What is OCR Scanning?

OCR scanning, at the fundamental level, is a scanning process that turns a physical document into a digital format that can be searched and edited. OCR stands for optical character recognition, and it’s what makes the digitization process possible. 

It differs from traditional scanning crucially. While a scanner can turn a physical document into an image or PDF file, you won’t be able to edit or search the text of that image. OCR software is what makes that possible.

How OCR Scanning Works

OCR scanning began nearly 50 years ago. Ray Kurzweil developed a technology that could decipher the print on a physical document in nearly any font. While the initial purpose of the software was as a machine-learning device for the blind, it has since been used across nearly every industry that needs to convert a physical document into a usable digital one. Each software follows a slightly different process, but it can be broken down into 4 common steps. 

Image Acquisition

The process all starts with a scanner. It reads the document and converts it into an image or binary code that a computer or neural network can read. Most OCR software will also analyze the image and classify the light areas as the background and the dark areas as the text. 


The pre-processing step works to bring the image as close to perfect as possible. During this step, the technology will smooth out the text and eliminate any digital spotting on the image. It will also fix any alignment issues that happened when it ran through the scanner, recognize the script of the document, and identify lines or boxes that could interfere with the text recognition. 

Text Recognition

OCR software can differ in the process they use to recognize text. However, it largely breaks down into two main types, pattern matching and feature extraction. 

Pattern Matching

This type of text recognition is most effective with common font types, or with fonts that are built into the software’s recognition. The software will isolate character images, referred to as glyphs. Then, it compares them to similar glyphs in storage until it finds a match, based on the scale and font of the glyph it’s reading. 

Feature Extraction

Feature extraction gets a bit more technical. The software breaks down the glyphs into closed loops, lines, line directions, and line intersections. It then compares these components to those stored in its memory until it matches. 


After the text recognition, the software will convert the matched and extracted data into an accessible file, typically a PDF. Some software gives the user a choice of the file format they would like it converted to. 

Types of OCR Software

OCR software is classified depending on its specific application or use. While it started as basic software, the growth of artificial intelligence and machine learning has led to incredible developments and significantly improved the text and pattern recognition of modern OCR technology. 

Examples of OCR technology in use today include: 

Simple Optical Character Recognition 

This type of software operates by matching patterns. In this case, it stores font and text images as templates to compare to the text on the document scanned. It runs this matching algorithm across the text, deciphering each character to create the larger picture. While effective, it is limited, as differing fonts and handwriting might fail to produce a match with the templates stored. 

Intelligent Character Recognition 

Intelligent OCR is a more advanced version, using neural networks and machine learning to mimic the human reading process. It will run over the scanned document numerous times, analyzing the characters in the texts to the granular level of curves, lines, loops, breaks, and intersections. Next, it will construct the digital document based on this analysis. While it might seem cumbersome, modern ICR software can process scanned documents in just seconds. 

Intelligent Word Recognition

Intelligent word recognition software operates in the same way as an ICR system, but parses entire words at a time, rather than each character. 

Optical Mark Recognition 

Often used in conjunction with IWR or ICR, optical mark recognition identifies any logos, watermarks, images, or text signs on the document. This type of OCR scanning is particularly useful for any document that contains detailed drawings, images, graphs, or anything that isn’t standard text. 

The Benefits of OCR Scanning

The benefits of OCR are felt across industries. From lawyers to healthcare professionals to students, searchable digitized documents provide a much more efficient way to find information than sorting through reams of paper. 

It also helps power AI. It creates readable data that the technology can use to improve itself, business efficiency, and customer experience.

OCR Scanning with Record Nations

Record Nations partners with scanning providers across the country that offer affordable OCR scanning of all types. Give us a call at (866) 385-3706, or fill out the form. We’ll connect you to an affordable OCR scanning service near you in just minutes. 

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