Top 5 best Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software

Moving as painlessly as possible into a digital world

In all areas of business and administration, digitisation is a hard fact. If you fail to implement the latest digital strategies and technological solutions, you almost certainly risk falling behind the crowd. To survive, you have to put tech first.

Of course, while technology is clearly taking over, there are still a lot of people out there who’d prefer to stick to old-fashioned approaches. And physical paperwork is a good example. Sceptics who are fearful over issues such as privacy and security, especially when dealing with important documents, would rather print items off.

In areas such as government, law, education and healthcare, you have no choice when it comes to dealing with paper-based documents. If it’s a legal contract, for instance, it’ll probably be posted out to you. But that takes time and money.

This is where optical character recognition (OCR) technology enters the scene. Simply put, it is the process of turning images and electronic versions of handwritten, typed or printed documents into machine-encoded text. The idea is that when you’re dealing with physical documents, you have a way to digitise them.

There are a number of software packages out there that are capable of doing this, and they mainly aim to make typing up text easier. Normally, if you’re at a meeting and have to take down notes, you’d be expected to type it all into a Word document. Well, OCR makes these sort of tasks far easier and quicker. In this article, we’re going to highlight the best OCR solutions out there.

1. Nuance OmniPage

An affordable OCR solution

Platforms: Windows | Supports: Paper, photos, PDFs | Editable: Yes | Multi-device support: No | Premium version: £79.99

Cross-platform support
Handles a variety of documents
May not be sophisticated enough for bigger firms
Windows only

American software company Nuance has a number of useful applications for dealing with optical character recognition. OmniPage, the firm’s flagship program in this area, has been designed to make scanning documents to a local computer or network server quick and painless.

The system is capable of handling high volumes of documents from multiple devices, document archiving and document conversion in cloud storage. As well as this, you can turn paper, forms, digital camera images and PDF files into fully editable, searchable and shareable electronic files.

2. Nuance PaperPort Professional

An OCR package that’s perfect for sole traders

Platforms: Windows | Supports: Paper, photos, PDFs | Editable: Yes | Multi-device support: No | Premium version: £49.99

Affordable price
Perfect for individual professionals
May not be powerful enough for some businesses
Windows only

Nuance also offers a package called PaperPort Professional, which is aimed mainly at small businesses and sole traders. It offers you a productive and cost-effective way to scan, organise, find and share a mixture of documents, including paper, PDFs, legal documents and photographs.

All in all, it’s a solution well worth considering for those with less expansive needs when it comes to OCR duties.

3. Abbyy FineReader 12 Professional

A high-speed way to digitise documents

Platforms: Windows, Mac | Supports: Paper, photos, PDFs | Editable: Yes | Multi-device support: No | Premium version: £99

Transforms text into popular formats like Word
Fast OCR
Some features may confuse non-technical users
Just one price option

Abbyy’s FineReader 12 Professional package has been designed to raise productivity levels within companies. The software wants to enhance the way you deal with documents, whether it’s extracting, editing, archiving or sharing items.

FineReader is capable of turning scanned documents, PDFs and photos into editable text forms, including Microsoft Word, Excel and eBooks. As well as this, it aims to preserve all aspects of original documents, avoiding reformatting. 

The system can perfectly protect items such as headers, footers, footnotes, tables, graphs and charts. Documents open quickly too, and you don’t have to worry about images looking low-quality. FineReader automatically selects the best possible optimum image pre-processing tools.

4. Soda PDF

A contender with hundreds of file options

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Web | Supports: Paper, photos, PDFs | Editable: Yes | Multi-device support: Yes | Premium version: £42 annual fee

Available on desktop computers as well as web
Over 300 file types supported
Can only output PDF files
Subscription rather than one-off fee

If you want to create PDF documents specifically, then it’s worth checking out Soda PDF. This software gives you the ability to turn pretty much any file into a PDF. In all, more than 300 file types are supported by the solution.

Once you’ve created a PDF, you can do some other neat things. For instance, you can edit the contents of your documents, and you’re even able to create custom files and add annotations to existing PDFs. There’s a handy feature for sending and tracking contracts as well. 

You can download the software onto Mac and Windows computers, or if you’d prefer, there’s the option to use it within a browser. Soda PDF requires you to sign up for an annual subscription, but before making a purchase, you can test the software for free to see if it fits your needs.

5. Adobe Acrobat DC

A very recognisable platform at a price

Platforms: Windows, Mac | Supports: Paper, photos, PDFs | Editable: Yes | Multi-device support: No | Premium version: Over £300

Created by a renowned company
Handy signature features
Lack of eBook support
Expensive

Adobe Acrobat is one of the most recognisable OCR software packages, although it’s placed at the higher-end of the market in terms of its cost. Of course, Acrobat is targeted at enterprises in particular, so it’s not likely to be cheap.

It offers an easy-to-use interface and lets you export items to Microsoft Office documents quickly and accurately. Even though you can’t create your own eBooks using the software, you can generate PDFs, and you can also use it to sign and send important forms.