore provides demo downloads for most OCR software with your ScanStore User Account if you prefer to try before you buy.

OCR Software Categories

The OCR software guide is divided into the following categories:
Applications | OCR Servers | MAC OCR | PDF Converters | Personal | Hebrew/Arabic/Farsi OCR | Chinese/Japanese/Korean/Thai OCR

And The Winner Is…

The OCR experts at ScanStore have tested the latest versions of FineReader, OmniPage, ReadIRIS, CVision PDF Compressor, and SimpleOCR and we consider ABBYY FineReader the best overall value for business users, while ReadIRIS is the best OCR software for under $150.

The key deciding factors were:

  • User interface design

  • Page layout reconstruction capabilities

  • Extensive language support

  • Engine stability when processing large files

  • Availability and quality of technical support

Though other testing labs have ranked OmniPage‘s overall accuracy slightly higher, we find the difference is nearly negligible. All modern OCR software has very good accuracy, so we recommend going with the one that has particular special features like ReadIRIS Corporate‘s CardIRIS, FineReader‘s camera OCR and screenshot reader, or OmniPage Ultimate’s form data collection, auto-redaction and barcode filing capabilities.

If you would like to try them out yourself, ScanStore offers free demo downloads for ReadIRIS and FineReader. Nuance does not provide demos for its OCR products.

Businesses with many documents to process should use our SimpleIndex batch document scanning software with the FineReader OCR engine to scan and OCR large batches of documents. Barcode and OCR can also be used to sort and file documents into folders, databases or SharePoint.

OCR can also be used to automate data entry from forms, surveys, invoices and other documents. Handwriting recognition (ICR) solutions are also available. For more information, check out these links:

SimpleOCR Freeware

ABBYY FineReader 14

ABBYY FineReader Corporate 14

IRIS ReadIRIS Pro 17

IRIS ReadIRIS Corporate 17

Nuance OmniPage Ultimate (Temporary unavailable)

SimpleIndex Desktop 9

Scanner Drivers Supported

TWAIN TWAIN TWAIN TWAIN TWAIN TWAIN / ISIS TWAIN / ISIS

Table/Spreadsheet Recognition

PDF Password Support

Searchable PDF Output

Highly Compressed PDF Output

MRC MRC iHQC iHQC MRC

Vertical Text Recognition

Barcode Recognition

Image Pre-processing

Watched / Hot Folder

Batch processing

Managed server processing

Indexing

Business Card Recognition

Box version only

Screenshot reader

Zone Templates

Proofing & Training

Languages Supported

3 193 193 128 137 137 179

Arabic/Farsi/Hebrew

Hebrew & Arabic Version Hebrew & Arabic Version

Chinese/Japanese/Korean

User Dictionaries

Page Limit per Document

1 none none 50 none none none

Multi-Core Support

Installation

Desktop Desktop Desktop/Server Desktop Desktop Desktop Desktop

License

Freeware Standalone Per Seat / Concurrent Standalone Standalone Standalone
3 Licenses
Standalone

Product Information

More Info More Info More Info More Info More Info More Info More Info

ABBYY FineReader Server

IRISDocument Server

PaperVision Capture OCR

SimpleIndex 9

Scanner Drivers Supported

TWAIN /
ISIS
N/A TWAIN /
ISIS
TWAIN /
ISIS

Table/Spreadsheet Recognition

PDF Password Support

Searchable PDF Output

Highly Compressed PDF Output

MRC iHQC

Vertical Text Recognition

Barcode Recognition

Image Pre-processing

Watched / Hot Folder

Batch processing

Managed server processing

Indexing

Business Card Recognition

Screenshot reader

Zone Templates

Proofing & Training

Languages Supported

191 137 121 179

Arabic/Farsi/Hebrew

Hebrew & Arabic Version 2 Add-ons

Chinese/Japanese/Korean

Asian Add-on

User Dictionaries

Page Limit per Document

none none none none

Multi-Core Support

Multi-CPU Add-on

Installation

Server Desktop /
Server
Desktop /
Server
Desktop /
Server

License

Volume-based Core-based Named /
Concurrent
Standalone

Product Information

More Info More Info More Info More Info

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