Scan text with your iPhone and make the real world searchable

Paper is still great for a lot of things. It’s lightweight,
it’s fairly water-resistant, and is just about the best tool
available for reducing the number of trees in the world. But it
doesn’t sync with iCloud, and anything written on it is not
searchable.

Luckily, there’s
an easy way out of this dark age. You can scan all those
clipped recipes, and those receipts, all those sheets and
scraps you have laying around, and which annoy you until you
ned one, at which point it disappears. Today, we’re going to
use Readdle’s excellent
Scanner Pro
to turn your paper into pixels. You may be
surprised at just how easy and useful this can be.


First, why
scan instead of just snapping a picture? There are a few good
reasons:

  1. It looks better. If you’re scanning an actual document,
    then a scanner app will produce a result as good as using a
    proper document scanner.
  2. It keeps the pictures out of your camera roll.
  3. OCR, or Optical Character Recognition. This is the big one.
    A scanner app will read any words in your picture and turn them
    into searchable text. If it’s a typed document, then the
    accuracy is almost perfect, but it can even work on
    hand-written text.


You can scan a whole lot more than
just paper scraps and documents, too. Text recognition works on
any picture containing text, in theory. If you see a poster for
a concert you want to check out, scan it, and make it
searchable. Scan articles from magazines you find in coffee
shops, and copy out whole chunks of text later, or highlight
passages you like in your PDF reader of choice. Pretty much
anything can be scanned.

What
about the menu hung outside a restaurant? If you scan it
instead of just snapping a photo, you will be able to find it
in future, even if all you remember is that they had
“carpaccio” of tofu among the appetizers. What about the
teacher’s blackboard in your evening class? Why write all that
stuff down when you can just snap a picture, and see it all in
the original context any time you like?

Scan with Scanner Pro


Of all the
scanner apps I’ve tried, Scanner Pro is my favorite. It’s
clean, easy, fast, accurate, and never confuses me. It also has
a lot of extra power if you need it, but works as a plain-old
scan-and-forget app if that’s all you want. So let’s fire it up
and scan a document.

scanner pro scanningEverything
is automatic, except adding a caption, and even that is mostly
done for you.
Photo: Cult of Mac


First, find
a bright spot in the room. Kidding! Scanner Pro uses the
iPhone’s flash to illuminate the scan, so you can do it
anywhere. This may be the only time you want to use a flash to
take photo. What you will need is a background that contrasts
with the paper you’re scanning, so the app can automatically
find the edges of the paper.

I picked a magazine, in German, to show off some of Scanner
Pro’s other neat tricks. To scan, just 3-D Touch the icon and
tap New Scan, or launch the app and hit the
big plus symbol. Then point your phone at the
document and wait. The app detects the paper’s edges, and when
it does it flashes the flash and snaps a pic. Here you can tell
it what kind of document you’re scanning (a photo or a
document, B&W or color). This only affects the final
appearance.

If you have multiple pages or sheets, just flip through them,
pointing the camera each time. It’s pretty fast. When you’re
done, tap the icon at bottom right (the one with a number
showing how many pages you’ve scanned). On this screen you can
give the document a name. This takes a second and makes a huge
difference in future, when trying to find something, so do it.
You can also have the names generated automatically (visit the
settings). I have it add the date to the name. Now, just hit
save. Or you can share the new scan right away. More on that
below.

Automatic text recognition

Scanned text is turned into editable text automatically.Scanned text is turned into editable
text automatically.
Photo: Cult of Mac

This is the best feature of scanning apps, I think, so you’ll
want to switch it on. When I first purchased Scanner Pro, OCR
was off by default. If that’s still the case, then you should
visit the app’s settings (the cog icon, top
left on the main screen). Tap Text Recognition
(OCR)
, then tap Automatic
Recognition
, then pick the languages you want it to
scan for. Only switch on the ones you’ll actually use
regularly, otherwise you may slow things down as the app tries
to figure out which language to use. I have German and English,
for fairly obvious reasons.

When OCR is switched on, Scanner Pro will automatically convert
any scans to text, if it can. You can always display the
image as text to see how well it did (above). In text view, you
can also copy snippets, or the whole thing, to the clipboard.
For any serious work, you might consider exporting to the PDF
app of your choice.

Sharing and saving your
scans

Scans can be shared as PDFs or JPGs. PDFs keep the recognized
text layer, whereas JPGs don’t. The app’s custom share sheet
can send straight to Dropbox, Evernote, and others, as well as
print and fax. Yes, fax. In 2017. It’ll cost you money (the
price depends on country, and so on, and is shown before you
send the fax), but it avoids a trip to… well, it avoids a trip
to wherever they still have faxes.

Sharing is easy, and text recognition can manage most languages.Sharing is easy, and text recognition
can manage most languages.
Photo: Cult of Mac

You can also create
customs “workflows.” These are presets to share documents to
your choice of service. You can save to a particular Evernote
note, for example, or send the scans in a custom mail template.
I don’t bother. I just switch on iCloud Drive in the app’s
settings, and let it save all my scans there. That way, I can
access them from any app, and from my Mac. It also lets me find
anything I’ve scanned with a simple Spotlight search, and I
never have to manually save anything.

Turning your existening photos into scans

If you’ve been taking regular photos of your paper scraps until
now, then you can still turn them into scans. To do this in
Scanner Pro, you just need to hit the little radar icon at the top of the
main screen. This scans your photos and picks out any it thinks
may be papers, or other eligible subjects. Go ahead and tap any
you want to import. It works just like with freshly-scanned
images. One thing to note it that it will combine all selected
images into one multi-page document, which means multiple
visits to import lots of documents. Still, it’s a pretty great
feature.

Scanner Pro can find and process images you already have in your camera roll.Scanner Pro can find and process
images you already have in your camera roll.
Photo: Cult of Mac

That’s it. Now you can keep scans out of your camera roll, all
in one place, and you can easily find them again, even if you
can only remember one or two words from the scanned document
itself. Give it a try. It might not seem that useful as you’re
doing it, but in the future, when you’re trying to find
something important, you will be super-duper pleased that you
made this (trivial) effort.



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