Many excellent software products combine PDF-editing and optical-character-reading (OCR) functions, but none are as impressive as ABBYY Fine Reader 15. No other app comes close to its powerful combination of PDF, OCR, and document comparison features or integrates those features as lucidly and smoothly. In my testing, FineReader’s OCR feature is also more accurate than any PDF-plus-OCR competitors, such as Adobe Acrobat Pro and Nitro Pro as well as standalone OCR apps, like Kofax OmniPage or ReadIris.
ABBYY FineReader 15 comes in two versions: a $199 Standard version that doesn’t include the document-compare feature but has all the app’s essential PDF editing tools; and a $299 Corporate version that includes document comparison and automated conversion routines that can process up to 5,000 pages per month. Both these prices are for perpetual licenses, not subscriptions.
Adobe, in contrast, sells the current versions of Acrobat DC only by monthly or annual licenses, although you can still buy perpetual licenses of the 2017 version for $299 (basic version) or $449 (Pro version). Note that Adobe Acrobat Pro boasts the deepest feature set and closely integrates with Adobe’s cloud services and apps, too.
Other powerful PDF apps with perpetual licenses include Kofax Power PDF Advanced at $179 and Nitro Pro at $159, but they can’t match FineReader’s feature set. That said, Kofax, unlike FineReader, includes a full-text indexing feature for fast searching. For OCR, FineReader’s closest rival is Kofax OmniPage at $149 (perpetual) for the Standard Version. OmniPage’s $449 Ultimate version adds speech and document-repository features.
Interface and Getting Started
FineReader’s interface is minimalist and straightforward, but you can drill down to an exceptionally rich set of tools and options. The main menu has three separate panes, one for opening and converting existing files, another for creating new documents from your scanner, and a third for comparing documents. Each section, as I’ll explain, offers in-depth features.
The Open pane allows you to open a PDF file; convert one or more PDF or image files into Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other standard formats; or to open an existing PDF or image file in FineReader’s unique OCR Editor, which I’ll come back to in a moment. The convert-existing-file options let you convert individual PDF or image files or combine a number of PDF and image files into a single document. You can specify how closely the converted output file should reproduce the format of the input PDF or image, with four different options ranging from an exact reproduction of the original format (which will be hard to edit in Word because text will be in hard-to-manage text boxes) to text-only output that you’ll need to format on your own. Adobe Acrobat Pro, in contrast, offers only two options for the kind of format preserved during output.
FineReader’s feature set for basic PDF editing is essentially the same that you’ll find for PDF editing in Adobe Acrobat, Nitro Pro, and other high-end PDF apps. You can create forms, digitally sign documents, redact pictures or text, add watermarks, apply Bates numbering to PDFs made up of multiple documents with separate page numbers, and much more.
One feature that FineReader (surprisingly) still lacks is the full-text multi-file indexing feature found in Kofax Power PDF and Adobe Acrobat, which can speed up text search dramatically. Two years ago, for unexplained reasons, Adobe disabled the feature that uses full-text indexing for fast searching, but you can still re-enable it with a registry hack. On the other hand, FineReader, unlike Acrobat, displays a list of all search results in a sidebar panel, so you can easily scan the list to find the one that you’re looking for. So, on balance, FineReader may have the advantage in text-searching.
ABBYY FineReader’s superb OCR Editor is the editing tool I use most with the service. When you first open a PDF or image file into the OCR Editor, it starts performing OCR, while displaying the PDF or image file in a multi-paned interface. This interface has a left sidebar showing thumbnails of each page; a large pane with an image of the current page; another large pane with the text that the app has read via OCR from the current page; and, at the foot of the window, a close-up panel with a large-scale image of the part of the current page that you’re working on at the moment. You can adjust the app’s initial OCR by unselecting areas with text, markings, or images that you don’t want to retain in the output. If the app mistakenly interpreted some text as a table, or the reverse, you can correct it with a couple of mouse clicks, too.
If you’re dealing with badly made images, like old xeroxes of printed pages, you can open the app’s Image Editor, which acts like a special-purpose photo editor designed to enhance scans. You can correct trapezoidal distortion, straighten text lines, split an image into separate pages, change brightness and contrast levels, erase stray images, removed markings made in colored inks, and much more. You can apply these fixes either one page at a time or to the entire document. I’ve never seen anything remotely like it for enhancing document images.
The other star performer in FineReader is its Verification window. This displays, one by one, every text string that the OCR engine wasn’t certain it recognized correctly, and lets you either confirm or correct the OCR. What makes this window so effective is that you can learn to manage it entirely from the keyboard, so that you can fly through hundreds of corrections with minimal effort. FineReader’s closest rival, OmniPage, has a similar verification window, but its awkward and unintuitive design makes it far harder to use and far easier to produce errors. OmniPage, for example, uses a numbered list for suggested alternative readings, so you’re never confident that you’re choosing a numbered alternative instead of typing a number into your text.
Over the years, I’ve used FineReader to get editable text out of faint xerox copies of old magazines and newspapers, as well as out of scanned books and documents. This is sometimes soul-crushing labor, but FineReader makes it far easier than it would have been without it. FineReader’s document-comparison tool has also saved me many hours of tedious labor and helped me catch errors I would never have noticed without it.
Unlike, for example, the document-compare feature in Microsoft Word, which works only with Word documents, FineReader lets you compare files in two different formats—for example, Word and PDF—and offers a keyboard-friendly interface for navigating from one difference to the next. Word’s document-compare interface is clumsy and confusing compared to FineReader’s, with its clear, color-coded display of variants between documents. It’s an impressive sight to see FineReader display a scanned image in one pane of its document-compare interface, a formatted Word document in another pane, and an accurate list of the differences in a third panel on the right.
The Best PDF Management Software
ABBYY Fine Reader 15’s unique screen-capture utility lets you scrape text from images on your screen that normally can’t be converted to text and includes the most powerful document-comparison tool we’ve ever seen. But what makes it stand out most is its OCR proofreading features that help you clean up OCR errors more quickly, more conveniently, and more accurately than anything else. We’ve been using it for years to tackle complex and difficult OCR tasks and have never been disappointed by it. FineReader, with its powerful combination of features and economical pricing structure, is a clear Editors’ Choice winner for PDF and OCR software.