OCR Scanning Software for Mac: 4 Apps Compared

My desk has become a sea of paper. Drawers and drawers filled with old reports, warranty guides, receipts, and papers whose origin I haven’t the slightest idea about. I’ve never really considered trying to scan and catalog my physical world, converting it to a digital one.

I guess that is why I was taken aback when asked to review Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software like ABBYY FineReader. I never really thought I’d be able to organize everything in any of my drawers. But after looking at the different scanned-file organization and OCR options, I may yet find a way to search through the mess…

After the jump, I’ll explain what exactly OCR is, and walk you through a number of different solutions available for the Mac!

What is OCR?

Before we jump into the world of software comparisons, it might be good to ensure everyone has an understanding of Optical Character Recognition. Essentially, a scanned document is nothing more than a flat picture – it doesn’t contain any readable text, just pixels.

You can’t search for any of the words inside the document with Spotlight, as the actual text can’t be read from the computer’s point of view. OCR uses software to recognize the words and letters within an image, converting them into digital text. That way, it can be searched or edited later.

ABBYY FineReader for Mac

ABBYY Task Window

ABBYY Task Window

First up is the must-loved (on the Windows side at least) ABBYY FineReader Express for Mac. First though, a short tangent. I feel as if the most Mac-like applications have a similar naming convention. Normally, our most coveted applications have simple, easy to remember titles: Things, Adium, Billings, SuperDuper!.

However, corporate focused, multi-platform applications tend to tack on extra words to the name of the program. ABBYY FineReader Express for Mac is no exception – why not just “FineReader”? Anyway, that’s not particularly important in the long-run. Let’s assess how the application actually works…

Unfortunately, to add fuel to the fire of having to register for a trial download, FineReader also forces you to install the program via an install wizard (rather than the usual drag-and-drop).

Once you open up FineReader you are given a very simple (albeit slightly uninspiring) interface. You have the option to Scan or Import from a File and automatically perform the OCR process. After you grab the file / scan the paper, you can convert the file to various document formats. FineReader will convert the scanned document into editable formats like Word, Excel, HTML or an indexable PDF.

Once you have imported the file into FineReader, converted and OCR’ed the image, the editing window will appear (it will also automatically open the default program for that file type.)

Within the editing window, you can designate Text, Picture, and ‘Table’ areas in the document. All-in-all, ABBYY was super easy to use, very fast at OCR’ing my pre-scanned images, and comes in at under $100.

ABBYY Editor

ABBYY Editor

DevonThink

This Mac-only program is well loved across our community and is developed by Devon Technologies. They just recently released an iOS edition for your favorite mobile devices as well.

This app has a much steeper learning curve than ABBYY FineReader, as it combines both file organization and databasing as well as OCR. The OCR technology does require you to get the ‘Pro Office’ version, which is more expensive than the regular version of DevonThink, at $150.

DevonThink

DevonThink

However, if you have a need to manage hundreds of files as well as have them searchable, this slightly expensive offering might be what you’re looking for.

It should be noted that DevonThink also utilizes ABBYY OCR technology behind the scenes, so you should receive similar results and speed.

ReadIris 12

Another fairly pricy option which is also multi-platform: ReadIris. This one costs nearly 130 Euros and isn’t as well designed as either DevonThink or FineReader.

Also, there are some restrictions including per document page limits, multi-language support and folder monitoring. To access these features, you will be forced to spend over 400 Euros for their Corporate edition. A trial is available for their ‘lower’ cost version.

ReadIris

ReadIris

VelOCRaptor

VelOCRaptor is the lowest cost OCR app I’ve found for the Mac – at just $29. It is very simple – just drag the PDF on top of the drop-zone and it will process through its ‘No-Click OCR’ process.

The application doesn’t offer any features available in the more expensive applications- like organization, Excel spreadsheet export or multi-platform support. However, this inexpensive option seems to work with most files I threw at it.

Definitely give it shot if you aren’t sure that you really need a more expensive application.

VelOCRaptor Viewer

VelOCRaptor Viewer

Conclusion

After running through all of these applications, I can’t say I’ll jump into the world of super-organized OCR users just yet – but it definitely would be a wonderful thing to have all of my receipts and important documents loaded up and ready to access anywhere with my Mac.

Alas, I’ll need to get a much faster scanner to handle my paper load! This is a very important factor if you’re planning on importing a big stack of documents, and you might want to consider something such as the ScanSnap for a quick and easy solution.

How about you? Are you a big paper-free OCR fan, or do you prefer a good old-fashioned filing cabinet?


  • http://poder.dk Jens Hjerrild Poder

    What about PDFpen Pro?

    It’s fairly cheap, and supports OCR through Applescript.

    And gives you something almost as capable as Adobe Acrobat for a fragment of the price.

  • Eivind

    Adobe Acrobat Pro also has OCR functionality. It worked great last time I used it, and a lot of people probably already has this software.

  • Brandon

    Prizmo is fairly nice solution to OCR any image filetype, including pictures you take with a digital camera of documents (faster than scanning!)
    It doubles as an image editor as well.

    For PDF’s I also love PDFpen Pro.

  • Andrė

    Yep, Paperfree for and Year and a half now. I use Adobe Acrobat for OCR Scanning. Scansnap Is nice but expansive. After the Big Work Is done, my HP Laser with Scan Works Fine.
    You are ob the right Way! :) Never Look back in ugly Folders on Dirty shelves.

  • http://www.pobox.com/~meta/ mathew

    You “reviewed” OCR applications and didn’t bother to compare their accuracy? Is this some sort of subtle joke? FFS, take some identical page scans and run them through the various programs, and compare the accuracy of the results. That’ll give us some useful information.

    • http://alf.ikikata.org Alf

      I agree, It would have been nice to have a comparison on accuracy for picking out the software “winner”.

      also… “…it definitely would be a wonderful thing to have all of my receipts and important documents loaded up and ready to access anywhere with my Mac.”

      I use Evernote for that, as it gives you OCR as well… at the price of “free” and even handles notes written by hand.

  • Pandora

    And you left out the worst of all: Omnipage Page “pro”?

    Seriously, the combo of Abby and Devonthink Pro Office paired with the Scansnap document feeder is a real winner for doing your OCR and organizing the results into meaningful folders and databases. I do publishing and this setup lets me concentrate on publishing, not trying to get things to work together.

    PS: Why do PC-side apps nearly always have to resort to “wizards” to do the installation whereas on the Mac you just drag & drop or at the very worst have an installation assistant. I really hate the term “wizard” as a synonym for assistant or helper.

    • observer

      The application file you drag in OS X is a “Package” and is how UNIX handles installations. If you right-click on this file you will see the option to “Show Package Content.” This will open the “app” as a folder containing ALL the files used to create the application. I love the way this is done in OS X. It keeps everything nice and tidy.

      • what’s that?

        Packages/bundles have absolutely nothing to do with UNIX. They were introduced in NEXTSTEP, which is the operating system from which OS X descends.

  • Aaron

    ABBYY FineReader has been awesome to me for the past year. Someone gave me a text to speech application and seeing as I had tons of PDFs to read for school, I did my own trials on OCR a while back. With FineReader I just make my pdfs searchable, select them entirely with my text to speech application and sit back and listen to my hours of PDFs read to me much quicker than I could possibly read it. This was particularly helpful in pre-law classes where I had to read long arcane and terse papers many times over. Seriously it rocked. Now that I’m out of school there are much fewer applications for me but it’s still really useful every once in a while.

  • Fredericko

    If you have the money to pony up for Acrobat Pro, it has one unique feature that I have not seen on any other OCR solution – ‘Clearscan’ – This converts the converted text into truetype fonts rather than just keeping them as bitmaps. The difference is readability onscreen is amazing. Clearscan is not enabled by default, so you have to specify it in the OCR settings.

    Prizmo also has a unique feature which I havent seen in any of the other OCR programs – curvature correction. Absolutely essential if you have photographs of books you want to ocr

    • Ann

      I second Acrobat Pro! That is what I’ve been using for years as it is more robust than most applications on the planet which are only typically suited for home use… ABBY didn’t impress me much for heavy work.

      What about reporting on scanning options, workflow, accuracy, and all the serious stuff that really matters?

  • dearpixel

    Thanks for the article. I’ve tried ABBY and two others you didn’t review, PDFPenPro and OCRKit. All are fantastic if you want OCR for search purposes, but OCRKit is the speed winner on my MBA, by a long way. If you’re into batch processing, OCRKit will be done with the whole folder while the other two are still working on the second document. I’m creating a Hazel-based auto filer which I’ll unleash on 10 years of scanned business documents and receipts, so a fast, batch processing OCR is a necessity.

  • Laddy

    I used Neat Receipts before I switched to Mac and I still use it on the Mac. It can OCR anything including papers you scan into it or digital files to drag into it and it is super easy to use.

  • J. Smith

    Evernote also does OCR on not just documents, but any image. Happens server-side, too, so no hit on the local processor.

  • Matt

    An article about OCR without including or at least discussing Adobe Acrobat seems a little suspect.

  • http://www.mothsoftware.com Beatrix Willius

    I have a fair amount of paper to take care of and I want the least amount of work to handle it. So far scanning seems much more work than simply filing it into folders. But it’s just a nuisance.

  • Jay

    The Fujitsu Scansnap comes with the full Pro version of Acrobat and Finereader. It has an auto document feeder and the OCR is great. I’ve scanned years worth of magazines and gotten rid of hundred pounds of paper. Some of the best money I ever spent. If you look at the value of the bundled software, the hardware is practically free.

  • Polly

    Here is a good article which compares the various OCR software: http://ocrworld.com/software/5-in-depth/149-top-ocr-software.html

  • ScanSnap Lover

    To Jay’s comment, my Fujitsu ScanSnap 500M setup has been perfect. It actually did pay for itself in one instance when I was told by one of my vendors that I never paid a large bill from nearly 2 years prior. Of course, this was well outside of my banks ability to retrieve account transaction information throught their online banking site. I was able to type in the amount I allegedly owed, and not only did their invoice show up in my scanned PDF files, but the bank statement that showed the debit from my account in the amount of the invoice alongside the name of the business also landed in the search results. Case closed and apology accepted.

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  • P. Page

    I could not agree more that OCRKit is a real time saver. I tried ABBYY, and IRIS, however, their fat user interface made the whole conversion process quite a hiccup. OCRKit on the other hand just takes the file and goes thru it – and blazing fast it is. Granted, it does not have this huge editing interface like ABBY or IRIS, but who needs that? Just converting the files to beautifully searchable PDFs really is enough – more so when you have more than a few documents to process, …

    http://ocrkit.com

    PS: VelOCRaptor looks EOL, and does not even support 10.7, … !!!

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  • Tim Greig

    VelOCRAPtor is dead for Mountain Lion and the author can’t be bothered to upgrade it.

  • John F

    Drop2Read came with an earlier version of ReadIRIS. Unlike the current version it has no page limit (or none that I have found). It zips through the 100′s of fax pages we get every day and makes them searchable which is all we need it to do. I wish they had kept it going.

  • Steve

    Well,
    I come from Windows and keep a bootcamp partition just to run PaperPort Pro 14.
    Why? Because none of the Mac options I have tried come near its capabilities.
    Not only does PaperPort 14 create very small PDF (even with scans above 300dpi), but it has a range of feature to first clean the documents, remove stains, gray backgrounds, deskew, and you end up with high quality documents.
    I tried most of the Mac “equivalents” but didn’t find any of them with cleaning and deskewing features.
    If you can name one, then that would free me from Windows…

  • http://www.tiltsoft.com Steve J

    Thanks for the info.
    This is an OCR only. Any way to connect it to a Document Manager?
    PaperPort WIndows can use OmniPage as the engine if not using the
    built-in one.
    You’ll tell me that I can use this in a 2 step process anyway: scan and clean, then organize with a 3rd party. Right?

    Sounds really great by the way.

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      Hi Steve,

      That is right. This is only OCR software. It does however export directly to Evernote, Dropbox, Box or Webdav so it will depend on what software you use for document management.

      Alternatively you could spring for the pro-pack (in app purchase) which gives you extra features such as batch processing, Automator Actions and custom script exports. With this it should be relatively easy to whip up an action or custom export directly into you bucket app of choice since most have scripting support.

      Hope that helps.

      Ps. You can download a trial version of both on the site and give a test run.

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