One of our offices scans documents for a number of other offices. That means scanners and optical character recognition apps. Scanners are finicky. OCR apps are an acquired taste.
To be fair, it’s not an easy task to scan documents and convert all that printed material to editable text, Mac or PC. When it comes to OCR apps, it’s best to choose wisely.
Scan, Edit, Edit, Edit Again
It’s one thing to scan an image or photo and drop it into a document. It’s something else to scan a document and turn all that text into an editable version for Microsoft Word.
Optical character recognition has been around a long time.
Basically, the scan translates handwritten (not very well), typewritten (fair results), or printed text (better) into a text document that can be edited.
Ideally, OCR scans and translates all words accurately. In reality, it’s a hit and miss situation, so, when it comes to choosing OCR apps, choose wisely after a trial period.
My tests started with ABBYY’s FineReader for Mac, one of only a handful of worthwhile OCR apps, Mac or Windows. Many scanners include some form of optical character recognition in the software bundle. For truly accurate OCR scans you’ll need the slightly more expensive versions.
FineReader is straightforward, rather easy to setup and use, not exactly pretty, nearly friendly, and the end results in my tests were quite good; well beyond acceptable. From the first double-click you’re presented with typical OCR options.
You get four choices. Convert from a text document, convert to a spreadsheet, convert to an HTML page, and the increasingly popular convert to a searchable PDF.
A number of factors determine the quality of the conversion from scan to editable document. The scanner. The scanner app. The scanned resolution. The original document. As with all OCR apps, FineReader requires some trial and error to produce the best documents.
FineReader features built-in TWAIN scanning app with more than enough features to produce good scans, even on less expensive scanners.
Fortunately, basic scans and conversions are not complicated. The interface is straightforward, but more Windows-like than Mac-like. In other words, it’s friendly, but not always intuitive.
FineReader gives you additional composition options, too. Zoom in or out, fit to the page, change page orientation, select specific areas of a scanned page for specific options, and one click conversions.
Just The Features, Man
FineReader performed well in my tests on most text documents, many spreadsheets, some with graphics embedded. It excelled at converting tables into spreadsheets, and converted printed text documents almost flawlessly, especially if the original print document was crisp and clear. The better the scan resolution, the more accurate FineReader rendered a document.
The app recognizes dozens of languages (up to three languages in a single document). It also opens and processes multiple document images at once and can merge them into a single file (you’ll need a more powerful Mac, but it does work acceptably even on PowerPC Macs). FineReader also converts image-only PDFs to searchable PDF format.
OCR apps are often used to convert books and article and legal documents to an editable digital format for electronic archive. It’s also a good way to convert documents, including books, to be used on an iPhone or iPod touch (as PDFs or documents).
FineReader is a little like using a Fisher Price toy app, but the process of scanning and converting is straightforward. The app is available in the Mac App Store, but the trial version can be downloaded from the ABBYY site.
If you’re the bargain type, checkout The Only Mac Scanner App You Need To Own. Guess what? It’s less expensive and comes with OCR capability built-in.