Scanners vs. OCR Readers

By Milton Kazmeyer

A document scanner can help you reduce paper use in the office.
i Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

If you want to reduce the amount of paper your office deals with, one way to do so is to adopt a document scanning system. Scanners and OCR readers transform paper documents into digital files, which you can then store easily and reprint whenever needed. Depending on your type of business and the type of documents you wish to preserve, however, you may find that an image scanner fits your needs better than an OCR reader, or vice versa.

Scanners and OCR

An image or document scanner works similarly to a copy machine. You place the document into the scanner and scan the item, but instead of reproducing it in physical form like a copy machine would, it creates an electronic image file and stores it on your computer, where you can open and manipulate it like any other image file. If you want to capture text in an editable format, however, you need an Optical Character Recognition system that identifies text in a scanned image and produces an editable file, like a Word document, containing the page’s contents.

Data Transfer

If you need to transfer information from paper documents into a database or other form of electronic record, using OCR can make the process much faster than entering it by hand. A scanner merely copies the paper as an image file, so you cannot copy and paste from the document. OCR translates a document into an editable format, and some database programs may be able to accept input directly from the OCR reader.


If you need to record the contents of files accurately, an image scanner is your best choice. OCR readers can do a good job reading the text from paper, especially if the original printer used an OCR-friendly font; however, smudges, handwriting and other defects can lead to incorrect characters showing up in the finished file. If the documents you plan to scan are financial in nature, consider what a transposed or inaccurate digit might do to your record-keeping. If you do opt for an OCR system, verify that all files are correct before destroying any originals.


If the documents you wish to preserve are complex forms, it may be difficult to get an OCR reader to interpret them successfully. Data read from multiple fields scattered across a page may not come across in an easily readable and understandable format unless you can configure the reader’s software to handle that type of form. In addition, excessively small text or certain fonts may confuse the reader, increasing the number of errors in the final document.