Image to text converters: All about text recognition

OCR software reads texts in PDF files or on photos or scans and converts them into digital texts. There are numerous commercial and free online OCR software. Despite high accuracy, even the best image to text converter is not one hundred percent accurate.

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What is OCR software?

OCR stands for tools that can recognize text and characters (for example, on photos, scanned documents, letters and notes, or in PDF files), read them, and make them available for further processing. The abbreviation stands for “Optical Character Recognition”. There are numerous OCR softwares available that identify the respective texts with varying degrees of accuracy and then convert them into an editable format. Text recognition software comes in three categories: online directly in the browser, offline as a download, or a mixture of both options. You can use OCR software, which then reads the texts on your local device.

What is text recognition software used for?

You know an obvious use for OCR image to text converters if you have ever received a document or letter in a private or professional context and wanted to archive it digitally. Although you can scan the paper, the format is not suitable for further use. Instead of laboriously transferring the content manually, the OCR software reads it and allows you to archive and edit it on your computer or smartphone.

OCR software is also used in other areas. Some of them you may already be using yourself without even realizing it. Translator apps that read texts via your smartphone’s camera, for example, use OCR software. Vehicles that automatically recognize road signs and inform the driver or rider also use this technology. Tools that read credit card information via camera also do so with OCR software. Government agencies and companies automatically read address data, personal information or license plate numbers. It is also possible to prepare photographed texts, signs or images that you have made with screenshot tools for further processing with just a few clicks.


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How does OCR software work?

To understand how OCR image to text converters work, you should first understand where the basic problems lie when, for example, a neatly typed document is scanned. Even after a scan, the analog sheet of paper is initially nothing more than a graphic for the computer, which consists of numerous pixels with different color values, but otherwise provides no further information. This is where the image to text converter comes in. It not only scans the document, but also analyzes it. Through several steps, the OCR software recognizes known patterns, which are then identified as individual letters and translated from image to text in sentence form.

How accurate is OCR image to text converters?

The accuracy of OCR software varies from program to program. Research has been going on in this area for many years, so modern text recognition software is already delivering much better results than it used to. However, free tools usually do not achieve the same hit rate as high-priced professional solutions. A basic judgment is difficult, however, because the source material also plays a major role. While most programs achieve good results with printed black letters in Latin script on a white background, deviations from this ideal template are much more difficult to identify.

East Asian characters, for example, pose major problems even for professional OCR software due to their fine but significant lines. Logos, graphics, special characters, small letters or blurred copies also pose a major challenge to OCR software. Spelling errors in the source material are also a hurdle, since many programs recognize not only individual letters, but entire words.

The greatest variations, even within individual OCR software, occur when reading handwritten text. If the document was written in block letters, the results are better than for a hastily written note in cursive. Overall, OCR image to text converters do not offer one hundred percent certainty and it is best to always check for accuracy.

What OCR software is available?

The range of OCR software is huge. If you want to resort to an offline variant, you can find many of the functions you need in software you may already be using. The most well-known example of this would be Adobe Acrobat Pro, which primarily lets you create and edit PDF files. The paid tool additionally has the option to search PDFs or images for textual content. Also some alternatives to Adobe Acrobat used for working with PDF files offer similar possibilities.

However, there is also software designed solely for OCR image to text converters:

  • Abbyy Fine Reader is the leader here and uses artificial intelligence to analyze even complicated documents comparatively accurately. However, at around 120 dollars, the price for the professional OCR software is high — companies even pay a little more.
  • A free alternative is Readiris, which is also available for Mac and PC and offers many functions.
  • Cloud-based solutions include Microsoft OneNote or Evernote. The latter offers a free version as well as several paid versions.

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If you only sporadically need the services of a text recognition software, in most cases it is enough to reach for an online tool:

  • SimpleOCR and OCRspace are two reliable solutions.
  • With the appropriate license or subscription, you can also use Google Document AI or Amazon Texttract online at no additional cost.
  • For professionals, Tesseract is the benchmark. The command-line tool has been under development since 1985 and available as an open source solution since 1996. The engine supports over 100 languages, but requires some programming skills.

How do I choose the right OCR software?

There are different requirements that are placed on OCR software. You may not need all the features, but especially in combination they often deliver even more accurate results, which in turn saves you time and effort. Basically, you should consider in advance for what purpose you want to use an OCR software. For simple PDFs, free or at least inexpensive standard programs are usually sufficient.

However, these solutions reach their limits when it comes to historical documents, yellowed notes, long guarded letters or smudged copies. It also makes sense for people with impaired vision to opt for OCR software with more functions and then combine it with a screenreader.

When is commercial OCR software worthwhile?

The price plays a big part here. Particularly for private individuals, the cost of OCR software can be immense, sometimes close to 500 dollars. This is clearly too much for sporadic use. However, OCR software can be beneficial for your company’s day-to-day business or for GoBD so the money is well spent. The better the results and the more intuitive the use, the more worthwhile the software is for your business. The difference between premium solutions and the free alternatives is usually a wider range of functions that, in the best case, make the results more precise.

Conclusion: OCR software for every purpose

The segment of OCR image to text converters is not only getting bigger and bigger, but also more and more reliable due to AI and other developments. Paid OCR software comes with many features, making it worthwhile for professional or at least regular use, despite the sometimes-high price tag. For sporadic use, free online OCR text recognition is sufficient.


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