How to scan and apply OCR to documents in iOS

A missing feature in iOS is the ability to use Optical Character Recognition to scan documents to make them searchable. The third-party app Scanbot can handle this task with ease.

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Scanning documents in iOS has been around for a while, but it has taken hardware improvements from Apple and software improvements by third-party apps to make scanning via the camera on an iOS device useful.

The camera quality on modern iOS devices is where the true power lies. Third-party apps added the ability to use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to detect the text of the document and embed it into the scanned PDF document, making the document searchable. This combination of camera and OCR technology has made scanning via an iOS device more capable than ever. One of the best tools for scanning documents on iOS is the Scanbot app.

Scanbot is a free app on the iTunes App Store; however, to get the OCR capabilities, as well as a few other scanning and PDF tools, you'll need to upgrade to the professional version of the app. The Scanbot Pro features can be added later via an In-app Purchase for $6.99.

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How to scan documents with Scanbot

To begin scanning documents with Scanbot for iOS, open the app. If the app does not launch into capture mode, select the "+" button on the main screen of Scanbot.

At the top of the capture window, there are three options:

  • Multi-Page, which lets you capture multiple pieces of paper into a single PDF document;
  • Flash, which enables the flash so that it can illuminate the capture surface; and
  • Automatic, which enables the automatic mode that will guide you through the capture process.

With Automatic enabled, Scanbot will automatically capture the image when it's clearly in frame and will automatically crop the paper capture so that no other elements in the capture are visible in the end result (Figure A).

Figure A


The capture options are Multi-Page, Flash, and Automatic.

To begin capturing, enable Automatic mode and Flash mode (if needed) and follow these steps.

  1. Hold your iPhone above the capture surface with the paper on the surface you wish to scan.
  2. Move the iPhone so the camera has the paper in frame.

Once Scanbot detects the paper's edges, it will outline it and "snap" the photo. If it cannot detect the photo, you can press the Capture button.

In Multi-Page mode when the capture is taken, the Capture view will reset itself so that you can continue scanning multiple pages, one after another. When you're ready to finish capturing with Multi-Page mode, tap the [Number of Pages] Pages button, and all of the pages will be combined into a single PDF document.

In the Edit view, you can Save As-Is, or perform various image edits, including adding an image, setting a filter, cropping the page, rotating, or deleting individual pages in a Multi-Page document. When you're finished with the document tweaks, tap the Save button to add it to the Scanbot library, where you can share the completed PDF document via email, iMessage, or to another iOS app.

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OCRing already scanned documents with Scanbot

Once you capture a new scan with Scanbot, it will automatically perform OCR on the document if you've purchased Scanbot Pro. If you have a PDF document that has not been OCR'd, you can import it into Scanbot and run OCR on the document to add text searching. To run OCR on a document, perform these steps.

  1. Import the PDF or image that you'd like to OCR in Scanbot using the Share Sheet from Mail or another iOS app.
  2. Once it's opened in Scanbot, tap the imported document and tap the Text tab.
  3. Select the Run OCR button (Figure B).

Figure B


Running OCR will recognize characters in the document and make the PDF searchable and the text selectable in the document.

Scanbot will run OCR on the document, converting the image into text that can be searchable and selectable in the document. Once it's finished, Scanbot will save the completed document in the Scanbot library, where it can be emailed, messaged, or exported to another app for saving.

You can search through all OCR'd documents in your Scanbot library by tapping on the Search icon in Scanbot.

Also see

Image: Scanbot