OCR on the iPad: everything you need to know

What is OCR?

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is a technology that helps computers recognise printed text characters and handwritten ones. It allows you to do the following:

  • Recognise the text in photos and scanned documents
  • Search through scanned documents
  • Convert handwriting to text
  • Search through handwritten notes

OCR in photos and scans: Live Text

Live Text is a system wide OCR technology for the iPad that can recognise text from images in your Photos Library. Tapping the text-recognition icon at the bottom on the page highlights the field of text your iPad recognises. Immediately, an option to Copy All appears on the left bottom side of the screen. You can then select the text to do any of the following:

  • Copy
  • Select All
  • Look up to get definitions of the word you’ve selected.
  • Translate the word
  • Search the web for it
  • Let your iPad read out loud or spell it for you
  • Share it as text

The accuracy of your iPad’s recognition depends on how well you take the picture, of course. The photo must be straight, with as little distortion as possible. This matters most when you’re scanning paper documents or photos.

Live Text also works with handwritten notes. You interact in exactly the same actions as you do with text.

OCR in scanning apps

With Live Text, scanning apps can feel obsolete. However, when your photos are distorted, Live Text can’t pickup much from them. Its accuracy also dramatically reduces, and that’s where scanning apps come in. Scanner Pro, by Readdle, can adjust your scan to minimise distortion. It makes it easier for different apps to pick up the text in your document.

Scanning apps (Microsoft Lens, Adobe Scan, etc) also let you crop, and edit your scans to make them look better. It also improves OCR.

How to OCR a PDF

The use of OCR is now standard in most PDF readers. A scanned PDF can be annotated in the same way as any other PDF in apps like LiquidText and MarginNote. By and large, PDF viewers lack the capability to recognise handwriting. But there’s a workaround for that though. Find additional information about this here.

OCR in note-taking apps

Nebo remains (by far) the best app for converting your handwriting to text. If you prefer handwriting your notes and don’t want to type them afterwards, Nebo is the app you want to add to your workflow. Unlike most note-taking apps, Nebo offers ICR; Instant Character Recognition which converts your handwriting to text in real time.

Most note-taking apps can accurately convert your handwriting to text in just a few steps. OCR also means they can search through your handwritten notes, as well as scanned documents. A few apps even offer Math conversion.


Scribble is an iPadOS ICR technology that lets you handwrite directly into text fields. You never have to type anything on the iPad. The conversion is also in real time, and it works in most apps that have text input. It is awesome, for those of us who love handwriting our thoughts.

Which of these OCR technologies do you prefer using?OCR on the iPad: everything you need to know

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