OCR Engine

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Ocr-engine-icon.png

An OCR Engine is the part of OCR software that does the actual character recognition, analyzing the pixels on an image and figuring out what characters they represent. This raw result can be further processed using Grooper's OCR Synthesis capabilities, producing the final OCR result used by Data Extractors to match text in a document and return the result.

The Transym OCR 4 and Transym OCR 5 engines are included in Grooper. Transym OCR 4 provides highly accurate English-only OCR while Transym OCR 5 provides multi-language OCR for 28 different languages. Version 2.72 and beyond also support Google's open source Tesseract OCR engine. The ABBY FineReader, Prime OCR, and Azure OCR engines are also supported but require separate installations and separate licensing.


About

OCR Engines perform the "heavy lift" of the OCR operation by getting the raw character data off document images. They analyze the pixels on the image and figure out what text characters they match.

OCR Engines themselves have four phases:

  1. Pre-Processing
  2. Segmenting
  3. Character Recognition
  4. Post-Processing

Pre-Processing

First and foremost, OCR applications require a black and white image in order to determine what pixels on a page are text. So, color and grayscale images must be converted to black and white. This is done by a process called "thresholding" which determines a middle point between light pixels and dark pixels on the page. Lighter pixels are then turned into white and darker ones are turned into black pixels. You are left with only black and white pixels, with (ideally) all text in black and everything else faded into a white background.

The original scanned image... ...is turned black and white to divide the page into black pixels (text) and white pixels (the background).
Threshold 1.png Threshold 2.png

Some OCR Engines also contain de-skewing, despeckling, line removal, aspect ratio normalization, or other pre-processing functions to improve OCR results.

FYI Grooper has it's own pre-processing capabilities through its Image Processing operations. OCR Engines typically place these pre-processing functions in a "black box" for users. At best, the OCR Engine may allow you to turn the property "on" or "off" but may not allow you to configure it further to fine tune its results. Custom Image Processing can be performed using IP Profiles made of highly configurable IP Commands.

Segmenting

One of the most important aspects of pre-processing is "segmentation". This is the process of breaking up a page into first lines, then words, and, finally, individual characters.

In general, this process involves distinguishing between text and the white space between text. Lines of text are distinguished by the horizontal space between one line and another. This can be seen using a histogram projection profile.

Ocr-engine-ocr-text-segmenting-1.png

The gray peaks on the left side of the image show the amount of black pixels on the page. The larger the peak, the larger the number of black pixels on that line. OCR "sees" the line break where there are gaps are between those collections of pixels.

Words can be broken up in a similar way. One expects a small amount of space between characters. How we tell the difference between "rn" and "m", after all, is just that tiny amount of space between the "r" and "n". Between words, however, that space should be a bit larger. So, words are segmented at points where there are larger than normal amounts of white space between characters on a line.

Ocr-engine-ocr-text-segmenting-3.png

In a perfect world, characters would be segmented out at this point as well. After all, there is still some space between each character, just a little smaller than between each word. You can easily see this with fixed-pitched fonts. However, the world of printed text is rarely that perfect.

Looking at the image below, there is no white space between the "a" and "z" or "z" and "e" in "Hazel". Just looking at the histogram projection, there's no break in the pixels to define where one character stops and another begins. There's a slight break in the "n" in "Daniels". So, there is some white space in the middle of the character where there shouldn't be. But, that shouldn't mean those are two separate characters.

Ocr-engine-ocr-text-segmenting-4.png

If the characters were separated out using the normal segmenting we've seen previously, we might expect a very poor result. However, ultimately, we get the result we expect, "Hazel Daniels".

Ocr-engine-ocr-text-results.png

Modern OCR Engines perform more sophisticated character level segmenting than just looking for small gaps between characters. Characters connected by small artifacts can be isolated from each other and characters that are broken apart can be linked together. This is done both by analyzing the peaks and valleys of pixel densities to determine where a gap "should" be as well as further segmenting the word to look at the context of portions of a character before and after to make a decision as to where one character starts and stops.

Once the OCR Engine has segmented the entire image into individual character segments, it can use character recognition to determine what character corresponds to that segment. However, this is where a lot of OCR errors can crop up. Depending on the quality of the image or the original document, characters can be joined and disconnected in many different ways. The OCR Engine may not perfectly separate out one segment of a word as the "right" character.

FYI Some amount of OCR errors are unavoidable. Document quality, scan quality, non-standard fonts and other issues can interfere with the OCR Engine producing 100% accurate results. Part of Grooper's job is to massage the OCR Engine's results, through Image Processing, OCR Synthesis and Fuzzy Matching, into more accurate ones.

Character Recognition

Once the OCR Engine parses out the image into lines, and then words, and finally character segments, it must make a decision about what text character that character segment actually is. We're ready to do the "character recognition" part of "Optical Character Recognition".

There are two basic types of recognition algorithms: matrix matching and feature extraction.

Matrix matching compares a NxN matrix of pixels on a page to a library of stored character glyph examples. This is also known as "pattern recognition" or "image correlation".

The character on the document's image... ...is compared to a stored example... ...by comparing a matrix of pixels, between the character on the image and the stored example.
Ocr-engine-character-recognition-matrix-matching-1.png Ocr-engine-character-recognition-matrix-matching-2.png Ocr-engine-character-recognition-matrix-matching-3.png Ocr-engine-character-recognition-matrix-matching-4.png

The OCR Engine then makes a decision about what character that matrix of pixels is. In this case, a "G". Matrix matching does have some pitfalls, however. Because it is comparing text to the stored glyph pixel by pixel, the text needs to be similar to the stored glyph's font and scale in order to match. While there may be hundreds of example gylphs of various fonts and scales for a single character, this can cause problems when matching text on poor quality images or using uncommon fonts.

The second type of recognition algorithm, feature extraction, decomposes characters into their component "features" like lines, line direction, line intersections or closed loops. For example, an "O" is a closed loop, but a "C" is an open loop. These features are compared to vector-like representations of a character, rather than pixel representations of the character. This is a newer recognition technology. Because it looks at features that make up a character, rather than a pixel by pixel comparison to a glyph of a certain font, this method is not as reliant on the font used on the page matching a particular stored example.

Instead of pixels... ...features matching how the character is drawn... ...are compared to how those features are used to draw stored glyphs.
Ocr-engine-character-recognition-feature-recognition-1.png Ocr-engine-character-recognition-feature-recognition-2.png Ocr-engine-character-recognition-feature-recognition-3.png

Just like with matrix matching, the OCR engine makes a decision about what character matches the extracted features. In this case, again, a "G". In engines using a combination of matrix matching and feature extraction, the results of both algoritms are combined to produce the best matching result. Each character is given a "confidence score", which corresponds to how closely the character segment's pixels matched either the stored glyph's matrix or features or combination of the two.

This presents another layer of potential errors. Given a document's quality, fonts used, and even the variable size of fonts on a page, the OCR Engine may recognize a character as the wrong glyph.

What is this character? Is it a "G"? Is it a "C"? Is it a "0"? Is it an "O"? Is it just garbage?
Bad ocr 2.png

The OCR Engine has to make a decision, which ultimately may not line up with what it is on the page. Especially in situations like this, where it may be difficult for even a human being to read the character, the OCR Engine will have a hard time recognizing the character.

FYI Some amount of OCR errors are unavoidable. Document quality, scan quality, non-standard fonts and other issues can interfere with the OCR Engine producing 100% accurate results. Part of Grooper's job is to massage the OCR Engine's results, through Image Processing, OCR Synthesis and Fuzzy Matching, into more accurate ones.

Post-Processing

Without any context around a character, these OCR errors can make sense. The letter "a" and "o" can look fairly similar, especially using certain fonts. However, the word "ballboy" is a real word, and "bollboy" is utter nonsense.

Similar characters may get misread by OCR... ...which becomes obvious given the context of that character inside a word.
Ocr-engine-character-recognition-post-processing-1.png
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The most common post-processing done by OCR Engines is basic spell correction. Often errors resulting from poor character recognition result in small spelling mistakes. For many OCR Engines (all commercial OCR Engines), results are compared to a lexicon of common English words, and replacements are made if possible.

Note, this correction is only going to apply to words in the OCR Engine's lexicon. Proper nouns (unless in the lexicon) will not be corrected.

FYI When the OCR Engine is not capable of confidently making a spell correction, Grooper may be able to use Fuzzy RegEx to get around OCR errors.

OCR Engines: What is the best OCR engine?

The short answer is the best OCR engine is the best one for your needs. Grooper offers a variety of OCR engine integrations. There are many considerations you'll want to evaluate. Of course, you want your OCR engine to be accurate. However, the more accurate an OCR process is the more computationally expensive it tends to be. It takes more computing power (and hence processing time) to get more accurate results. Highly accurate OCR results tend to cost more too. For example, Google's Tesseract is an open-source OCR engine, which is great in terms of it being free. However, its results simply are not as accurate as ABBY FineReader which is a "premium" OCR engine option available to Grooper.

All Grooper installations ship with Transym's OCR engine. We favor Transym because it provides accurate OCR results, with efficient use of computational resources. It is also very reasonably priced for its accuracy and performance.

See below for more details on all the OCR engine's available in Grooper.

Transym 4.0

All Grooper installations come standard with Transym 4.0. This engine provides highly accurate English language OCR results of printed text at no additional cost to the user. It is the standard by which we judge other engines. It does particularly well with high density images, containing a great deal of text and characters to parse through (Including large amounts of numerical and non-semantic strings). Transym also has the benefit of being computationally efficient. For the accuracy of its results, its speed is unparalleled.

  • Machine print recognition only. Does not recognize handwriting.
  • Fully installed with Grooper
  • English language only

Transym 5.0

Transym 5.0 is also included in every Grooper installation. This engine expands Transym 4.0 to support multiple languages, including additional characters for Greek, Cyrillic, and Eastern European alphabets.

  • Machine print recognition only. Does not recognize handwriting.
  • Fully installed with Grooper
  • Supports 28 different languages

Tesseract

Tesseract is Google's open source OCR engine for printed text. Tesseract (version 3.04) is included in all Grooper installations starting in version 2.72. Tesseract is generally not as accurate as Transym, but can perform better in certain situations. Tesseract is unique in that you can train the engine to recognize fonts, providing better accuracy for non-standard fonts not handled well by other OCR engines. Out of the box, Tesseract in Grooper can be configured to read MICR, OCR-A, and OCR-B fonts. Tesseract is also much slower than Transym. It's not uncommon for Tesseract to OCR a page ten times slower than Transym.

  • Machine print recognition only. Does not recognize handwriting.
  • Fully installed with Grooper.
    • Currently, Grooper supports Tesseract version 3.04
  • By default, supports English only. However, additional languages can be downloaded here. A ZIP file containing all available languages can be downloaded here.
    • Downloaded files should be placed in the "{Grooper Install Directory}\Tesseract\tessdata" folder on each machine which will be running OCR.
    • Note: not all languages that are downloadable are supported by Grooper. E.g. Vertical languages, right-to-left languages, etc. are not supported.

Azure

Starting in version 2.72, the Microsoft Azure OCR engine is available in Grooper. Azure uses Microsoft's Computer Vision API to perform printed text or handwritten character recognition. From our testing of this OCR engine, it does particularly well at recognizing handwritten text. It does, however, require a subscription key at an additional cost to the user.

  • Machine print and handwriting recognition
  • Requires a Microsoft Computer Vision API key.
    • Want to try it out? You can create a free trial Azure account here. There will be some limitations on the number of API calls per month (in other words, number of documents you can process per month) and/or trial period length.
  • Supports 26 different languages

ABBYY FineReader

ABBYY FineReader is a commercial OCR engine developed by ABBYY. The ABBYY FineReader OCR engine is a recognized leader in optical character recognition software. It will perform machine print or handwritten character recognition and supports a whopping 190 different languages. This is a premium option for OCR in Grooper. However, ABBYY FineReader does not come standard with all Grooper installs. It requires a separate installation of the ABBYY FineReader software as well as the purchase of additional volume licensing.

  • Machine print and handwriting recognition
  • Requires a separate installation of the software and additional volume licensing
  • Supports 190 different languages

Prime

Prime OCR is different than most OCR engines in that it uses multiple OCR engines and compares their results using a "voting" algorithm to determine the most accurate result. This can greatly increase the accuracy of OCR results. Prime OCR also has the capability to run at different "levels", increasing the number of OCR engines used to compare results at the cost of processing speed. With most things in the OCR world, higher accuracy generally takes longer to process. By operating at different "levels" you can poll more or less OCR engines results which will increase or decrease the processing time respectively. However, the Prime OCR engine is not included with standard Grooper installs. It requires separate installation and additional volume licensing.

  • Machine print recognition only. Does not recognize handwriting.
  • Requires a separate installation of the software and additional volume licensing
  • Supports 11 different languages

Layered OCR

While not technically an OCR engine itself, this is listed as an option for your OCR engine when configuring an OCR Profile. Layered OCR allows you to merge the results from multiple different OCR Profiles. Layered OCR performs OCR by establishing baseline OCR results from a primary or main OCR Profile and merges the results from one or more OCR Layers, each containing their own OCR Profile.

To learn how to layer OCR results and the configuration requirements for Layered OCR, please visit the Layered OCR article.