FREE OCR software: a survey of desktop and online tools


Printing text to paper is done every day; on some occasions however the reverse is needed – getting the original text back from a scanned image or photograph, for further editing and use.

This conversion is named Optical Character Recognition or OCR for short, and it can convert scanned books and documents into editable text, to get editable text from PDFs created via scanning, or even get text from screenshots and images. There are a variety of tools available for character recognition and some of them are free to use. This article will help you find and choose between several free OCR tools.

Note: this article was last updated on June 18th, 2013. This update added a host of additional tools that offer free OCR functionality, many of these we found through reader comments, so thank you for helping us make this article better.

OCR Illustration6_e

Online OCR services vs. desktop OCR software

Selecting the right OCR tool depends on your specific needs. Generally OCR tools can be divided into two – online services and desktop software, both of them have their positive and negative sides.

Online services will require that you upload your files on the internet to their servers, so there may be privacy concerns as well as time/bandwidth concerns if your document is big. Most have limits to file size and count of pages to process daily/weekly that they will process for free; for bigger jobs they require to buy extra processing power. On the flip side, many of these services are really good at the OCR itself.

With Desktop Software you don’t need to worry about uploading sensitive information to foreign servers, or whether your file will take too long to upload. Some desktop software programs generally give better text review options, and some have scanning functionality integrated.

A note on comparing OCR software: OCR programs are not mainstream applications so there is only a limited number of freeware titles available, unlike for example hundreds of media players or file managers. In this article we aimed to provide the complete list of items found and evaluated at the present moment. This is because OCR results tend to vary; the accuracy of different OCR solutions depends on the quality, file format and fonts used in the source documents. For instance some programs provide better quality with typewriter fonts and worse results with screen fonts whereas other program perform exactly the opposite.

We therefore shied away from a head-to-head comparison of OCR accuracy in this article as the rating can be unjust for the specific files you might need to process. There is some general information about getting good OCR result at the end of the article.

We looked sat three ‘types’ of OCR tools: online OCR services, desktop OCR programs and other software (mostly screenshot taking programs that have an OCR component). All of the tools mentioned are either FREE or have a free version.
[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”215|215|215″ colalign=”left|left|left”]
Online OCR services,Desktop OCR software,Other software with OCR capability
Google Docs,Cuneiform OpenOCR,PDF-XChange
Free Online OCR,FreeOCR,Nuance PDF Reader
Free OCR,Free OCR to Word,ABBYY Screenshot Reader
My Free OCR,Puma.NET,Greenshot
Online OCR,,MyMorph [/tabla]  

Quick links: click to jump to our  recommendation for online OCR services and recommendation for desktop OCR software. Also, see our recommendations for better OCR results.

Part 1: Online OCR software

Online OCR software is available through the web browser and you don’t have to install new software on your computer. All you need is to get the image file using scanner or a digital photo camera, upload it through the online OCR web page and wait for the processed file to download. Although most of the online OCR providers claim that data will be automatically deleted from their servers still the files travel through internet so for sensitive information you may consider desktop software from Part 2 or Part 3.


1. Google Docs

If you use Gmail or other Google online services you might try Google Docs/Google Drive first. Google Docs is not a dedicated OCR tool but it provides the OCR power Google uses to digitize books and process PDFs for their search engine. To get text from image or PDF files you need to first upload and convert the files to Google Docs. Then you can do the further editing online or/and download it back as PDF, DOC, TXT etc.

Click the Upload button first thing to upload your files, then select Settings from the menu and check ‘Convert uploaded files to Google docs format’ and ‘Convert text from uploaded PDF and images files’, then click Upload/Files. Another way is to check ‘Confirm settings before each upload’ after clicking Upload/Settings so that every time you upload a file you are asked whether you want to convert the file or leave it intact. This gives also an option to select which language dictionary will be used in the text recognition process. The file is therefore converted to Google Docs document having both the original image(s) and the converted text within it. You can review the text and delete the original images afterwards. Google Docs conversion works pretty good, especially with English texts.

Over 30 different languages can be selected but if your language is not included in the list, the conversion may give an error and the file will not be processed at all. Of course – if you don’t have a Google account you can create one any time. However, there are some limitations – the maximum size for images (.jpg, .gif, .png) and PDF files (.pdf) is 2 MB. For PDF files, they only look at the first 10 pages when searching for text to extract.


  • Input image file types: most bitmap formats
  • Input PDF files: yes
  • Output file types: ODT, PDF, TXT, RTF, DOC, HTML
  • Languages: 30+

[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
Google Docs / PROS:,CONS:
Preserves most formatting,2 MB file size limit. Only the first 10 pages in a multi-page PDF are extracted
,Text in some languages may not be recognized and processed
,Tables are sometimes not processed [/tabla]  

2. Free Online OCR

Free online OCR web page is more thoroughly reviewed in


  • Input image file types: GIF, BMP, JPEG, TIFF, PNG
  • Input PDF files: yes
  • Output file types: DOC, PDF, RTF, TXT
  • Languages: English dictionary only

[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
Free Online OCR / PROS:,CONS:
No capacity limits for processing,Only English dictionary supported. Text in other languages may be not recognized
Keeps original formatting and layout,Only first 30 pages of each PDF document is converted (it is  possible to split bigger files by some online and other tools)
No registration needed, [/tabla]  

3. Free OCR

Free OCR is on online OCR service using Tesseract OCR engine. 


  • Input image file types: JPG, GIF, TIFF, BMP
  • Input PDF files: yes
  • Output file types: plain text, copy-paste
  • Languages: 25+

[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
Free Online OCR / PROS:,CONS:
No registration needed,Only first page of each PDF document is converted
Decent OCR quality processing bad source images,There is a limit of 10 uploads per hour
,Only text output; does not retain formatting.  Adds line breaks to the end of the lines [/tabla]  

4. i2OCR


  • Input image file types: TIF, JPEG, PNG, BMP, GIF, PBM, PGM, PPM
  • Input PDF files: no
  • Output file types: TXT
  • languages: 60+

[tabla caption=” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
No limits for uploading,Only text output; all the original formatting will be lost. Though at least it supports multi column pages correctly.
Has a review option after character recognition – the original image and result text is shown side-by-side on screen,Creates “hard” line-breaks at the end of each line.
No registration needed,Does not process PDF files.
Ability to process the result using Bing/Google translator, [/tabla]  

5. My Free OCR


  • Input image file types: JPG, PNG, GIF
  • Input PDF files: yes
  • Output file types: TXT, PDF, DOC (?)
  • Languages: 7

[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
No registration needed,With some source files gives less accurate results than other OCR services
,Can not handle multi-column source images right
,Output to MS Word did not work (server .NET error) [/tabla]  

6. OCRonline


  • Input image file types: JPG, TIFF, PNG, GIF
  • Input PDF files: yes
  • Output file types: TXT, PDF, RTF, DOC
  • Languages: 150+

[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
OCRonline / PROS:,CONS:
Excellent recognition quality,Registration needed
Rebuilds original formatting,Limited upload capacity – 5 pages in a week; file size up to 10 MB. Need to pay to get extra pages.
Impressive list of 150 OCR languages, [/tabla]  

7. Online OCR


  • Input image file types: JPG, JPEG, BMP, TIFF, GIF
  • Input PDF files: only for registered users
  • Output file types: DOC, XLS, TXT (+ PDF for registered users)
  • Languages: 30+

Note: There is registered and guest mode available for this site. In guest mode 15 images per hour can be processed and maximum file size is 4 MB. There are some extra possibilities in registered mode, like uploading larger images, ZIP archives and multi-page PDFs. Initial credits after registering is for converting 20 pages.
[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
Online OCR / PROS:,CONS:
Supports some languages that other servers do not support,Limited upload capacity. Extra capacity may be purchased or earned by bonus program
Preview the result text,Registration needed for some functionality
Retains formatting in DOC output; even tables, [/tabla]  

Our Recommendation: The last word on online OCR services

From the online OCR solutions reviewed above, OCRonline provided good and stable OCR accuracy with a number of different fonts and texts. Unfortunately the free service is limited by 5 pages per week. If you need more capacity, try the other providers as they also may give good results depending on your source text.

Part 2: Desktop OCR software

Desktop software you need to download and install to your computer, and they usually have more configurable options than online tools. Also you do not need to worry about sending sensitive information to the internet. Some desktop programs include the ability to acquire image directly from a scanner so they select good settings for scanning and you don’t need to use other programs to scan and save files.

8. Cuneiform OpenOCR

OpenOCR is based on commercial product Cuneiform that was released as freeware on 2007. NB! The download link to English version has moved HERE.


  • License: freeware
  • Input image: most bitmap file formats
  • Input PDF: no
  • Scanner input: yes
  • Output: TXT, RTF, HTML + output to Word/Excel
  • Dictionary languages: 20+

[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
Cuneiform OpenOCR / PROS:,CONS:
Includes both single file and batch of files processing mode.,Installation program creates invalid start menu shortcuts like NewFolder1 [/tabla]  

9. FreeOCR

This is another of the programs that uses the open source Tesseract OCR engine. Tesseract was originally developed by HP and is currently sponsored by Google. FreeOCR

  • License: freeware
  • Requires: Microsoft .NET
  • Input image: TIFF, multi-page TIFF
  • Input PDF: yes
  • Scanner input: yes
  • Output: TXT
  • Dictionary languages: 9

[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
Tesseract OCR engine has good accuracy.,Only text output; no formatting recognition [/tabla]  

10. Free OCR to Word

Free OCR to Word software is a simple and basic functionality OCR program which also has a clone named Free OCR. They only differ by the name, logo and adware included, but the adware setup can be declined on installation.


  • License: freeware (RelevantKnowledge adware included but its installation can be skipped)
  • Requires: –
  • Input PDF: no
  • Dictionary languages: only English?
  • Scanner input: yes
  • Input image: major image file types like PNG, PSD, ICO, JPG, JPEG, TIFF etc
  • Output: TXT, DOC

[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
Free OCR to Word / PROS:,CONS:
Simple interface,No formatting recognition
,No PDF and multi-page file support
,Text language can not be set [/tabla]  

11. gImageReader

gImageReader is one of the front-ends to the free Tesseract OCR engine. You need to download and install Tesseract separately from this page. Tesseract engine uses OpenOffice dictionaries and spellcheckers that can be downloaded from here.

  • License: freeware (GNU)
  • Requires: Tesseract, need to download separately
  • Input PDF: yes
  • Dictionary languages: many, uses freely downloadable OpenOffice spellcheckers
  • Scanner input: yes
  • Input image: JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIFF
  • Output: TXT

[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
gImageReader / PROS:,CONS:
Tesseract OCR engine has good accuracy,Only text output; no formatting recognition
OCR area(s) can be manually selected,Installation of additional languages can be a bit complicated [/tabla]  

12. Puma.NET

Puma.NET is actually not a user solution but a development kit based on CuneiForm OCR engine, though it contains a sample program with the front-end. After installing there will be no launch icon in Start Menu but you can find the program Puma.Net.Sample.exe deep in the C:\ Program Files\ Puma.NET\ Sample\ bin\ x86\ Debug\folder.


  • License: freeware (BSD)
  • Requires: Microsoft .NET
  • Input image: BMP, GIF, EXIG, JPG, PNG and TIFF
  • Input PDF: no
  • Scanner input: no
  • Output: TXT, RTF, HTML
  • Dictionary languages: 27

[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
Font and formatting detection,You have to create the shortcut to start the program by yourself [/tabla]  

13. SimpleOCR

SimpleOCR uses its own OCR engine that is capable of learning the fonts in a particular document.


  • License: free for all non-commercial purposes
  • Input image: TIFF, JPG, BMP
  • Input PDF: no
  • Scanner input: yes
  • Output: DOC, TXT
  • Dictionary languages: 3

Note: SimpleOCR seems to give better results from color JPEGs, not grayscale.
[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
Word by word text revision,Only 3 languages dictionary.
Ability to train the engine to use specific fonts,No font and format detection
Includes both single file and batch of files processing mode, [/tabla]  

Our Recommendation: The last word on desktop OCR software

From the desktop OCR software reviewed above Cuneiform OpenOCR provided good accuracy with different fonts including artistic. Having said that, most of the programs performed also good processing text with simple fonts.

Part 3: Other OCR software

There are some more free tools available, which are mainly meant for more specific tasks but can be used for text recognition. You can find a good PDF viewer or a screen capture software for everyday use and OCR capabilities at the same time.

14. PDF-XChange

PDF-XChange is a PDF viewer and PDF composer which has also OCR capabilities supporting more than 35 input languages (reviewed here). 1. With PDF-XChange it is possible to get text from PDFs, like scanned images, where You can not search and select text for copy-paste. Open the PDF file with PDF-XChange and take Document/OCR page from the menu, then it is possible to search OCR-d text and select the text with Select tool and copy it to another application. In the free version it is possible to save the PDF with recognized text but the watermarks will be added. 2. It is possible to get text from image files by creating new PDF file from the images, then performing OCR. Again – in the free version watermarks will be added if you save the PDF, so use copy-paste on the text areas to get unformatted text output.

Capture - PDF-XChange

  • License: free
  • Input image: TIFF, JPG, BMP etc
  • Input PDF: yes
  • Output: text (copy-paste)
  • Dictionary languages: 30+

[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
Good recognition quality.,No font and format detection
Can be used as an excellent PDF viewer, [/tabla]  

15. Nuance PDF Reader

Nuance PDF Reader is able to upload scanned PDFs to its online service for character recognition. Nuance PDF Reader is previously reviewed here.

Capture - Nuance PDF Reader

  • License: free
  • Input image: none
  • Input PDF: yes
  • Output: DOCX, RTF, WP, XLS
  • Dictionary languages: 7

[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
Good recognition quality,The files are sent to online OCR server so there may be privacy issues.
Restores formatting (however no good results with tables),
Can be used as an good PDF viewer, [/tabla]  

16. ABBYY Screenshot Reader

ABBYY Screenshot Reader is a screen capture software that can do screenshot OCR on the fly. Excellent recognition quality, amazing number of 160+ input languages can be selected, also multiple languages at a time. It can nicely handle data tables. ABBYY Screenshot Reader is reviewed here.

Capture - ABBYY SSR

  • License: free
  • Input image: screen (area, window, whole screen)
  • Input PDF: no
  • Output: text, table, image
  • Dictionary languages: 180+

[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
Good recognition quality,Does not restore formatting except the tables
Can be used as an good screenshot creator,
Impressive list of languages,
Good handling of tables, [/tabla]  

17. Capture2Text

Capture2Text is another screen snapshot (and voice recognition) program with text output support. Capture2Text has been reviewed here.

Capture - Capture2Text

  • License: freeware (GNU GPL)
  • Input image: screen area
  • Input PDF: no
  • Output: text only
  • Dictionary languages: 50+

[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
Good recognition quality,Does not restore formatting
Supports many languages,Area selection can be a bit slow
Can be also used for speech recognition, [/tabla]  

18. Greenshot

Greenshot is another great screen capture software, but for OCR you need to have some Microsoft Office products installed, more details can be found here.

Capture - Greenshot 1

  • License: freeware
  • Input image: screen (area, window, fullscreen)
  • Input PDF: yes
  • Output: image, text
  • Dictionary languages: 20+

[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
Good screen capture functionality,Requires Microsoft Office for OCR [/tabla]  

19. JOCR

JOCR is an ultralight screen capture program, requires Microsoft Office 2003 or later to be installed for performing OCR. JOCR has been reviewed here. Download link. Capture - JOCR

  • License: free
  • Input image: screen area (area, window, desktop)
  • Input PDF: no
  • Output: text only
  • Dictionary languages: 20+

[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
Ultra small and portable,Requires Microsoft Office for OCR [/tabla]  

20. MyMorph

MyMorph is a program intended for converting large number of document archive files from one format to another, like TIFF, PDF, TXT etc. MyMorph is able to convert image files and PDF to editable text files by sending them to DocMorph online service.

Capture - MyMorph

  • License: free
  • Input image: JPG, TIFF, GIF etc
  • Input PDF: yes
  • Output: PDF, TIFF, TXT
  • Dictionary languages: 17

[tabla caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
Good for processing multiple files,The files are sent to online OCR server so there may be privacy issues. [/tabla]  

About OCR and how to get better results

OCR is used to turn printed books and documents back to text. OCR tools analyze the image, recognizes the characters/words and output them in form of editable text file. The character recognition is never perfect. By some studies the accuracy of the commercial OCR products vary from 70 – 98% and total accuracy can be achieved only with the help of human review.

To improve accuracy most OCR tools also use dictionaries. Instead of recognizing individual characters they try to recognize whole words that exist in the selected dictionary. Some OCR software cannot detect fonts and formatting and can only give plain text as output. You then need to reapply all the formatting manually. But some of the OCR engines detect fonts like bold and italic, some of them also detect paragraph formatting, multiple columns, tables and images inside the text, so they can use this information to replicate the text in editable format like DOC, HTML etc.

The source for character recognition can be an image obtained by scanner, digital camera or screenshot. If you use a scanner and you have lot of pages you might use OCR software that has scanner support built in. The program then suggests the settings that give best results for OCR. Usually this means 300 dpi resolution (200 dpi minimal) and gray-scale JPG or TIFF image. Some software like color images better than gray-scale, though. So if you do not get best results it is recommended to try several settings, like 300 dpi color JPEG and 300 dpi gray-scale JPG. Or TIFF instead of JPG.

Getting decent OCR results using images taken by digital camera is quite difficult. Good light, no flash, straight paper, macro mode etc help to get better results as it is described for instance in this article. It is also possible to get text from screenshot files but it also needs some extra measures. Usually the resolution of a screenshot is 72 dpi but OCR needs at least 200 dpi. Some OCR programs can automatically adjust the resolution of the image file, but for others you need to use some image manipulation program to convert the resolution to at least 200 dpi. For screenshots it is best to have dedicated screen capture programs that have built-in OCR functionality like ABBYY Screenshot Reader, Capture2Text or JOCR.

OCR is often used to process PDF files. A PDF usually consists of images that are shown on screen and also the source text that you can select for copy-paste. But some of the PDFs contain only images, like scanned PDF files. Usual “convert-PDF-to-Word” type software often cannot process these files. To extract text from PDF files that contain only images you need a viewer that can do OCR like PDF-XChange or some OCR software that accepts PDF files for input.