Convert image to text: how to copy text from a picture with ease

6 min read

Sometimes you just need to copy text from an image. Maybe you want to grab a phrase from a screenshot, drop-down menu, error message, or pop-up window that doesn't allow text selections. It could also be a filename, file size, or date modified stored in a file directory.

In such cases, if you try to simply copy the text, you'll notice that it won't work. Even if all text may seem the same to you, there is a big difference between real text and text embedded in a graphic for your computer.

That said, being able to copy text from images will save you the time required to manually transcribe the words into your word processor. Luckily, it only takes a few steps to convert an image to text. There are apps that analyze letters in an image and convert them so that you can easily transfer and edit the text on your Mac. Here's how the process goes.

Ways to convert picture to text

There are a few ways you can copy the text you are after. Obviously, trying well-known shortcuts like Command + C and Command + V should be your first options, just for the speed and ease of it. But if they didn't work — read on.

Copy the text from pictures using OCR

Are you looking to extract text from images, photos, or design mockups and make it editable? It's not difficult. But first, you'll need an application that can recognize text via OCR (Optical Character Recognition). Prizmo is the perfect tool for that and acts as a powerful scanner to convert image text into usable text in seconds. To copy the text you need from images: 

  1. Click the plus icon and select an image source from the drop-down menu
  2. Highlight the images you want to bring into Prizmo and they will appear on the left side of the window
  3. Click Crop and eliminate any image distortions by using the frame and grid icons
  4. Using the Adjust button, change the sharpness or contrast of the text to increase readability
  5. To begin the OCR process, click Recognize
  6. Review the extracted text on the right side of the app window to correct any formatting errors

OCR a PDF

Convert jpg/png to text  

The same flow can be used with your jpg/png images and screenshots as well. 

If you don't have Prizmo to read your image, you can use a PDF reader with OCR support instead. In this way, to convert image to text would mean to turn it to PDF and then copy text from a PDF. Here's how you quickly turn a jpg/png to PDF: 

  1. Open your image in Preview. 
  2. Go to File and choose Export as. 
  3. Select PDF as an output format.

Export as PDF in Preview

To quickly copy text from a PDF, you can use tools like PDFpen, an advanced PDF editor for Mac. The app allows to copy as well as edit and insert rich text along with the formatting. So you own the flexibility here. 

Read receipts and invoices 

If you need an OCR tool to simplify your accounting on Mac, you can use Receipts app for the job: 

  1. Drag your image of PDF right into the Receipts window. 
  2. Set the app to extract data like document date, bank connection, and taxes. 
  3. Organize and filter your receipts by tags and categories flexibly.

How to make a scanned PDF document searchable

Although PDFs are commonplace on our computers, it's still hard to edit them. It can even be difficult for your computer to recognize text in a scanned PDF to copy it. For this, you'd most likely need to use OCR software. 

If you want to make a scanned PDF searchable, you can start by trying to use what you already have in macOS and then graduate to professional OCR software, such as Prizmo and PDF Search, for more flexibility.

Reading PDFs with built-in macOS tools

Preview is the most common tool to read and manage PDFs on Mac. And the good news is, a lot of PDFs are scannable by default, so you can just open them in Preview and copy-paste everything you need:

Add annotation in PDF with Preview
A small tip for boosting your copy-pasting productivity is using a clipboard manager like Paste, which remembers everything you've copied before and frees you from one of macOS's most terrible limitations — the single copy-paste feature.

Unlike standard clipboarding, Paste apps allows you to copy-paste multiple‚Äč items:

  1. Copy everything from images to text snippets just the way you used to
  2. Retrieve anything you've copied by clicking Show Paste in the menu bar or using a shortcut Command + Shift + V

Read and manage PDFs

If, however, your PDF file is a scanned or image-based document, you won't be able to make changes to the file, as Preview doesn't have an OCR feature (use Prizmo for that). In this case, you could use the native TextEdit app to extract the text you need.

  1. Open the PDF file. While the Preview app is the default PDF viewer on the Mac, you can also use other PDF viewing applications, such as Adobe Acrobat.
  2. Select the entire PDF by clicking Edit and Select All, or you use Command + A
  3. Copy the contents of the PDF by clicking on Edit and Copy in the menu or using keyboard shortcut Command + C
  4. Open the TextEdit app located in Applications or use the macOS search bar to find it
  5. In the left corner of a new window, open a New Document
  6. Change the TextEdit to Plain Text Mode by clicking on Format and Make Plain Text or pressing the keyboard shortcut Shift + Command + T
  7. Paste the contents of the PDF by clicking Edit and Paste from the menu or pressing on Command + V. As the TextEdit is in Plain Text Mode, you'll only see the text that you've pasted and none of the images or formatting from the original PDF.
  8. You may be need to fix up some of the spacing errors after pasting the text

Extract text from a scanned PDF

Alternatively, you might just need to find a piece of text in a large PDF document. In some cases, a simple Command + F lookup could do wonders, but if the PDF was sourced from images, your only way is to go with some professional software like PDF Search.

PDF Search is an app that will allow you to scan through hundreds of PDF pages to find exactly what you're looking for with lightning-fast results. PDF Search does more than find matches for your search terms: it also looks for multiple combinations and checks for related terms.

Search for a word inside multiple PDFs

If you need a powerful tool that will let you see whether a word appears in a heading, subheading, or body paragraph, PDF Search will allow you to find the most relevant results. You'll also be able to convert office documents to PDF.

Being able to quickly grab text from an image or PDF and edit, save, or make any other changes to it can make a big difference for your word processing productivity. OCR apps make it possible to recognize text embedded within a graphic and turn it into a text file you can edit so that you can easily convert an image to text or make a scanned PDF searchable.

Copy text from image online 

If you want to extract text from image without using any OCR tools, you can do it online. Google Drive gives you free OCR help in minutes. Although it may not render the formatting properly, you get editable text from any image — including screenshots. 

Here's how you turn picture to text with Google Drive: 

  1. Access your drive and click New > File upload. 
  2. Once you upload an image, right-click on it and select Open with > Google Docs. 

Upload the screenshot to Google Drive

The new tab with a Google Docs document will open automatically. To convert some scanned copy into text: 

  1. You'll see an image and editable text extracted from it at the bottom. 
  2. Make the edits if necessary and delete the image. 
  3. The doc with the text will be accessible from Google Drive 

Convert Image to text using Google Drive

Note that this flow comes handy with short pieces of text. The more text you extract, the more mistakes it will have.

How to manage digital notes on Mac

Converting handwritten notes to digital is an easy deal if it happens on iPad. Apple Pencil works with numerous note-taking apps, allowing you to draw or write and transform your writing into digital notes. The good news is, you can use iPad and Apple Pencil alongside Mac — as an extended workspace — on the new macOS 10.15 Catalina. 

The easiest way would be to use Apple's Notes. Apart from handwriting support, the app has annotation and inline scanning capabilities. With iCloud support available, you can easily access your digital notes on a Mac. 

If you need to convert math handwriting to digital LaTeX, MathML, or an image, MathKey is there to help. The app is powered by MyScript Interactive Ink technology and easily transforms plain text into math formulas. 

Your macOS is powerful.  As a matter of fact, it offers a few free solutions for reading images and PDFs. For advanced functionality like reading Receipts or automatically converting image to text, you still need a bit more. But no worries, there are shortcuts too — every  OCR and PDF scanning app mentioned in this article is available for a free 7-day trial with Setapp. You can now stop typing and convert that text in seconds, saving hours.

Get 160+ Mac apps for any job

Sign up to Setapp and try them for free.