What is OCR and When Do You Need It?

Imagine this for a moment: you’re working on a project for the office and need to find one specific file. It’s a scanned image of a contract hiding somewhere in the disorganized maze of folders and sub-folders.

You know this contract contains specific keywords that would make it a snap to find, but since it’s saved as an image, there’s no way to search for them.

…Or is there?

If you’ve ever found yourself wishing your scanned documents could be turned into searchable, editable text at the push of a button, OCR technology can help.

But what is OCR and when do you need it? Keep reading to find out.

What is OCR?

OCR stands for “optical character recognition.” It refers to any process in which an image containing text is transformed into a machine-readable format.

The first OCR technology can be traced back 200 years to an early reading aid for the blind. It wasn’t until the 1950s, however, that it began to be used for data entry purposes.

Today’s OCR software can recognize and convert text in countless formats and languages. It’s used to improve accuracy and efficiency in a wide range of industries.

How OCR Works

Every OCR program is built on the same two foundational principles: scanning and recognition.

The scanning process involves capturing an image of printed text and saving it in a recognizable format. If the image is already saved electronically, it may need to be saved as a different file type.

During the recognition process, the scanned image is turned into a text-based file. This process generally consists of five steps:

  1. Text Identification: the program decides which parts of the image are actually text
  2. Character Recognition: the program identifies individual characters (letters, numbers, punctuation)
  3. Word Recognition: the identified characters are assembled into known words and phrases
  4. Correction: mistakes in the text, such as spelling errors, are corrected
  5. Formatting Output: the file is saved in a format that allows for text editing

Modern OCR software has become so good at recognizing text that it tends to be more accurate than re-typing text by hand. Some advanced systems use machine learning to ensure adaptability and natural output.

OCR software doesn’t have to be a major financial investment. If you have a basic knowledge of coding, you may be able to get by with free, open-source software. These programs, like Tesseract C#, generally have a much steeper learning curve than those available for purchase.

Uses of OCR

Character recognition technology can be used to improve efficiency across nearly every industry. Though there are many specialized uses of OCR, here are a few of the more common ones.

Digitizing Old Forms and Records

If your business has been using old copies of paper forms for years, re-typing them all to create digital copies can be a major task. Scanning those documents into an OCR program completely eliminates the need for re-typing.

Industries that keep detailed hard-copy records (such as finance, law, and medicine) can use OCR to create a searchable database.

Digitizing Handwriting

Without OCR, mail delivery would take significantly longer. Postal offices use character recognition software to identify handwritten addresses and sort mail. The OCR process is even advanced enough to correct mistakes in addresses and prevent routing errors.

If you have a lot of partial or fully handwritten documents that need digitized, OCR technology can streamline the process.

Creating Text Files from Images

If your business is more design-based, OCR technology can still be useful. It can be used to convert photos, screenshots, magazines, and flyers into searchable PDF files or editable text documents. This is perfect for graphic and web design companies that need to digitize printed materials.

When Should You Use OCR Technology?

What is OCR? If you’re building a searchable archive or digitizing printed graphics, it’s your best friend. Optical character recognition software makes transitioning to a paperless office or documentation system efficient and painless.

CrazyLeaf Design is your source for digital and web design inspiration. For more helpful resources, check out our blog today.

Written by CrazyLeaf Editorial

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