I was surprised that VueScan, obviously outclassed by a program that costs 10 times as much, did so well, but FineReader 9.0 was the clear winner.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Can you save money on OCR?

Jan. 25, 2009

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, The Post-Standard

   Optical character recognition is tricky. When it works right, it's great. But good OCR usually costs a lot of money. Is there a way to scan a document into editable text without applying for your share of that Wall Street bailout?
   The answer is a definite "maybe."
   Optical character recognition is the city-slicker cousin of photo scanning. Unlike scans of photographs, which are turned into digital pictures, scans of documents are converted into text you can edit in your word processor and save on your computer's hard drive. This requires clever software that traditionally costs a lot of money.
   But can cheap software be just as clever? To see how an inexpensive OCR program compares with the industry-leading software, I ran some tests of various documents -- including some that weren't very readable to my tired old human eyes -- using VueScan, a $39.95 all-purpose scanner program with built-in OCR capabilities, and ABBYY FineReader 9.0 Professional Edition, a $399 OCR program used by many offices.
   My conclusion? I was surprised that VueScan, obviously outclassed by a program that costs 10 times as much, did so well, but FineReader 9.0 was the clear winner -- and I mean "clear" in a very real way. Text that VueScan's OCR software stumbled over, such as documents that had been sloppily photocopied, usually were massaged into clearly readable text with FineReader 9.0.
   FineReader 9.0 also did a good job with "broken" text -- documents with tables and other text that snaked from one column to another. VueScan sometimes did well with such challenges, but never performed as well as FineReader 9.0.
   But the price differential made me stop and think. Text that VueScan had trouble with could be fixed up manually by typing corrections into the editable document. This might seem like a burden, but is it a burden worth the price difference? If you're saving more than $350 on the software, you probably would be smart in thinking of the extra typing chore as a more of a money saver than a time waster.
   One advantage to VueScan is its availability for both Windows and Macs. FineReader 9.0 is only sold as a Windows program. (Oddly, however, you get both Windows and Mac versions of a simpler version of FineReader when you buy some scanners. My Epson Artisan 700 came with that version of FineReader, and I use it on my Macs.)
   Both programs can be tried out for free, and you can also buy them right from the Web sites. Check out VueScan at www.hamrick.com and FineReader 9.0 at www.abbyyusa.com.