Data Extraction

How can I convert an image into text?

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How can I convert an image into text?

A wide range of images can hold valuable information when converted into text. This includes handwritten notes, invoices, receipts, contracts, medical records, bank statements, pay stubs, etc. They often carry critical information that can fuel decision-making processes. 

In today's fast-paced world, where data has taken center stage, converting images into editable texts has emerged as a pivotal process with numerous benefits. Optical character recognition (OCR) technology lies at the core of this transformation, enabling businesses to extract valuable insights and streamline operations.

Along with more advanced approaches involving APIs and deep learning for text recognition, OCR technology facilitates the conversion of such documents into editable and searchable text, ensuring accuracy and efficiency. It enhances document search capabilities and simplifies storage, enabling instant information retrieval. 

Image processing for text extraction 

OCR is a technology that enables image to text conversion. The primary goal is to automate extracting text from images, making it searchable, editable, and analyzable by computers. For example, in the context of the real estate sector, a compilation of property brochures, contracts, pay stubs, etc., exists as image files carrying critical information. However, these images lack direct editability and searchability. 

These image files can be transformed by leveraging OCR into text documents, enabling efficient editing, searching, and data retrieval.

Here’s how OCR technology works:

1. Image acquisition

An OCR scanner obtains an image containing printed or handwritten text and converts it into binary data. 

2. Image preprocessing

Upon acquisition, the image is subjected to preprocessing to optimize it for OCR. It involves noise reduction, contrast tuning, and rotation correction to ensure accurate text recognition. 

3. Text recognition

OCR software employs two main text recognition approaches: pattern matching and feature extraction.

Pattern matching involves comparing a character image (glyph) with a stored glyph of a similar font and scale. This works well for known fonts and scales, often used in typed documents.

Feature extraction decomposes glyphs into lines, loops, directions, and intersections. The software finds the nearest stored glyph match. 

4. Postprocessing

Following character recognition and layout analysis, post-processing refines the extracted text. This corrects errors, manages ambiguous characters, and boosts accuracy.

Key applications of OCR across industries:

1. Banking

Using OCR and machine learning, banks swiftly capture and extract customer data from ID documents, expediting account opening and loan processing.

2. Real estate

Leveraging OCR technology, the real estate sector efficiently digitizes property documents, such as contracts and listings, streamlining data management and transactions. 

3. Healthcare

OCR systems are revolutionizing healthcare processes by enabling the digitization and storage of various medical documents, from scan reports and treatment histories to patient records and insurance documents. 

4. Insurance

OCR expedites insurance industry processes by eliminating manual data entry through form scanning. It enables swift examination of policy documents, claim forms and faster client query responses. 

5. Logistics

OCR transforms shipping labels and documents into digital text, aiding tracking and enabling efficient data entry from delivery receipts and invoices.

6. Government

Converting analog and electronic records enhances government services. OCR enables efficient scanning and retrieval of information from tax returns, license forms, and proprietary documents.

7. Education

OCR digitizes textbooks, research papers, and study materials for e-learning platforms while automating grading through answer extraction from scanned test sheets.

Exploring different OCR technologies

There are several types of OCR solutions, depending on the use cases and requirements:

1. Open-source OCR libraries and frameworks 

An open-source OCR library is a software tool developed by a community of contributors and made available to the public under an open-source license. The library's source code is openly accessible, allowing developers to view, modify, and distribute the code according to the license terms.

Examples include Tesseract, OCRopus, and GOCR.

i) Tesseract

Tesseract OCR is an optical character recognition engine designed to convert images of printed or handwritten text into machine-readable text. It is widely used for its accuracy in recognizing text from various sources, making it valuable for applications such as document digitization, text extraction, and language processing.

  • Tesseract delivers impressive OCR accuracy for machine-printed text and well-scanned documents
  • Offers extensive language support and recognition of text in numerous languages
  • An active community of developers ensures regular updates, bug fixes, and performance enhancements based on user feedback
  • Struggles with complex layouts and may require pre-processing
  • May not perform well on handwritten documents 

ii) OCRopus

OCRopus is an open-source OCR framework and software toolset for high-performance text recognition. It is built on Python and provides tools and libraries for various OCR-related tasks, including image preprocessing, layout analysis, character recognition, and text extraction. 

  • Excels in layout analysis, making it ideal for complex document types
  • Comes with advanced text recognition capabilities and improves accuracy, even for unstructured documents
  • Can create custom OCR models by generating training data tailored to specific requirements
  • Involves a steep learning curve due to its multitude of tools and components
  • Its advanced capabilities may demand increased computational resources

iii) GOCR

GOCR, under the General Public License, is an open-source OCR engine designed to recognize text from different image formats and platforms, appealing to those seeking simplicity in basic OCR tasks.

  • GOCR excels in simplicity, featuring an easy interface ideal for users seeking uncomplicated OCR without intricate setups
  • It enables text extraction from images in various languages, accommodating linguistic diversity
  • Its accuracy might not rival advanced engines, and results can vary, especially with complex or low-quality images
  • GOCR is geared towards simple OCR tasks and may lack advanced features like layout analysis or specialized recognition algorithms

2. Commercial OCR solutions 

Commercial OCR solutions are proprietary software packages or services provided by companies that offer advanced optical character recognition capabilities for a wide range of applications. Compared to open-source alternatives, these solutions often have enhanced features, accuracy, support, and customization options.

i) Docsumo

Docsumo is an intelligent document processing solution. It automates data extraction from diverse documents, including invoices, receipts, purchase orders, bank statements, tax forms, contracts, loan applications, insurance claims, and more. 

ii) Adobe Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat is a software suite for creating, editing, and managing PDF files. It enables PDF creation from various sources, editing, converting different formats to PDF, scanning with OCR, combining files, annotating, creating forms, securing sharing, etc. 

iii) Abbyy FineReader

ABBYY FineReader is an OCR software that transforms images of text into editable formats. It converts non-searchable PDFs to .docx, .pptx, and searchable PDFs. Recognizing nearly a hundred languages, it handles multilingual documents.

iv) Readiris

Readiris is OCR software for converting paper documents, images, and PDFs into editable formats. It edits PDFs, extracts text, supports multiple languages, automates data entry, improves archiving and searching, translates, compresses PDFs, etc. To

3. Cloud-based OCR services

Cloud-based OCR services are online APIs that provide OCR capabilities over the internet. These services allow users to upload images, scanned documents, or PDFs to be processed by the OCR engine hosted in the cloud. The extracted text is then returned to the user in a searchable and editable format.

i) Google Cloud Vision

The Cloud Vision API allows developers to integrate vision detection features within applications, websites, and workflows using its API. Developers can send images to the API for analysis and receive structured data. Key features include text detection, handwriting detection, object localization, image labeling, face detection, etc.

ii) Amazon Textract

Amazon Textract enhances applications by enabling document text detection and analysis. It seamlessly connects with other Amazon Web Services (AWS) offerings and can be integrated with third-party solutions. Its features include OCR, form extraction, table extraction, signature detection, query based extraction, etc.

4. Mobile apps for OCR

Mobile apps for OCR are applications designed for smartphones and tablets that utilize OCR technology. These apps use the device's camera to capture images of printed or handwritten text, which is then processed by the OCR engine.

i) Abby FineScanner

FineReader is a mobile scanner application powered by AI technology that scans various documents. This versatile scanner app eliminates the need for a desktop scanner. It facilitates the creation of electronic copies in both PDF and JPEG formats. 

ii) Microsoft Office Lens

Microsoft Office Lens is a free app on Android and iOS that allows users to scan copies of documents, photos, whiteboards, business cards, and similar content using their device's camera. After scanning the content, users can further edit the image or keep it as is and export it in the format of their choice.

Beyond traditional OCR: Advanced approaches

Modern OCR systems employ intelligent character recognition (ICR) technology, simulating human reading processes. These systems use sophisticated techniques to train machines to emulate human behavior through machine learning software. 

Their use cases involve:

1. Handwriting recognition

Advanced OCR excels in accurately identifying and converting handwritten text, allowing handwritten documents to be transformed into editable digital formats. MyScript is a tool that specializes in this field. It goes beyond traditional OCR by understanding the nuances of individual handwriting styles and improving accuracy over time through machine learning. 

2. Computer vision for text extraction

Image processing algorithms are vital in extracting data from images, recovering and condensing image and video content, and creating innovative virtual and augmented reality experiences. Computer vision employs image processing techniques to identify and classify image data.

OpenCV is an open-source software library designed for computer vision and machine learning tasks. 

3. Deep learning for text recognition

Deep learning-based OCR is a prevalent method where a neural network is trained to identify and extract text from images. For example, convolutional neural networks (CNNs) are employed to achieve image recognition and text extraction tasks, while recurrent neural networks (RNNs) help with sequential text extraction tasks.

4. Text detection and recognition APIs

Text detection involves identifying and localizing regions in an input image containing text. On the other hand, text recognition is the subsequent step of converting the identified text areas into understandable characters and words. APIs that support this technique include Microsoft Azure Computer Vision and Google Cloud Vision.

5. Document understanding platforms 

Document understanding is the ability of AI to comprehend and interpret the content of various documents. This involves extracting meaningful information, recognizing patterns, and structuring data from documents such as text files, images, PDFs, and more. It encompasses techniques like OCR, NLP, image analysis, and machine learning to enable automated data extraction, categorization, and insights from various textual and visual documents.

Examples of document understanding platforms include UiPath and ABBYY FlexiCapture. 

Enhancing OCR accuracy with NLP

With the support of NLP and specific machine learning models, users can seamlessly incorporate data from documents into AI-driven systems, enabling a wide range of applications.

1. Contextual analysis

NLP allows OCR systems to consider the context of the text within a document. Understanding the surrounding words and phrases can improve the accuracy of recognizing and correcting errors in individual characters or words.

2. Sentiment analysis

Sentiment analysis involves analyzing text to gauge emotions and opinions. It aids businesses in tracking brand sentiment, understanding customer feedback, and identifying needs. This task employs NLP and information extraction to evaluate large document volumes, discerning emotions expressed through positive or negative terms, questions, and appeals.

3. Translation

NLP enhances OCR-based translation by considering context, recognizing idiomatic expressions, ensuring grammatical correctness, adapting to cultural nuances, etc. This comprehensive integration of NLP with OCR refines translation accuracy, fluency, and cultural relevance.

4. Entity extraction

Entity extraction, utilizing NLP, streamlines the conversion of unstructured data into a structured form. This simplifies business information retrieval, enabling rapid access to specific details from unstructured text and categorizing them per predefined criteria.

5 things to consider when choosing an OCR platform

Selecting the appropriate OCR platform involves several factors: 

1. Your industry

An OCR solution tailored to your industry is crucial, as it addresses specific challenges and optimizes processes unique to that sector. For instance, an OCR solution that understands financial documents in the finance industry can automate data entry from invoices and receipts. 

2. Native integration

Native integration is essential as it ensures smooth compatibility and peak performance within established software systems. When an OCR solution seamlessly integrates with an application or platform, it becomes an intrinsic part of the user experience. It eliminates manual data transfers and enhances user satisfaction through direct access to familiar software environments.

3. Easy set-up

Find a system featuring a user interface tailored for non-technical personnel, enabling effortless configuration and customization. The solution should facilitate straightforward template building, the addition of new extraction fields, and user-friendly administration.

4. Organizational compatibility

Consider how much current infrastructure must change during technology adoption and whether employees need training. Focus on impactful short-term procedures, aiding gradual scaling. Opt for suppliers helping seamless integration into existing infrastructure.

5. Security and privacy compliance

Security and data privacy compliance are crucial for OCR systems as they manage sensitive data like personal identification and financial records. Businesses must prioritize these factors to preserve sensitive data, conform to regulations, prevent breaches, cultivate trust, and mitigate legal and reputational risks.

OCR's evolution to an indispensable tool spans industries, transforming image-to-text conversion for enhanced data management and process efficiency. With NLP and machine learning, OCR extends its horizons further, enabling contextual comprehension and multilingual proficiency. At the same time, security, compliance, and ethical data usage remain central.

Suggested Case Study
Automating Portfolio Management for Westland Real Estate Group
The portfolio includes 14,000 units across all divisions across Los Angeles County, Orange County, and Inland Empire.
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Pankaj Tripathi
Written by
Pankaj Tripathi

Helping enterprises capture data for analytics and decisioning

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