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What Is OCR and How to OCR Documents for Free in Google Drive

The procedure used to transform an image of text into a machine-readable text format is known as optical character recognition (OCR). OCR or Optical Character Recognition is one of the most useful innovations in documents. In the age where society is going more and more paperless to help the environment while staying even more organized, knowing how to use this technology is essential. You don’t even have to spend a penny just to use OCR — you can do this for free right now using Google Drive’s built-in OCR tool.

How Does OCR Work?

A scanner is used by optical character recognition (OCR) to process a document’s physical form. OCR software turns the document into a two-color or black-and-white version after all pages have been copied. Dark regions of the scanned-in picture or bitmap are identified as characters that must be recognized, whereas light areas are classified as background. Light areas are then inspected for light and dark areas.

After processing the black regions, alphabetical or numerical digits are discovered. During this phase, you usually focus on one character, word, or section of text at a time. After that, characters are recognized using either one of two algorithms: feature recognition or pattern recognition.

The following are some advantages of using OCR technology:

  • Cut expenses
  • Speed up workflows
  • Automate content processing and document routing
  • Data centralization and security
  • Ensure staff members have access to the most recent and correct information to improve service.

The program’s three primary core approaches are as follows:

Image Pre-Processing

  • The method first changes the actual shape of the document into a picture, like a record picture. This stage’s goal is to make the machine’s representation accurate while also eliminating any undesirable deviations.
  • After that, the idea is rendered in black and white and assessed for bright vs. dark areas (characters).
  • Using an OCR technology, the image is then divided into separate components, such as spreadsheets, text, or inset graphics.

AI Character Recognition

Dark areas of the image are analyzed by AI to identify characters and numbers. Typically, AI targets one letter, word, or paragraph at a time using one of the following strategies:

  • Pattern Recognition: The AI system is trained using a variety of languages, text types, and handwriting. To identify matches, the algorithm compares the letters on the letter picture it has detected to the notes it has already learned.
  • Feature Recognition: The algorithm recognizes new characters by applying rules based on particular character traits. One example of a feature is the quantity of curving, intersecting, or angled lines in a letter.

The system uses rules based on particular character properties to recognize original characters. One characteristic is the quantity of angled, crossing, or bending lines in a character, for instance.

Post-Processing

In the final file during post-processing, AI fixes errors. Educating the AI on a glossary of concepts that will occur in the paper is one strategy. Then, to make sure that no interpretations go outside the vocabulary, restrict the AI’s output to those words/formats.

What Are The Types of OCR?

Data scientists categorize several OCR technology kinds according to their use and applications. Here are a few illustrations:

Simple Optical Character Recognition Software

A basic OCR engine functions by using templates it has for various typeface and text picture patterns. Character per character, the OCR program compares text images to its internal database using pattern-matching algorithms. It is referred to as optical word recognition if the system matches the text word for word. Because there are so many different font and handwriting variations, it is impossible to capture and save every single one in the database, which places restrictions on this solution.

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Intelligent Character Recognition Software

To read text like a human would, modern OCR systems employ intelligent character recognition (ICR) technology. By utilizing machine learning software, they employ cutting-edge techniques that teach machines to behave like people. A neural network, a type of machine learning system, examines the text on numerous levels while processing the image repeatedly. It searches for various visual characteristics including curves, lines, junctions, and loops and then combines the findings from all these many layers of analysis to produce the final product. ICR normally processes the photos one character at a time, although the procedure is quick and produces findings in a matter of seconds.

Intelligent Word Recognition

Similar to ICR, intelligent word recognition systems process entire word pictures rather than first converting them into characters.

Optical Mark Recognition

A document’s logos, watermarks, and other text symbols can be recognized using optical mark recognition.

How to Enable Google Drive’s Free OCR Capabilities

You can enable Google Drive’s OCR capabilities by following the steps outlined below:

Step 1. Open Google Drive and click on the Gear icon. Here, Go to Settings.

how to ocr documents for free in google drive

Step 2. Make sure the box is checked under Convert uploads > Convert uploads to Google Docs editor format. This allows you to open image and PDF formats using Google Docs with the OCR feature.

Getting Started With OCR in Google Drive

To take advantage of Google Drive’s built-in OCR capabilities, you want to have compatible files to extract text from. OCR is typically used on files and documents where the usual copy-and-paste isn’t expected to work right out of the box.

Files that work with OCR include:

  1. Photos or Screenshots. Must be in JPG, PNG, or GIF format.
  2. PDFs.

Here are other considerations and properties that have to be met for OCR to work properly as outlined by Google’s official documentation:

  1. File Size. Files should be 2 MB or less.
  2. Resolution. Text should be at least 10 pixels high to be recognized.
  3. Orientation. Documents should be right-side up. Be sure to rotate the image if it is facing the wrong way.
  4. Language. The document should be in one of the supported languages.
  5. Font and character set. The most common fonts are the easiest for AI to recognize.
  6. Image quality. Images should be sharp with even lighting and decent contrast.

Preparing and Optimizing Files for OCR in Google Drive

If you have documents you’d like to scan for OCR, here are some steps you should follow to make the most out of Google Drive’s free tool.

  1. Use a scanning app in your phone to scan. Instead of randomly doing point-and-shoot with your camera phone, use a dedicated scanner app such as Microsoft Lens for Android | for iOS or Adobe Scan for Android | for iOS.

Using a scanning app such as these will use a variety of filters that produces crisp text and automatic lighting to make sure your scans are of the best quality.

  1. Upload your scans to Google Drive. After scanning your images or documents using a mobile app, upload them to your Google Drive account, preferably within a folder you can access easily and not get lost. It’s always best practice to start organizing at the first opportunity you get.

Sometimes your images or PDFs aren’t something you’re able to control. In that case, you might still be able to extract text from them but with a greater deal of optimization in post-production later on.

Convert an Image File or PDF to Text Using Google Drive

Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals, we’ll show you how to convert your image or PDF files to text using Google Drive’s built-in OCR.

Step 1. On your computer, upload your file to Google Drive. If you already have scanned material from your phone, be sure to upload them to a folder you can access in Google Drive.

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For this example, we’re using a screenshot of Google Drive’s official documentation which looks like this one below:

how to ocr documents for free in google drive 1

Step 2. Right-click on the file. Open with > Google Docs.

how to ocr documents for free in google drive 2

Step 3. As you open your image on Google Docs, you’ll find your image file along with the extracted text thanks to OCR. You can now use the extracted text elsewhere you like! Just use copy and paste as needed.

Your final product should look like the one below:

how to ocr documents for free in google drive 3

#1 is the image file within Google Docs.
#2 is the OCR result in plain text.

Use a More Powerful OCR Add-On to Extract Text from Images and PDFs

Google Drive and Doc’s built-in OCR can be lacking for many people who need more powerful functionality. For this, you’d want to download our free add-on called FileDrop.

FileDrop is a Google Sheets, Docs, and Drive add-on packed with powerful Optical Character Recognition tools that helps you extract text directly from images and PDFs. Instead of accessing it using Drive, you get to extract directly on your Google Docs or Google Sheets files. This is a huge game-changer compared to having to create new Google Docs files each time you want to use OCR.

To get started with FileDrop to OCR images and PDFs, follow the steps below:

Step 1. Open Google Docs, Google Sheets, or Google Slides

Step 2. Download FileDrop from the Google Workspace Marketspace by going to this link.

Step 3. Run FileDrop by going to Extensions > FileDrop > Start FileDrop.

how to ocr documents for free in google drive 4

Step 4. Once FileDrop is open, drag and drop your file in the upload area. If the file is already in your Drive you can search or open it from the Drive tab.

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Step 5. Hover over the file and you will see the TXT with a magnifying glass icon in green color. Click on it and in a few seconds the text area will open with the extracted text.

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Step 6. The recognized text in the image will be displayed in a text area. You can insert the text in your Google Doc or Sheet or you can copy it and use it anywhere else.

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FileDrop Goes Beyond OCR

There are even more features to FileDrop beyond optical character recognition! Here is the core feature set that FileDrop gives you right out of the box:

  • Drag and Drop files from your computer.
  • A File Library space to manage the files you’ve added and use them again.
  • Add files already inside your Google Drive.
  • Premium upgrade to do even more with these features.
  • + lots of more time-saving features with regular updates!

Using it is simple! Learn more about our add-on by visiting FileDrop and find out how you can save a lot of time by streamlining your processes using our free tool.

Conclusion on How to OCR Documents for Free in Google Drive

Google Drive’s built-in Optical Character Recognition (OCR) tool is a very handy and convenient feature not many people know how to use. Now that you’ve learned how to use it, you can extract text from simple images and PDFs by simply uploading to your Google Drive folders.

We’ve also shared with you our tool FileDrop if you’re looking to do OCR in a faster and more powerful way right within your Google Docs or Sheets files without having to jump from app-to-app or from file-to-file. Simply download the free add-on and get started being more productive today!

Looking to learn more stuff about Google Docs, Sheets, and Drive? Subscribe to our newsletter below to be the first to know about our useful productivity-focused material right here on the FileDrop blog!

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