I am looking for a way to recognize handwriting of scanned notes (in PDF format).

It doesn't have to be perfect, and it doesn't have to free, but before paying I would like to try it (even with just a single page).

It doesn't necessarily have to be a native Mac OS X application. I would be OK with an online application, or a Unix application to install or compile. In other words, anything that works somewhat decently would be OK.

I am also not necessarily looking for a perfect result. Even transforming my notes into a searchable PDF with just some of the text recognized would be better than nothing.

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    Unfortunately, I've got a feeling you might struggle with handwriting recognition. For instance, Wikipedia's Handwriting recognition article states that "Off-line handwriting recognition is comparatively difficult, as different people have different handwriting styles. And, as of today, OCR engines are primarily focused on machine printed text and ICR for hand 'printed' (written in capital letters) text. There is no OCR/ICR engine that supports handwriting recognition as of today." – binarybob Apr 17 '12 at 7:58
  • See also: softwarerecs.stackexchange.com/q/16857/14234 – aparente001 Sep 30 '19 at 12:48

If you're fammiliar with any programming language, take a look @ ocrsdk.com, it's a website that lets you upload images through web API and sends you back OCRed data. Here's the documentation on handwriting recognition: http://ocrsdk.com/documentation/quick-start/text-fields/ and here are some codesamples @ github: https://github.com/abbyysdk/ocrsdk.com There's a nice 50 pages free trial without any upfront charges.


Evernote does have handwriting recognition, but unfortunately right now it requires JPG format. It cannot handle PDFs. So your work-around may be to consider converting PDF -> JPG using Preview, etc. and then importing into Evernote for recognition. FYI, the handwriting recognition in Evernote for JPG is decent, but not nearly OCR-level from my experiences.

Also, this post describes a good workflow to use Evernote to recognize handwritten notes.


You could use Evernote for this (Free). Just import all of your PDF's as notes and after some time (you can speed this up by upgrading to a paid account), it will automatically process them and recognize the handwriting. You won't be able to extract the OCR text from the notes, but you can search for it.

  • I tried but so far nothing happened (after almost two days). Do I have to trigger the OCR in any way? – Matteo Apr 18 '12 at 18:55
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    After one month still nothing. I think I'll drop Evernote as a possibility :-) – Matteo May 9 '12 at 6:36
  • Hmm, do your PDF's have any recognized text in them? (i.e. can you highlight typed text and copy it?) If so, that means that the document is considered already processed and the Evernote servers won't try to run OCR on it. A guaranteed method to have it recognize text (at least for testing purposes) is to convert a few pages into images (e.g. PNGs) and then add them as notes; then see if after a while you can search for the handwriting in these images. You can always talk to Evernote support too, they're usually very helpful. – Senseful May 9 '12 at 17:02
  • Evernote does a reasonable job as long as your writing is clear and written in a common way. It does best with fonts, unless you want to adapt your handwriting to suit it's processor. My handwriting is very neat but Evernote has trouble with my unique style (lots of ligatures and "old style" numbers). I prefer not to change what comes naturally for the app. – plainclothes Dec 10 '12 at 18:20

I realize that you are looking for a Mac OS application, but for the benefit of readers drawn to this topic by the search for handwriting recognition, I'd like to mention MyScript Memo and Notes Plus on iOS. They share a handwriting recognition engine that seems to work very well in my hands. MyScript memo has a free version that anyone with an iOS device can try.

(I also see that you are looking to recognize handwritten notes scanned from paper, which these apps will not do. They recognize handwritten notes written directly on the iOS device.)


Have you checked out Captricity? It's web-based, and they have a mobile app too. They use a combination of computer algorithms and human intelligence, so they do much better with handwriting than any straight OCR software out there. It's pretty fast (on the order of an hour or two for a few dozen or even hundred pages), and while it's not free, there's just a per-page price.

When I tried it, it was free to set up an account (took me about 15 seconds), and I got my first 25 pages free. It looks like they're still giving away the first 25 pages free. I found it really easy to use. I uploaded scans of some forms that were filled in by hand, marked up a template telling Captricity where the data was that I wanted, then uploaded a whole batch of scans. I hear photographs work well too.

Captricity gave me back electronic, machine-readable data. Best thing I've found so far for handwriting, and I've looked a lot.

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    Are you somehow related to the company or just a happy customer? – nohillside Dec 10 '12 at 19:10
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    Captricity only works with simple forms. I tried with 25 pages and nothing was recognized. I got an email with the following: "At the moment, we can only handle structured text with distinct data fields that can be pulled out into a spreadsheet. For example, we could handle a survey or a tax form well, but not a long letter or page of notes. We wish there were a better solution. To our knowledge, OCR doesn’t perform very well. We do plan to handle text like this one day, but for the moment I’m afraid we can’t." – Matteo Dec 12 '12 at 13:54

http://www.VelOCRaptor.com/ seems to be an affordable (FREE!) solution for OS X. It has a very simple drag-and-drop user interface. It is based on Google's OCR technology so you can rest assured that it will work properly.

Hope this helps!

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    Actually is not free (29$ which would not be a problem) does not work on Lion (is a problem) and supports only printed text (as stated in the question I am looking for handwriting recognition). – Matteo Apr 17 '12 at 5:00

Brainware... There is no better product on the market, period!

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    Can you explain what's so great about this product? How do you find it helpful? – Daniel Aug 14 '13 at 3:18
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    You need to provide more info, a link, a description, something other than a product name. – stuffe Aug 14 '13 at 9:50
  • Brainware was acquired by Hyland and it doesn't appear to have a product for a single user available. – aparente001 Sep 30 '19 at 12:47

Did you try Abbyy Finereader?

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    From the product description it seems only able to recognize typed text (no handwriting). – Matteo Jun 17 '13 at 5:00

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