One of the reasons that it’s so hard to create a truly paperless office is all the printed materials that you receive, such as invoices, receipts and other documents. You can scan them, of course, but to do anything useful with those scans, you’ll need to use optical character recognition (OCR) software, which can turn the images into text that you can then import into other apps. OCR software can also come in handy when a colleague or client emails you a PDF or image containing text that you’d like to use in another app.
There are many good commercial desktop OCR applications available, but if you only need OCR functionality occasionally, one of the online solutions may be much more cost effective. Here are three free online OCR services that all deliver reasonable results, given high quality input images:
Free Online OCR
Free Online OCR accepts JPG, PNG, BMP, GIF, TIFF and multi-page PDF files, and can export DOC, RTF, TXT or searchable PDF files. It can automatically correct documents that have been rotated during the scanning process, and uses a dictionary to increases the accuracy of text recognition. The software attempts to preserve the layout of the page during the conversion process. I’ve been reasonably pleased with the conversions I’ve obtained; the FAQ notes that better quality, high-resolution images will produce better results. Conversion can take a while, and you should note that it only supports English text.
OnlineOCR.net supports a wider range of input and output formats than Free Online OCR; it can extract text from images (JPG, PCX, PNG, BMP, TIFF, GIF, PDF) and convert it into Word, TXT, Excel, PDF and HTML. It also supports 32 languages, and conversions seem to be reasonably accurate. However, OnlineOCR.net’s free no-registration “guest” service is limited to 15 pages per hour with a maximum file size of just 4MB; more than that and you’ll have to sign up to the paid service (new users get 20 free credits).
Google Docs has built-in OCR capabilities; if you’re planning on working with or sharing the text generated using Google Docs, using its OCR features is probably going to be the simplest option, although its file size limits are a bit stingy at just 2MB. It’s really simple to use, just check the “Convert text from PDF or image files to Google Docs documents” box before hitting the “Start upload” button. In my experience, with reasonable quality, high-resolution inputs files its conversion is fairly accurate, although the output will usually require some editing. Note that enabling the OCR option can make the uploading process slower.