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A paperless office workflow Apps
Use Spotlight in partnership with a cheap handheld scanner, plus some OCR software, and you can achieve the "paperless office" dream with remarkably little effort.

I explain more about this on my blog, but here are the basic steps. I use the excellent yet dirt-cheap Skypix TSN410 handheld scanner.
  • Scan in the document using the TSN410. Scan at the default 300 DPI to a PDF file (remember that the TSN410 defaults to JPG each time you turn it on). Remember too that there's often text on BOTH sides of the paper with bills.
  • Connect the TSN410 via USB and import the PDFs to a special folder within your Documents folder. Note that I don't change the filenames, which remain in the style of IMAG0009.PDF; I am relying totally on Spotlight to find each document as as when I need it based on its contents.
  • Check each PDF to ensure the scans have been successful. This can be done ultra-quickly using Quick Look. Select the first PDF in Finder, hit Space to Quick Look it, then hit the down cursor key to move down the list of files and view the others.
  • Use Adobe Acrobat's Recognize Text feature to OCR the documents. Acrobat can process many files at once although you'll have to open one of the files to get the option to recognize text, however. Acrobat adds the OCR'd text to the PDF itself, so I have both a scanned image of the document, and cut-and-pastable text (which Spotlight will index instantly once the PDF is saved).
  • You can use other OCR software but the Mac software market is weak in this regard. I couldn't find ANY OCR software that isn't costly.
  • Save the files back to the folder where they're stored, overwriting the originals.
  • Delete the files from the TSN410.
  • Destroy the original paperwork by shredding or burning to avoid identity theft. (It feels weird destroying bills that have just arrived!)
That's all that is needed. If in future I want to find electricity bills I can use Spotlight to search with a term such as kind:PDF electricity, although some creative thinking might be needed: kind:PDF energy might produce more results. I use Spotlight's Quick View pop-out window to see if the document is likely to be the one I want. The kind:PDF modifier tells Spotlight to only return PDF files.

[crarko adds: I'm guessing many of us have tried some variation of this type of workflow at some time. This tip is a nice example and is a good use of Spotlight.]
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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: david-bo on Jan 11, '13 09:43:56AM

Not to be like that but I already receive most of my bills in pdf, espcially bills such as electricity, phone, mortgage etc. The only paper bills I receive these days are from small non-profits and similar.

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link



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: jendahl on Jan 11, '13 09:52:15AM

PDFPen does a nice job with OCRing pdfs, and it's not that expensive.

No affiliation with smilesoftware.

--> John

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John Endahl, Data Services Specialist
Ingham Intermediate School District

"A mind is a fire to be kindled, not a vessel to be filled."



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: The Eck on Jan 11, '13 11:22:41AM

@keirthomas: That's a really nice writeup that is easy to understand and implement.

However, not being familiar with OCR software that's available for Windows machines, what's your cutoff between a package that is "priced within reason" and one that is "costly?" Popular and excellent packages for the Mac include ExactScan Pro ($100), ABBYY ($100), and ReadIRIS Pro ($130). I personally use a program called DevonThink Pro Office ($150) to sort and store all my scanned documents. That package includes a licensed copy of ABBYY and I've been very satisfied with its accuracy.

If you want a complete setup for going paperless, the Fujitsu ScanSnapS1500M has a driver that integrates with DTPO, so you have the scanner, the database, and the OCR for less than $600. While not exactly cheap, it's a good investment for going paperless in a big way. Incidentally, I am not associated with any of the firms mentioned above, I've simple been a very satisfied user for the past four years.



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: keirthomas on Jan 12, '13 12:19:48PM

I'd say $20-$30 is the ceiling for simple OCR software. It's not a difficult thing to implement nowadays and the technology is well established. There's open source software that does OCR, but nobody has yet produced a Mac version.

For home-based paperless working anything more is just too much.

You can get copies of the full Adobe Acrobat for that price if you shop around. You might have to get an older version. I'm not sure at which version they implemented OCRing though.

What inspired me to setup this solution was the Doxie (http://www.getdoxie.com) but, again, it's very expensive for what it is. However, you get a whole simple solution in a box.

---
__________
Author of Mac Kung Fu
Over 400 tips, tricks, hints and hacks for OS X

http://pragprog.com/book/ktmack2/mac-kung-fu



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: The Eck on Jan 12, '13 01:02:47PM

Thanks for responding. Perhaps because I've been depending on the DTPO + ABBYY solution for so long I've not kept up on current OCR solutions. I was astounded to learn from you that one can find usable OCR solutions for $20-30! (I mean that in a most positive way). Yet today I find a MacUpdate deal on ExactScan Pro for "only" $40.



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: regulus on Jan 11, '13 05:40:03PM

I don't think there's a need for the OCR steps. Spotlight can already search PDF's on its own. I can search my PDF's. You can see in system preferences --> spotlight that there is a setting of whihc files to show in spotlight results and PDF's are one of them, so no need for all the extra stuff in this hint. Just scan to PDF and you're done. No Adobe software is needed..

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Hank
http://www.hamsoftengineering.com



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: howard-ny on Jan 11, '13 09:59:22PM

Most PDFs received as bills are text and image based. When you scan, the resulting PDF is entirely an image; there is no "text" for spotlight to find.



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: keirthomas on Jan 12, '13 12:15:49PM

Indeed. I'd REALLY like to see as a feature the automatic OCRing of text in PDFs and images via Spotlight.

It sounds like the kind of feature Apple would implement.

---
__________
Author of Mac Kung Fu
Over 400 tips, tricks, hints and hacks for OS X

http://pragprog.com/book/ktmack2/mac-kung-fu



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: Lesposen on Jan 11, '13 08:55:46PM

The Fujitsu has been updated to the iX500, which will scan wirelessly, including to your iPad or iPhone. It's bundled with OCR software, and will likely LST many years. Only if you're on a very strict budget would I put up with the tedium of using a handheld scanner.

For portability Fujitsu has the 1300 series which will scan 10 pages at a time, double sided. Then use Evernote or Devonthink to tag and organise. Spotlight is slow and liable to become corrupt over time.



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: kirkmc on Jan 13, '13 02:36:34AM

I was away for a week, and saw this submission before I left. (Thanks to Craig for filling in for me in the interim.) I find it interesting, because I recently embarked on a paperless project. I got a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M, and started scanning ten years of accounting documents. While the scanner is expensive, it comes with all the software you need, scans very fast - and is a duplex scanner (scanning both sides of paper) - and really makes the process easy.

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Mac OS X Hints editor - Macworld senior contributor
http://www.mcelhearn.com



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: keirthomas on Jan 13, '13 04:41:19AM

Hi Kirk

As I said above, I think that automatic OCRing of text in PDFs or images is the kind of feature Apple would add. It would enhance Spotlight's powers significantly. But I'm not sure how "hot" Spotlight is as far as Apple developers are concerned -- since its release it has only really seen superficial improvements to functionality. I suspect it's considered a closed book, which is a shame. I use it everyday.

---
__________
Author of Mac Kung Fu
Over 400 tips, tricks, hints and hacks for OS X

http://pragprog.com/book/ktmack2/mac-kung-fu



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: dewab on Jan 13, '13 05:47:45AM

Whilst I would love it if Apple added OCR functionality into Preview, I just don't see it happening for the simple reason that OCR is not always terribly accurate. It's gotten better over the years, but I've had to OCR a scanned PDF more than once, and gotten different results each time, before I ended up with the text that I was looking for.



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: keirthomas on Jan 14, '13 08:13:24AM

Evernote OCRs images you upload, and does fuzzy recognition. If it see what appears to be the word "Bavid" or "Oavid", for example, it'll also record "David" just in case. All three will turn-up in searches. So I can see how Apple could easily make OCR work better using this kind of technology. (Incidentally Evernote don't let you get the OCR'd text out of the PDF -- it's strictly to aid searches.)

And as for OCR not being accurate -- you'll be surprised. On a 300DPI scan the number of mistakes are surprisingly few in Acrobat. But I don't need 100% accuracy here. The word "electricity" will be mentioned several times in an electricity bill, and it's really Quick Look that lets me recognise the one I'm actually looking for. Document management in this fashion is something that only OS X could do.

---
__________
Author of Mac Kung Fu
Over 400 tips, tricks, hints and hacks for OS X

http://pragprog.com/book/ktmack2/mac-kung-fu



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: dewab on Jan 17, '13 09:00:37AM

I use the Scansnap S1500M and have tried the "built-in" OCR, as well as Acrobat's and PDFpen's. Because I'm using Hazel+AppleScript to automatically sort and rename a large number of bills and accounts, I rely heavily on identifying unique criteria (URLs, account #'s, etc) to ensure that I'm moving and renaming the bill correctly. I have found that OCR does an okay job of it, but I do have to re-OCR documents occasionally to have them get the correct information without adding space or misidentifying characters.

If you look at the raw text of OCRed PDFs (using pdftotext or the like) you'll actually see how hit-or-miss OCR really is.



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Paperless
Authored by: dewab on Jan 13, '13 05:51:53AM

MacSparky (David Sparks) has an eBook/iBook that covers a paperless workflow called "Paperless" that covers a lot of what's in this hint and expounds upon further with video demonstrations of different options and technologies.

http://macsparky.com/paperless/



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: idf on Jan 13, '13 08:14:59AM

If you have a Canon scanner (either a cheap 20 flatbed) or a scanner as part of an all-in-one, the PDF scanning option automatically performs OCR and embeds the text within the PDF. Although the PDF scans are only images, the text in the resulting PDF can be selected, copied and pasted. Spotlight picks up on this text without problem.

I only found this by accident when a spotlight search turned up a PDF scan.



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: jcooper11 on Jan 15, '13 11:10:29AM

I do this using my iPhone5 and TurboScan, which emails the pdf to me. No scanner and can do anywhere.



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: keirthomas on Jan 17, '13 09:08:26AM

Does TurboScan OCR the text in the PDF, as this tip describes? I can't see OCR mentioned on the app's page at iTunes.

And I would've thought the problem with taking a snapshot of a page is that a folded letter, fresh from an envelope, will constantly try to fold itself back up -- irritating. With the scanner mentioned in the tip you'll always get a flat scan.

---
__________
Author of Mac Kung Fu
Over 400 tips, tricks, hints and hacks for OS X

http://pragprog.com/book/ktmack2/mac-kung-fu



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: keirthomas on Jan 17, '13 09:04:27AM

You can now download Acrobat Pro 8 from Adobe:

http://www.adobe.com/downloads/cs2_downloads/index.html

Although this is part of the old CS2 release that requires PowerPC, Acrobat was fully updated for Intel and works fine on Mountain Lion.

It has the same OCR ability as newer releases of Acrobat Pro.

---
__________
Author of Mac Kung Fu
Over 400 tips, tricks, hints and hacks for OS X

http://pragprog.com/book/ktmack2/mac-kung-fu



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: everkleer80 on Jan 26, '13 05:26:21PM

I use the software Paperless available from Mariner Software for $50. (I know, I don't like to pay that much for software either, but I got as part of a software bundle - and I think it may be worth the sticker price now.) It works great; it automatically OCRs scans/PDFs, and it lets you enter extra details for each document such as date, category, subcategory, etc.

https://www.marinersoftware.com/products/paperless/



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A paperless office workflow
Authored by: mmnw on Feb 09, '13 02:24:17AM
For about half a year now, I'm using PDFScanner, which I got on the AppStore, together with a cheap Canon Flatbed. The software does one thing, Scan and OCR (works with any scanner supported by Image Capture). It simplified my paperless workflow a lot. And the software is way cheaper than Acrobat or many other OCR solutions out there.

(not affiliated with the software in any way)

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