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OCR anything with OneNote 2007 and 2010

Quality OCR software can often be very expensive, but you may have one already installed on your computer that you didn’t know about.  Here’s how you can use OneNote to OCR anything on your computer.

OneNote is one of the overlooked gems in recent versions of Microsoft Office.  OneNote makes it simple to take notes and keep track of everything with integrated search, and offers more features than its popular competitor Evernote.  One way it is better is its high quality optical character recognition (OCR) engine.  One of Evernote’s most popular features is that you can search for anything, including text in an image, and you can easily find it.  OneNote takes this further, and instantly OCRs any text in images you add.  Then, you can use this text easily and copy it from the image.  Let’s see how this works and how you can use OneNote as the ultimate OCR.

Please Note: This feature is available in OneNote 2007 and 2010.  OneNote 2007 is included with Office 2007 Home and Student, Enterprise, and Ultimate, while OneNote 2010 is included with all edition of Office 2010 except for Starter edition.

OCR anything

First, let’s add something to OCR into OneNote.  There are many different ways you can add items to OCR into OneNote.  Open a blank page or one you want to insert something into, and then follow these steps to add what you want into OneNote.

Picture

Simply drag-and-drop a picture with text into a notebook…

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You can insert a picture directly from OneNote as well.  In OneNote 2010, select the Insert tab, and then choose Picture.

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In OneNote 2007, select the Insert menu, select Picture, and then choose From File.

 sshot-105

Screen Clipping

There are many times we’d like to copy text from something we see onscreen, but there is no direct way to copy text from that thing.  For instance, you cannot copy text from the title-bar of a window, or from a flash-based online presentation.  For these cases, the Screen Clipping option is very useful.  To add a clip of anything onscreen in OneNote 2010, select the Insert tab in the ribbon and click Screen Clipping.

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In OneNote 2007, either click the Clip button on the toolbar or select the Insert menu and choose Screen Clipping.

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Alternately, you can take a screen clipping by pressing the windows key + S.

When you click Screen Clipping, OneNote will minimize, your desktop will fade lighter, and your mouse pointer will change to a plus sign.  Now, click and drag over anything you want to add to OneNote.  Here we’re selecting the title of this article.

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The section you selected will now show up in your OneNote notebook, complete with the date and time the clip was made.

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Insert a file

You’re not limited to pictures; OneNote can even OCR anything in most files on your computer.  You can add files directly in OneNote 2010 by selecting File Printout in the Insert tab.

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In OneNote 2007, select the Insert menu and choose Files as Printout.

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Choose the file you want to add to OneNote in the dialog.

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Select Insert, and OneNote will pause momentarily as it processes the file.

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Now your file will show up in OneNote as a printout with a link to the original file above it.

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You can also send any file directly to OneNote via the OneNote virtual printer.  If you have a file open, such as a PDF, that you’d like to OCR, simply open the print dialog in that program and select the “Send to OneNote” printer.

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Or, if you have a scanner, you can scan documents directly into OneNote by clicking Scanner Printout in the Insert tab in OneNote 2010.

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In OneNote 2003, to add a scanned document select the Insert menu, select Picture, and then choose From Scanner or Camera.

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OCR the image, file, or screenshot you put in OneNote

Now that you’ve got your stuff into OneNote, let’s put it to work.  OneNote automatically did an OCR scan on anything you inserted into OneNote.  You can check to make sure by right-clicking on any picture, screenshot, or file you inserted.  Select “Make Text in Image Searchable” and then make sure the correct language is selected.

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Now, you can copy text from the Picture.  Simply right-click on the picture, and select “Copy Text from Picture”.

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And here’s the text that OneNote found in this picture:

OCR anything with OneNote 2007 and 2010 - Windows Live Writer

Not bad, huh?  Now you can paste the text from the picture into a document or anywhere you need to use the text.

If you are instead copying text from a printout, it may give you the option to copy text from this page or all pages of the printout.

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This works the exact same in OneNote 2007.

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In OneNote 2010, you can also edit the text OneNote has saved in the image from the OCR.  This way, if OneNote read something incorrectly you can change it so you can still find it when you use search in OneNote.  Additionally, you can copy only a specific portion of the text from the edit box, so it can be useful just for general copying as well.  To do this, right-click on the item and select “Edit Alt Text”.

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Here is the window to edit alternate text.  If you want to copy only a portion of the text, simply select it and press Ctrl+C to copy that portion.

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Searching

OneNote’s OCR engine is very useful for finding specific pictures you have saved in OneNote.  Simply enter your search query in the search box on top right, and OneNote will automatically find all instances of that term in all of your notebooks.  Notice how it highlights the search term even in the image!

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This works the same in OneNote 2007.  Notice how it highlighted “How-to” in a shot of the header image in our favorite website.

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In Windows Vista and 7, you can even search for things OneNote OCRed from the Start Menu search.  Here the start menu search found the words “Windows Live Writer” in our OCR Test notebook in OneNote where we inserted the screen clip above.

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Conclusion

OneNote is a very useful OCR tool, and can help you capture text from just about anything.  Plus, since you can easily search everything you have stored in OneNote, you can quickly find anything you insert anytime.  OneNote is one of the least-used Office tools, but we have found it very useful and hope you do too.

Matthew digs up tasty bytes about Windows, Virtualization, and the cloud, and serves them up for all to enjoy!

  • Published 04/8/10

Comments (33)

  1. Dave Davis

    Regarding OneNote – are there soon to be online synchronization tools and capability similar to Evernote? I find Evernote a little better at having information available across PCs and to my iPhone.

    Dave

  2. Ray

    Surely you meant “alternatively.” :)

  3. laineybirdy

    Great post! I admit I don’t come close to using One Note to its full capability. Can you recommend a good way to learn more about how to use One-Note. A training video/book/site, etc?

  4. Daok

    Nice article. Love it and learn something new! I always use Ms Word for taking note, now I know a new alternative.

  5. pthubbard

    I was getting interested when you mentioned the tip about using the OneNote virtual printer… until I discovered the driver is not installed on 64 bit systems. That’s a bummer. There is a workaround here: http://xps2onenote.codeplex.com/. I’m not sure I’ll use it, though. It’s inelegant to say the least.

  6. techandlife

    Yet another great walk-through. I’m starting to use OneNote and this will be really useful. Thanks

  7. David

    I’m a long time ON user and couldn’t live without it. I have tried this capability many times. I often need to get a tidbit of text out of a PDF file that hasn’t been OCR’d. You done a great job of outlining how to do it. However, when I right-click to select a portion of a page (using “right-click, edit-alt-text” per above, I do not have the same menu you show above. There is no such option in my menu. I am running ON 2007. Are you sure this is available in ON 07?

  8. John

    Great article – love the step by step approach and attention to 2003 and 2007. Nice work!

  9. James Ford

    OneNote is great if you live in a MS world only. Many of us must or choose to live in a world of multiple OS’s therefore OneNote is not the best for everyone. I was a OneNote devotee for years until I started using Mac’s and Linux. Once I did I quickly found out that OneNote did not play in those worlds but Evernote does. I switched to Evernote almost 2 years ago and have not looked back.

    You state that OneNote “offers more features than its popular competitor Evernote” but did not give any examples except for OCR. Evernote does OCR for the purpose of indexing but does not make the OCR’d text available to users. To get this feature a person has to purchase MS Office and I feel there are other good alternatives that does not require the purchase MS Office which I feel is an overkill product for 80% or more of the people that use it.

  10. Matthew Guay

    @Dave – Currently, OneNote doesn’t support synchronization, but that is coming this summer with the release of Office Web Apps. Then, you can use Skydrive to keep your OneNote notebooks in sync across your computers, and can view/edit them via the online version of OneNote. And the web version of OneNote will work in mobile browsers too.

    @pthubbard – You’re right; OneNote 2007 doesn’t install the printer on x64 systems. I was using OneNote 2010 x64, which does have a 64bit printer driver.

  11. Kevin

    Your link to download Office 2010 throws an error message.

  12. James Ford

    In your article you wrote “OneNote makes it simple to take notes and keep track of everything with integrated search, and offers more features than its popular competitor Evernote” but did not list any of the other features that make it better than Evernote. While OCR is a good feature it is not enough to justify it over Evernote. This is a feature that 80% or more of users will never use. Evernote does use OCR for indexing purposes but does not make this OCR text available to users.

    OneNote is a good product if you work in a Microsoft centric environment. I had used OneNote since it inception and it was great because my job and home use was Microsoft centric. My work and home computer environment changed to where I am now using Mac’s and sometime Linux in addition to my Windows work environment. I quickly found OneNote to be limiting. Granted this was before OneNote 2007 and 2010.

    I found Evernote and very early in its inception it worked across all those environments so I switched and have never looked back. Evernote even provided a way for me to import everything I had in OneNote. In addition to being cross platform Evernote makes it easy for other vendors to integrate their products with it. Here is a link to an example of this integration http://blog.evernote.com/2009/02/12/curio-integration/ and how that integration is helping a person with a Tramatic Brain Injury function daily http://blog.evernote.com/2010/03/25/user-profile-patrick-jones-living-with-traumatic-brain-injury-with-help-from-evernote/.

    OneNote is a good product that is getting better for those in a Microsoft centric world but more and more people are branching out of that world. In comparison to Evernote they will also find OneNote is more expensive to get and stay in. Think of the cost of going from the 2003 to 2007 to the 2010 versions.

  13. Gyffes

    Frankly, I have an almost visceral loathing for M$ products, but OneNote seems to be their single deviation from awfulness. It’s a very well-designed program.

    Did they buy it from someone else and just bundle it into Office?

  14. captgoodhope

    @Dave Davis

    You can use a service like Dropbox or Live Mesh to synchronize OneNote files. You have to specifically set your files as multiuser. I’ve been doing this for months and never had a file conflict or duplication issue.

  15. captgoodhope

    @Dave Davis

    Also you can use MobileNoter to sync to your iPhone.

  16. Walter Riker

    Matthew, really nice article and well put together. I also have used OneNote since it’s release with Office 2003. I do synchronize it with 3 computers using Microsoft’s Mesh and it works very well. I have been doing that for almost 2 years. It is one of the best. I also use Evernote since I can use it from the Motorola Droid and synch it however it does not come close to OneNote for many things. I believe that the Beta Office 2010 OneNote does have a “Print to OneNote” driver for the 64 bit OS. As for the OCR, this week it out did Adobe’s OCR for me and saved a great deal of work. Thanks for writing.

  17. Unknow_Staker:P

    Adobe acrobat has a much better OCR

  18. Arthur Crudp

    (1) i would like to register for your daily newsletter using this email address.

    (2) I was practicing Vista OLE (Object Linking & Embedding) using Word & PowePoint, and I was

    extremely successful. I was so successful that I now have very annoying Power Point frames in
    Word.
    do I have to delete or rename everything in the Power Point program plus backups and Public Folder?

    I don’t care about OLE anyway, it’s not that great.

  19. Albert K Reid

    Wow I found this very interesting!

  20. Shashin Patel

    Great article! Just used to convert a picture of a full page of text to editable text. Was scrounging on the net for free or cheap solutions for OCR, but didn’t realize I already had a good solution installed already!

    Thanks!

    SP

  21. Matthew Guay

    @Shashin Patel – I thrilled it worked good for you … it’s always nice when you discover a new use for an old tool :)

  22. jk

    As a law student, this feature of OneNote is beyond epic and delivers what is very nearly an unfair advantage. Thanks for sharing…

  23. julian

    Looks great, but I can’t get this to work for pdfs (Windows 7, Office 2007)

  24. Kimberly

    PDF is tricky in One Note. You have to get the page orientation correct.

    I was trying to scan tables printed in landscape mode to Excel. You only get symbols if you copy to text in landscape mode because One Note OCR couldn’t read the sideways letter I guess. While Reader oriented the scan correctly; OneNote was oriented in portrait mode. Very Frustrating. I tried to reorient the page in One Note using “Rotate”, can’t be done.

    I tried to use the snap shot; this worked ok for the first and last page but the rest of the document was a mess.

    I finally reduced the working copy I had to fit in landscape, re-copies the pages, rescanned the new copies and printed to One Note. It worked but the first two pages required conversion to tables and the other pages required text-to-column + the usual data conversion cleanup.

    I am just glad this worked as I really did not want to subtotal the table by dept the old school way: by hand with a calculator and highlighting pen. I get the shivers just thinking about it. It would have taken me hours by hand.

    Thank you for this How-To!!!

  25. Daniel

    You helped me very much! Thanks a lot!

    Greetings from Munich

  26. Robhiengler

    Cyrillic letters aren’t recognised even in the Russian version of Onenote.

    Any ideas how tog et it working?

  27. Swapnil

    Thanks for the detailed posting, but there’s a problem with my software. There’s a picture full of text which is a scanned image & when I do the ‘Copy text from Image’ & then paste it the pasted text comprises of symbols & spelling mistakes. In simple words, it does not get copied perfectly in my case when the entire image is complete text. Has this happened with you ?

  28. Jen

    I am a new OneNote 2007 user. I have attempted to paste in a jpg containing text and “copy text from Picture” but when I attempt to paste it into the page, nothing shows up.

    Any suggestions?

  29. Jen

    No worries folks!! I solved my problem. I realised that after I pasted the jpg full of words into my new page, I had forgotten to then Right click the text and “Copy text from image” and THEN paste it again into my new page.

  30. Wolf

    Would have been helpful to also explain, where to find this “OneNote” in MS Office 2007, or how to activate it.

  31. James

    All/Any,

    when I copy the text out of an image I notice that the pasted text (no matter what format I choose to paste it with) requires a substantial amount of editing. The paragraphs automatically take on the carriage returns of what I don’t know, but they are much smaller than it would be if I just typed the text into the page. I have noticed this when I copy and past from PDF files into onenote as well. I will have to place the cursor at the beginning of a line, and backspace up to the end of the line before it, and then enter spaces in order for it to use all the available line space.

    Is this making sense? does anyone know what i’m talking about here?, if so, has anyone come across a way to resolve this issue?

    Thanks,
    James

  32. Sheri

    Such a great description of OCR and OneNote. Thanks so much for taking the time to post this. : )

  33. john

    For me, in OneNote2010, the right click, copy text process yields no text. Make Text in Images Searchable is turned on.
    Any ideas why this does not work?
    Thanks

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