Convert scanned documents to editable text – For Free!

Notice: see the update at the bottom of this post because there has been some changes with how Google Docs works.

Sometimes you have scanned documents and want to convert the image into text for easy editing. “Optical Character Recognition” (OCR) softwares have been available for a long time for this purpose. However, the effectiveness of OCR software is usually proportional to the price — better result, higher price and v.v.

There’s one free alternative, though. Google docs. Here’s how.

1. Have a Google account (you can borrow someone else’s, but really, why not create your own if you don’t have one?)

2. After logging in to your Google account, go to https://docs.google.com

3. Click the “upload” button

You can upload single files or folders containing several files. For now let’s try just one file.

4. After you select your file(s), a dialog box will appear.

Check the “Convert text from PDF and image files to Google documents” option which starts the magic.

5. When the upload is successful and finished, it will appear in your list of documents.

6. Now initiate download. Check the checkbox in front of the file’s name. Then click the “More” button (it would be invisible if no files are selected). Choose “Download” from the drop-down menu.

7. Another dialog will appear to confirm the download and choose the format. Since you’d want to edit the file in a text editor or word processor, choose the format that you prefer (there are plain text, rich text, HTML,  MS Word and Open Document formats). Then click Download.

8. Voila, your document is ready for text editing! (Look in your browser’s default download folder.)

Caveat:

  1. With any OCR software, the success rate depends on the quality of the scan, in particular the contrast, sharpness, resolution, and alignment.
  2. There are limits on how big and how many files you can upload at a time.
  3. If you’re concerned about your file’s secrecy, delete the document from Google doc after you’ve downloaded the OCR-ed file. However, I can’t guarantee that Google will not keep a copy in its cache, and whether it will not make it public. If this doesn’t comfort you, then you’d better buy your own OCR software.

Update 2012/08/06

Google docs has slightly changed the interface during upload. Now there’s no more confirmation dialog for the upload settings; instead, it will upload your files right away. While the upload is still in process, you’ll see the upload progress window; there on the top bar of this window you’ll see “Settings”, if you click on this, a drop down menu will appear with three options. Check the “Convert text from uploaded PDF and image files” option for the OCR.

Update 2015/09/18

Google Docs is now called Google Drive, but Google Docs is still there in Google Drive (go figure). Anyway, OCR still works, albeit through different steps. Now you just upload your scanned texts on to your Google Drive. It will be stored as graphics in Drive. Open your Drive folder where you keep the image. Right-click on the file, then choose “open with — Google Docs”. A new Google Docs document will be opened in a new tab or window with the texts from your image.

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