What Is OCR And What Is It Used For?

If you work in an office equipped with a document scanner, you’ve absolutely used a PDF. And perhaps you’re familiar with the best friend of the PDF, its acronymic relative, OCR, or Optical Character Recognition.

But what is OCR? Why is it beneficial for PDFs? This article examines what OCR is and uncovers the most popular use cases.

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The History of OCR Technology

From the Brain of Emanuel Goldberg

The earliest use of optical character recognition can be traced back to telegraphy technology and reading devices for the blind. 

Emanuel Goldberg invented the OCR-like machine. It read characters and converted them into standard telegraphic code. 

Around the same time, Edmund Fournier d’Albe invented the Optophone. Like Goldberg’s invention, this was a handheld scanner that produced tones corresponding to specific letters or characters as it moved across a page.

Throughout the late 1920s into the early 1930s, Goldberg developed a machine for searching microfilm archives using optical code recognition. He called it his “Statistical Machine.” In 1931, he patented this invention which IBM later acquired.

Kurzweil’s adaptation

Ray Kurzweil founded Kurzweil Computer Products Inc. in 1974, further developing Omni-font OCR, a technology that could recognize text printed in most fonts. Though Omni-font OCR is often credited to Kurzweil, companies used it long before. 

Kurzweil believed the best application for OCR technology was for the blind–a computer to read text aloud. The device required two enabling technologies: the CCD flatbed scanner and the text-to-speech synthesizer. Kurzweil unveiled the finished product on January 13, 1976, during a news conference. In 1978, Kurzweil Computer Products released a commercial version of the OCR computer program. One of its first customers, LexisNexis, bought the program to upload legal paper and news documents for its online databases. Riding on the winds of success, Kurzweil sold his company to Xerox. Eventually, the company spun off as Scansoft and later merged with Nuance Communications.

Fast forward to the 2000s, OCR was made available online as a service, in a cloud environment, and mobile applications (think online foreign-language translations). 

Due to the invention of smartphones and smartglasses, OCR can be used for various applications that extract text captured using the device’s camera. Devices without OCR capabilities use an OCR API to extract the text from the image file captured and provided by the device. The API returns the extracted text to the device application for further processing.

What is OCR?

OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition. It is a widespread technology to recognize text inside images, such as scanned documents and photos. OCR technology is used to convert virtually any kind of image containing written text (typed, handwritten, or printed) into machine-readable text data.

OCR technology became popular in the early 1990s while digitizing historical newspapers. Since then, technology has undergone several improvements. Nowadays, solutions deliver near to perfect OCR accuracy. In addition, advanced methods like Zonal OCR are used to automate complex document-based workflows.

what is ocr - infographic

What is Full OCR versus Zonal OCR?

With Zonal OCR, zones or areas are created in documents to set specific margins for whole pages. Then, data is extracted from the designated areas. Anything cropped out is cut out, and any characters partially entered the zonal fields cannot be read. “Smart zones” optimize data extraction, accuracy and allow the user to set formatting rules for advanced document processing. 

OCR or full OCR reads the entire document. Then, it places a textual layer on top of the PDF document. The textual layers allow the whole document’s content to be searched. This is best for reports, contracts, or any document with essential words or phrases that can be searched.

The Best OCR Software

Docparser is a trusted OCR software tool to parse text from PDF, DOC, DOCX, and more. Just scan a printed document and send it into your Docparser account. Once you’ve established parsing rules, you’ll be able to extract the text you need right from your initial documents and send the parsed data out to hundreds of our integration partners – including Excel, Google Sheets, and many more. 

Docparser includes:

Smart Layout Parsing Presets covering common-use cases. Just customize the preset to your needs, and our application will extract your data in seconds.

Powerful Custom Parsing Rules tailored to your needs. Parsing rules are a set of simple instructions that tell our parsing engine what type of data you want to extract.

The ability to extract Tabular Data from PDF files, Word, and Image documents. 

Smart Filters for Invoice Processing to automatically extract header data from invoices. This includes invoice IDs, dates, totals, net, tax amounts, and more.).

Immediate processing of documents. With Docparser, importing a document takes less than a minute, preprocessing it, extracting all data fields, and sending the data to the other applications.

OCR Support for Scanned Documents to extract text from scanned documents. Docparser also features Zonal OCR techniques to set areas or designated zones in your data and extract where you need them. 

Powerful Image Preprocessing like deskewing, noise removal, and the removal of scanning artifacts.

A built-in barcode and QR-Code scanner. You can identify specific form layouts or detect parcel shipping numbers. 

The ability to upload files in batches by dragging and dropping documents from your local disk. We offer API or cloud integrations to import documents automatically. 

The ability to send documents as an email attachment. Import your docs and send them to a dedicated Docparser email address. Then, manually forward emails to us or use an automated forwarding filter.

The ability to download your parsed data directly in multiple file formats. Convert it to CSVExcelJSON, and XML files.

Our HTTP API to import documents and obtain your parsed data. Send extracted document data to any HTTP endpoints with our webhook feature.

Cloud storage integrations. Connect your cloud storage provider through our integration partners and import documents automatically. 

We connect Docparser to hundreds of cloud applications through our integration partners. For example, we offer integrations with Google Spreadsheets and Salesforce.

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What is OCR used for?

Popular use-cases

what is ocr technology

The most well-known use case for OCR is converting printed paper documents into machine-readable text documents. Once a scanned paper document goes through OCR processing, the text of the document can be edited with word processors like:

  • Microsoft Word
  • Google Docs

Before OCR technology was available, the only option to digitize printed paper documents was manually re-typing the text. Not only was this massively time-consuming, but it also came with inaccuracy and typing errors.

OCR is often used as a “hidden” technology, powering many well-known systems and services in our daily life. Less known, but as important, use cases for OCR technology include:

  • Passport recognition for airports
  • Traffic sign recognition
  • Extracting contact information from documents or business cards
  • Converting handwritten notes to machine-readable text
  • Defeating CAPTCHA anti-bot systems
  • Making electronic documents searchable like Google Books or PDFs
  • Data entry for business documents (bank statements, invoices, receipts) 
  • Aids for the blind 

OCR technology has proven immensely useful in digitizing historic newspapers and texts that have now been converted into fully searchable formats and has made accessing those earlier texts easier and faster.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do you offer Webhooks and cloud integrations?

Webhooks and cloud integrations automatically import documents. Use webhooks and cloud integrations to import your files from a cloud storage provider, copy the parsed data to a Google Spreadsheet, database, CRM, or API. We allow various integrations. These include: Direct integrations with third parties. These are easy to set up. For example, we can automatically import your documents to the application you want or send the parsed data to the app you connected.  These include: Integration platforms. These allow you to send your parsed data to dozens of applications. You can also import your document from different sources. Automating your data flow was never easier!  We recommend the following: Webhooks are a form of cloud integration targeted towards developers. Webhooks are custom HTTP requests triggered each time a new document is parsed. The request is sent to an HTTP endpoint that can be defined in the format of your choice. Webhooks are triggered after we parse your document. We offer simple Webhooks which let you define a target URL or advanced Webhooks, giving you complete control over the HTTP request. Find out more here.

Can I cancel my account anytime?

Yes, you can cancel your account at any time. You can also upgrade or downgrade your paid subscriptions too. When you cancel, your subscription is automatically terminated, and there are no additional payments required. Cancel your subscription on our Subscription Plan page. Even though you’ve cancelled your subscription, we don’t close your account so that you can have access to your parsed data. Your account can also be deleted entirely from our system if you’d like.

How long do you store my data?

For as long as you specify. We store the original files and the parsed data for one month. After this, we destroy the data associated with the original file and parsed data. You can set a data retention timeline value between 0-120 days. Zero days of retention means your data is deleted immediately. However, in case of a Webhook error, we keep the data for one week for debugging.

What data of mine are you storing?

The documents you import are processed within a minute. After this, we store your parsed data fields in our database. Then, according to your document parser settings, the original file goes to our Amazon S3 storage sealed for you for a defined period. 

Who has access to my parsed data?

All imported documents and the parsed data are kept confidential. They can’t be accessed by anyone other than you unless you grant access. Our staff has access to your data, but only when you request assistance through our support team.

Do you use my parsed data for anything else?

No. Your data is yours. We don’t use it for our purposes. We likewise don’t resell your information or use it for any other commercial purposes.

How long do you store my data?

Again, your data is yours. You can decide how long we should store it for you. But, by default, we store original files and parsed data for one month. After that, we destroy all data associated with the document (the original file and the parsed data). You can define your data retention policy for each Document Parser. Choose a value between 0 and 120 days. In conclusion, OCR has changed the way data is extracted. It has many uses, from aiding the blind to making handwritten documents machine-readable. In addition, OCR makes it easy for you to import once-tedious tasks. Docparser simplifies the process for you with parser templates, advanced Zonal OCR technology, and cloud storage integrations. Give Docparser a try today!

Do Banks use Optical Character Recognition (OCR)?

Do Banks use OCR?

In this fast-paced world, the bank is one of those institutions that use OCR the most. Document digitization in the banking sector is a great utility. Many banks use OCR technology to achieve better transaction security and risk management.

The use of OCR software in banks can also scan many customers’ important handwritten guarantee documents like their loan documents and more. Additionally, incorporating facial recognition software with OCR is also significantly remarkable because it provides two-layer security at ATMs.

Increasingly, bank transactions are online. Patrons don’t want to go through the hassle of going to the bank. Why would they if the convenience of online banking is literally in their hands? Gone are the days of mailed invoices. Nowadays, users can opt for paperless invoices and view all transactions online.

Is OCR accurate?

From 1992-1996, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) commissioned the Information Science Research Institute (ISRI) to conduct an authoritative study on the accuracy of OCR technology. 

They found that OCR struggles to recognize Latin scripts and typewritten text. For example, one study based on the recognition of 19th and early 20th-century newspaper pages concluded that character-by-character OCR accuracy varied from 81-99%.

OCR especially has difficulty digitizing the long s and f characters in old texts. OCR Has an accuracy rate of about 80-90% for clean, handwritten characters. These percentages drop for cursive texts.

Stop Manually Entering Data From Paper Documents

Convert old printed documents into machine-readable data in no time! 


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4 Responses

  1. Can a pdf doc be emailed and some words are in a different language and names are missing and rearranged.

    1. Hi Michael, thanks a lot for reaching out and your interest in Docparser! Yes, you can send PDFs to Docparser by email. Also, our OCR engine can handle different languages. I would suggest you create a free trial account and give Docparser a spin.

    1. Hi Dror,

      Thanks for reaching out! While our app can read Hebrew in documents that are already digital (OCR has been run and text/table data is available in the file), we cannot recognize Hebrew and other right-to-left languages with our OCR, sorry.

      If you have any questions please let us know at support@docparser.com.

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