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OCR technology has been around longer than most people think. Ray Kurzweil invented the first multi-font recognition in 1975 to power the Kurzweil Reading Machine.

This reading machine, which was roughly the size of a small dishwasher, could turn printed documents into synthesized speech. The PC revolution made this technology available to almost anyone and now most of us have a smartphone in our pocket that can do the same job.

Let’s look at how OCR works and how it can save you time and money.

What Is OCR?

OCR stands for optical character recognition. It will convert a printed page, computer image, or any other graphical representation of text into a true text file. This lets you scan a printed document, for example, and convert it into a file that you can edit in Word, Google Docs, or any other word processor.

Computers aren’t able to understand text that’s embedded in an image. All they “see” is a pattern of ones and zeros that make up the image. Without optical character recognition software, you would have to retype the entire printed page if you wanted to convert it into something that you can edit.

As we mentioned above, the first commercial application of OCR was the Kurzweil Reading Machine. These machines weren’t easily accessible for the average person though. OCR started to take off in the early 1990s when PCs became powerful enough to run character recognition apps at decent speeds.

Types of OCR Technology

There are several types of OCR. The end result is the same with all of them but how they recognize text is a bit different.

Optical Character Recognition

The most common form of OCR recognizes individual characters in the text and pieces the full document together one character at a time. It’s designed for typewritten text since there’s a certain amount of uniformity.

Intelligent character recognition (ICR) works the same way but it’s designed for cursive or script text. This is a more complex form of recognition since the text style can vary.

Optical Word Recognition

Optical word recognition is like OCR but instead of reading the text one character at a time, it recognizes entire words. You can use it with any text that uses spaces to separate words. Using word recognition alongside spell checking can improve the results considerably.

Intelligent word recognition (IWR) works on the same basis but for cursive text. It works particularly well for writing where the individual characters in a word are all attached.

Common OCR Applications

The most common use for OCR is to converted printed documents into computer-readable text. This is used to archive historical documents, convert printed documents into editable text like MS Word or Google Docs files, and convert printed documents into spoken word for accessibility purposes.

You can also use OCR to automate repetitive tasks such as sorting mail based on the address on the envelope or automating business processes that use a standard type of form.

OCR is embedded in many applications, such as Evernote and many PDF editing applications, to allow full-text searching. There are development libraries available for most common programming languages, such as .net OCR, that make it easy for developers to add these types of features.

OCR Saves Time and Makes Life Easier

Whether you want to convert a document you received from someone else into a Word document you can easily change or you want to automate some process in your business, OCR technology can do the job. Start using it today to save time and money.

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