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Optical character recognition (OCR) software provides a way to quickly convert printed or scanned documents into editable text or searchable PDF files. In recent years, OCR has found its way into numerous cloud services and mobile apps, allowing consumers to take advantage of the technology without the need for standalone software.
If you need OCR on the Mac, the reigning heavyweights are Abbyy and Canon-owned I.R.I.S., whose respective FineReader and Readiris products continue to offer affordable alternatives to OmniPage, which abandoned the platform nearly 15 years ago.
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Readiris Pro 16 ($99) is the latest edition of the company’s consumer OCR software. If you frequently convert scanned documents into editable text files, it’s hands-down the fastest way to get the job done.
Version 16 introduces an all-new user interface that makes the software easier to use, thanks to a toolbar with convenient one-click conversion options across the top and tools to analyze, adjust, and preview consolidated along the right edge of the window.
Core functionality remains the same. Readiris 16 supports more than 130 languages (you can easily switch between installed dialects on the fly), and conversions can be made directly from supported scanners as well as existing image or PDF files, then exported to Microsoft Office files or a variety of image and document formats. The latest version automatically detects scanners manufactured by IRIS, HP, and Canon, although all three Epson models in my home office were also recognized without additional setup required, working directly or via TWAIN.
Readiris 16 still doesn’t offer direct scanning from Fujitsu models like my ScanSnap ix500 (which has never supported TWAIN), but it’s a trivial matter to create the appropriate profile in ScanSnap Manager so scans are imported to the application automatically. There’s a new image quality indicator which appears as a yellow band across the top, warning users of any potential problems with imported documents. In my tests, this feature tended to be a little overzealous, often popping up even with clear, clean scans at the correct resolution.
Pace over precision
When it comes to raw speed, Readiris Pro 16 is like greased lightning compared to Abbyy FineReader. In almost all cases, Readiris displayed recognition results in the blink of an eye, seemingly before the entire sheet of paper would be completely ejected from the scanner’s document feeder. However, Abbyy FineReader often produced more accurate results, especially on documents of lower quality.
I do prefer Abbyy’s iLife-style user interface, although both applications are easy to navigate. One-click export options for PDF, Word, and Excel do give Readiris 16 the upper hand, and users who frequently save to the same format and location can streamline things even further with automatic processing, which goes directly from scan to save within seconds. Readiris also offers built-in support for saving directly to cloud services Evernote, Dropbox, OneDrive, and Box, which Abbyy does not.
One thing both OCR applications do equally well is attempt to preserve the layout of the original document. While neither ever quite accomplish 100 percent accuracy, Readiris provides a better set of tools for editing recognized content, which can be assigned as text, graphics, table, or barcode zones. Despite the pro moniker, extended PDF tools like digital signatures and batch document conversion are only available in the $199 Corporate version.
When it comes to sheer conversion speed and file-saving versatility, Readiris Pro 16 beats the clock for converting scanned documents into editable text, although it tends to produce slightly less accurate results than Abbyy FineReader.