What Is OCR Software?

by G.K. Bayne

OCR software is a computer program that converts a picture of a text document into a document that can be read and edited by a word processor or other application. OCR, or optical character recognition, software is often bundled with the software that comes with the purchase of a scanner.


Early versions of OCR software had to be trained in order to convert a scanned image into a document that could be edited on a computer. As the technology has grown, conversion of a typed document may be 99 percent accurate, which leaves the user with few errors to correct before saving the document.


As OCR software has improved, the technology has branched out from scanners to other computer equipment. Palm, Inc., developed a form of OCR software for its Palm Pilot and later versions of the Palm handheld assistant. Tablet notebooks and some laptops now utilize OCR software in order to convert handwritten notes to text on the screen.


OCR software reads the input from a scanner or other optical device and coverts that input into text that can then be edited or saved as a document file. Some OCR software has the capability to scan a document that includes both pictures and text and maintain the format of the original when converting to the final output document. This feature can be especially important in desktop publishing or other occupations where a document onscreen needs to be the same as a printed page.


Prices for OCR software can range from free to several hundred dollars. The programs that come with most scanners have the option to upgrade the software for a price, which will allow the user to have access to extra features of the program. For simple text conversion, the free programs are often all the casual user may need. For heavy OCR users, the commercial programs offer all the bells and whistles needed for both printed text and handwriting conversion.


By converting paper documents to computer documents, less paper filing space is required, as the document can be printed out as needed. OCR software on a tablet computer or PDA makes note taking during a business conference or other meeting simple and easy and reduces the need for additional tape recordings or other documentation.