How to Create OCR Scannable Business Cards

More and more business people are using some form of business card scanner with OCR technology to transfer business cards into their contacts database. Whether with an iPhone app or a scanner like NeatReceipts (Mike previously reviewed the Mac version), OCR can drastically simplify the process of transferring contacts from paper to your contact management database.

But even the best OCR business card reader technology has limitations. And while adding over 100 business cards to my contact files this week using my NeatReceipts for Mac, I discovered many of them. Cards with certain design features simply didn’t scan well. And as scanning becomes more common, this is something that business card designers should keep in mind. That contact was important enough for you to give your business card to; you need to make sure you make it easy for them to accurately add you to their contacts list — or you risk your card ending up in the trash.

Here’s my list of do’s and don’ts for creating a scannable business card.

Don’t:

  • Use fancy fonts. These easily confuse OCR software, especially on letters like “c” and “e”. A clean font like Helvetica may seem boring, but it is easy for OCR to translate.
  • Combine your name and title. Names and titles separated by a comma on a single line (such as “Nancy Nally, Editor”) didn’t translate correctly in the OCR I was using.
  • Overlay text on a pattern. This is too confusing for OCR.
  • Angle text. My scanner’s OCR couldn’t translate text that wasn’t parallel to the edges of the card.
  • Mix orientations. Keep all the text oriented in the same direction (preferably horizontally, since my scanner had trouble reading vertically-oriented cards).

Do:

  • Keep it big. If you get squinty looking at your card, so will OCR software.
  • Give text breathing room. Keep letters nicely spaced so that the OCR can distinguish them easily from each other.
  • Keep it light. Cards with dark backgrounds seem impossible to scan (even those with high-contrast white text).
  • Put your company name somewhere in text. OCR can’t translate stylized logos, so make sure the company’s name is in text somewhere too.
  • Keep it on one side. Scanners only read one side of a card, so keep all the critical contact information on one side.

This last issue was a very common problem with the batch of cards I just scanned. Double-sided printing is becoming very affordable so more people are creating business cards that are printed on both sides. This creates the temptation to spread the critical contact information on both sides of the card, which makes it inaccessible to card reading technology. Ideally, you should have contact information on only one side of the card, and then use the other side for a logo or mini sales brochure. A printer like Moo.com, with its ability to print a different back on each card in a set, offers the ability to get very creative with a card back’s promotional uses. Meanwhile, the front of the card can hold all of the traditional contact information in a clean and simple (scannable) format.

Do you scan business cards? What problems have you come up against?

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