Best OCR software
When it comes to document scanning, you need a software package that can balance the twin needs of speed and accuracy. Too often OCR (Optical Character Recognition) has historically suffered in both areas, with scanning speeds not only being slow, but accuracy quite poor with text sometimes rendered poorly.
Luckily, advances in software and hardware development have allowed OCR technology to improve in leaps and bounds, so that these days OCR software can usually offer not just a decent speed, but also essential degrees of accuracy. The latter is so important when actually trying to search through scanned documents, as poorly formatted scans means the whole process has to be repeated, with the inevitable labor wastage in relocating the documents to scan in the first place, presuming they haven;t already been recycled.
However, recent improvements to OCR technology means that's far less likely to be an issue, which means that the paperless office is now increasingly becoming a reality. The only thing holding back on that is likely the volume of documents yet to be scanned, but again with better scanning speeds and easier to use software, that elusive paperless office is becoming even more likely.
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For the professionals...
If you take your OCR scanning seriously – if it's a crucial cog in the machinery of your business – then give OmniPage Ultimate a look. It's packed with features above and beyond what you might expect, and while the price is relatively high, it still falls in the affordable bracket for most small businesses.
Put down your cash and you can convert paper documents from virtually any scanner source into just about any kind of digital file you like – and everything works super-fast too. If you've got stacks of paper to get through, the time saved by OmniPage Ultimate can really start to add up.
Known for its accuracy in conversion, this software is trusted by some of the biggest names in business – including Amazon, Ford, and GE – and lets you build up custom workflows so your documents get automatically delivered to the right place in the right format, depending on your needs.
If the Ultimate edition is a bit too rich for your blood at $449.99 (about £352), try the cheaper OmniPage Standard version at $149.99 (about £117). While the Standard edition doesn't include as many input, output and workflow options, it still offers more than enough in the way of features for most users needing an OCR solution.
One of the veterans of the field
Abbyy has been helping companies manage documents for a long, long time now, and it shows in the latest version of its FineReader software – it's just about as comprehensive a solution as you would want for a small businesses, though casual users might prefer something a little more lightweight.
You get all the tools you need for taking paper documents from a scanner and making them fully readable, neatly organized, digitized documents. As well as recognizing text and converting it to PDF, Microsoft Office or other formats, the program can also compare documents, add annotations and comments, and more.
If you need to convert bundles of documents in batches then FineReader can do that too. It can handle a host of output formats and 192 different languages without breaking a sweat, and there are companion mobile apps as well if you need to do some quick scanning from a phone.
The software isn't the most modern we've ever seen but it's clean, functional and does the job perfectly well. Abbyy FineReader has built up a strong reputation for being one of the best options in the OCR field, and you can take advantage of a free trial to see if all the hype is on the money.
The software starts at $199.99 (£169) for the Standard version which gives you a one-time perpetual license that can do OCR conversions and edit PDFs. The upgrade to the Corporate version adds the capability for comparing documents and performing automated conversions via a hot folder for $399.99 (about £313).
A trusted solution from the Adobe stable
Want to go with a well-known brand name you can trust? Adobe Acrobat DC fits the bill, and brings along with it an impressive list of features and options, even if the price is a little steeper than some of its rivals. For all the OCR features, you need to opt for the Pro version of the Adobe Acrobat software.
That DC stands for 'Document Cloud' by the way, and everything integrates rather neatly with Adobe's cloud solution, should you need to get at your files from any computer. Of course there's also slick and seamless integration with everything else Adobe makes, so you might consider this if you already use a lot of other Adobe apps like Photoshop.
If you do decide to pay up for the Pro version of Adobe Acrobat DC, you get all the OCR basics plus the ability to add comments and feedback on documents, a specialized tool for scanning tables, the option to quickly compare two documents together, and much more. Documents can be edited right on the screen just seconds after scanning them in.
The Adobe badge guarantees a certain level of quality, and we're impressed by the intuitiveness and the scope of Adobe Acrobat DC. If you don't mind adding yet another subscription to your life – with Adobe Acrobat DC starting at $12.99 (about £10) per month on an annual basis – then this is well worth considering.
A product that's packed with features
Readiris blends a polished interface with a host of useful features and functions to really earn its place on our list. If you're running a small business or need a serious amount of paper digitized – and you're prepared to pay for it – then you'll find this program one of the most comprehensive out there.
From a host of supported file formats (including Microsoft Office formats and the option to have text read aloud), to signatures and security protection on your finished digital documents, it's difficult to think of anything that the developers of Readiris have missed out. Watermarks, comments and annotations are all supported.
It's also one of the fastest and slickest OCR programs out there, putting some older applications we've seen to shame. Documents are processed and filed rapidly, and you'll soon be jumping quickly between the various Readiris screens, with no need to consult a manual or embedded help file. Like all the best apps, it combines a lot of powerful features with a simple and accessible interface.
Some features, such as support for a maximum of 138 languages and PDF password protection, require a Corporate level package. The one below that level is Pro, and then the basic product is just the standard Readiris – and it's still very good, so many of you will be able to get by with the lowest priced package which starts at one-time cost of $49 (about £38) for the software.
Rossum Data Capture offers an OCR solution with a difference, in that it's aimed at scanning invoices for key information to be exported into whichever program you're using.
This could make it especially useful for enterprises with a large number of invoices, especially coming from contractors and suppliers, which may often be in paper form.
The software works by using AI to scan the document for key information rather than using a template format, which helps in that different invoices will tend to be formatted to present information in different ways.
However, while this could make it hugely useful in that regard, it's narrow range of purpose means it has limited application across other areas where documents or images need scanning or otherwise converting to editable text files.
Even still, Rossum Data Capture has a clear purpose and works to a specific niche need, and will no doubt prove valuable for businesses that need to extract figures simply and easily as opposed to simply working with text.
Also consider these OCR software alternatives
There are different types of OCR software, with the above often able to work with batches of documents at the same time. Additionally, they can usually handle documents that may otherwise have limited machine-readability. However, there are simpler desktop versions that will allow some limited conversion of scanned PDF or TIFF files to plain text or document files, usually at limited or no cost, and we'll feature some of those here for consideration:
FreeOCR is software for Windows that allows most scanned PDF's and multi page Tiff images to be outputted either as plain text or as a Microsoft Word document. It can also scan text from other image files. The software is free to use, even for commercial purposes.
SimpleOCR is freeware that allows you to scan one document at a time and convert it to plain text or a Word doc. An interesting feature of this free software is that it also works for French. However, the free version may struggle with multi-column layouts, non-standard fonts, and poor print quality.
GOCR is free and open-source OCR software designed to fulfill simple tasks. While it should be able to do simple image to text conversions, it's biggest strength is that it has been developed to run on different platforms, such as Linux as well as Windows, and because it's open source it can be customized if you have the right coding skills.