VueScan won my admiration in a heartbeat.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T h e   R o a d   L e s s   T r a v e l e d
2 good scanner OCR programs for OS X Macs: Readiris Pro and VueScan

Oct. 12, 2005

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2005, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2005, The Post-Standard

   OCR software, which turns a printed document or magazine page into editable text, is scarce in the OS X world. Until a few weeks ago, I thought it was scarcer than scarce, in fact; I thought it was non-existent.
   Boy, was I wrong. I found two good applications that perform OCR (optical character recognition) in OS X. All you need is a standard flatbed scanner and some money for the software.
   The most impressive OCR software I've ever seen, for OS X or Windows, is Readiris Pro 9 from I.R.I.S., a company that originated in Europe but has now spread to North America. Readiris Pro 9 runs on both Mac OS, the discontinued Apple operating system, and on Mac OS X, the current Apple system. It costs $129 and can be ordered from www.irisusa.com/products/readiris/mac/index.html.
   Readiris 9 can convert documents from nearly every common language into editable electronic text, and it learns how to improve its reading prowess the more you use it. It's ideal for OCR in an office.
   For $80 less ($49.95), you can get OCR performance that's a few steps down by choosing VueScan from www.hamrick.com. VueScan's OCR abilities are enhanced when you add a free dictionary of English words -- the software documentation explains how to do this -- and the result, with the added words, is OCR performance good enough for most home users.
   But VueScan has a powerful bonus: It's an outstanding image-scanning program also. VueScan works with 400 scanner models, knows how to tweak the best performance out of scanners with special features, and has a friendly interface. VueScan would clearly be a great choice for OS X image scanning software even if it didn't have its OCR capabilities.
   I tested Readiris Pro 9 and VueScan with my Agfa SnapScan scanner, a model I've come to admire for its speed and sharpness. Readiris tried its best to piggyback itself onto the Agfa OS X scanner driver -- that's basically how it works, since it comes with no scanner drivers of its own -- but always complained that the scanner was busy. VueScan had no trouble at all running the scanner.
   Readiris Pro 9's inability to access my scanner directly didn't get in the way -- I was able to scan documents using VueScan and then open them as image files for OCR in Readiris -- but I was disappointed that Readiris Pro 9 couldn't do what VueScan did so easily. But I don't want to be picky. Readiris is incredible software, and I didn't mind scanning documents to TIFF files in another scanner program and then opening those files in Readiris Pro 9 for conversion.
   But VueScan won my admiration in a heartbeat. It became part of my image-scanning routine almost immediately. I used it extensively to scan photos I took 30 years ago in Vietnam as part of a photo exhibition I'm planning next year, and when I wanted to turn my old typewritten notes into editable text, I simply clicked the OCR mode in VueScan.
   VueScan can be downloaded and used for free, but you lose many advanced features if you don't pay for the software. A "pro" version is available for $89.95, but you probably can do without it; the extra money buys some calibration functions that most of us would find confusing.
   Readiris Pro 9 can't be downloaded and tried out before you buy it, but its abilities probably make it a sure thing if you need OCR in your office. It comes with extensive documentation and a real user manual, too -- a rarity in today's PDF-dominated world of documentation.