Are you drowning in business documents? Dreading the process of retyping your notes? Looking for a better way to make paper documents editable? If you said yes to any of these, it’s time to try OCR technology.

OCR is a powerful solution that can be used by any business. And, with so many free OCR apps out there, you’ll be sure to find one that’s right for you.

This article covers the following questions:

  • What does OCR mean and what are OCR apps?
  • Why are OCR apps great for businesses?
  • What are the best free OCR apps?

OCR: What it Means and How it Works

OCR stands for “optical character recognition”. Essentially, OCR is a technology that recognizes text within a scanned document and encodes it into a machine-readable format to create a digital file. 

OCR picks up on characters like letters, numbers, and symbols. It can be used to digitize typed, printed, or handwritten characters. After a document is processed using OCR, the text can then be edited with word processors. 

Before OCR software was developed, the only option for turning hard documents into digital files was to retype them. Initially developed to digitize newspapers, OCR technology is now used on a widespread basis by organizations from major banks to search engines to accessibility software.

OCR Apps Will Do Work for Your Business

Is your desk piling up with paper documents, such as PDFs, receipts, invoices, handwritten notes and other printed items? If so, you can use OCR to help you go paperless and: 

  • Save time – With OCR, you’ll never again have to waste your time retyping information from paper documents or handwritten notes. Instead, simply scan the document and let the technology turn it into an editable document for you.
  • Make fewer mistakes – OCR is not only a time-saver, it’s also a more accurate and reliable solution. Even if you’re detail-oriented, retyping a document puts you at risk of making a costly mistake.
  • Save space – Are you craving a clear desk and an organized business? Without hard copy documents, there will be less clutter and physical barriers to take up space, cause stress, and distract you from what matters most.
  • Find information faster – When you digitize documents using OCR, they become much easier to search, especially when you use an AI assistant like Charli to organize and retrieve your content. No more flipping through binders of information trying to find what you’re looking for.
  • Make hard copies editable – Ever wish you could make a quick change to a printed document you have before sharing it with someone else? With OCR, you can simply scan the text and edit at will.
  • Automate data entry – Say goodbye to manually entering forms or expense receipts. OCR lets you input data by simply scanning it in a fraction of the time.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected – Sure, floods, fires and theft are rare, but they can wreak havoc on your business if you don’t have a backup plan. Saving copies of your important documents using OCR is an important part of a disaster recovery strategy.

8 Best OCR Apps to Try

It’s clear that OCR technology has many benefits for businesses. If you’re ready to give it a try, here are the best free OCR apps to try for iPhone and Android operating systems.

1. Microsoft Lens

Available for Apple and Android

Microsoft Lens (formerly known as Microsoft Office Lens) can be used to convert images to Word, Powerpoint, PDF or Excel and save to OneDrive, OneNote or your local device. It lets you trim, enhance and edit documents, receipts, handwritten text, whiteboards and even Gallery images.

If you’re already a Microsoft user, this handy OCR app is free and will fit into your productivity workflow.

2. Text Scanner

Available for Apple and Android

This OCR app recognizes text from an image with 98-100% accuracy and can provide translations in nearly 100 languages. It allows users to crop the image before OCR, as well as perform multi-image scans. All scans are organized inside of a folder and can be easily shared.

3. SwiftScan

Available for Apple and Android

Designed to be user friendly and fast, this OCR app can be used to scan documents and QR codes. With just one tap, you can turn documents into high-quality PDFs or JPG and send them to email, Google Drive, Box, DropBox and other cloud services.

It also allows you to enhance your scans by applying color, grayscale or black and white filters, and features smart file naming. SwiftScan has been awarded Editors’ Choice by Google Play. 

4. Adobe Scan

Available for Apple and Android

With over 1.5 million downloads on the Google Play App Store, Adobe Scan turns your device into a portable scanner that lets you scan anything and save it to multiple file formats including PDF and JPG. 

Its advanced image technology automatically recognizes text, detects borders, removes imperfections and sharpens scanned content. It can also touch up scans or even photos from your camera gallery. After the scan is complete, you can save it to your Adobe Document Cloud for access and sharing

5. Google Keep

Available for Apple and Android

Did you know that Google Keep has OCR technology built in? That’s right, with this app you can extract the text from an image to help you quickly find that note again using search. 

Since Google Keep is one of the most widely used, cloud-based note-taking apps on the planet, this feature is handy for extracting information from images on the go.

6. Smart Lens

Available for Apple and Android

Smart Lens can be used to scan text in 56 languages and translate it to over 100 languages. It features auto language detection and can also pronounce the translations. This makes it a handy app to have if you’re travelling or deal with documents in multiple languages. 

As an added bonus, the app can be used to identify and discover celebrities, animals, plants and other objects, just by pointing your camera at them.

7. Pen to Print

Available for Apple and Android

If you are a big believer in handwriting your notes, this OCR app is a popular choice.

Deemed to be the “the first handwriting to text OCR app”, its OCR technology is specialized to scan, analyze and convert handwritten documents into digital text, which can then be edited, searched and saved on a cloud service or your local device.

8. Text Fairy

Available for Android.

Text Fairy recognizes printed text from over 110 languages and it offers text to speech (TTS) to read the words out loud. In addition to working offline to protect your privacy, it can also read complex documents such as those with multiple text columns.

Take OCR to the Next Level

If you want to take OCR a step further, check out Charli, an AI-driven content assistant. 

Charli uses OCR technology, but combines it with other valuable AI features, to put an end to content chaos once and for all. Charli not only recognizes text, but it also understands it and files it in the cloud — just like an IRL assistant would. 

This makes it ridiculously easy to keep your documents organized and your business running smoothly. 

Plus, with different options for individuals and teams, as well as cool features like a content canvas and in-app sharing, Charli does the OCR and organizes for you. That means you can sleep easier at night knowing your content and personal data are safe.

Put Those Text Scanning Apps to Work

OCR technology has come a long way since it was originally developed to digitize historical newspapers. If you’re new to OCR, it’s worth giving it a try. Putting it to work for your business can help clear the clutter, improve your productivity and streamline your business operations.