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A collection of tools for OCR (optical character recognition).
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README.md

OCR tools

The ever growing collection of tools to perform OCR.

Motivation

Achieving a good quality OCR in one go is not easy. Depending on the quality of the input, the process may include a number of iterations to improve the original image(s) in order to achieve reasonable recognition quality, followed by some (often manual) correction of the recognised text to remove various OCR errors. This is not a massive problem when digitising a page or two, but processing a book of 500 pages makes things a lot harder. This project aims to help with complex OCR projects, but instead of providing one monolithic tool that would include all the processing a user can possibly want, here we develop a number of smaller instruments that can do only the obviously needed steps like OCR itself, but also allowing for user-defined processing to be integrated into the pipeline.

Tools

The toolset wraps around a number of well-known programs that perform tasks like PDF or image processing, character recognition, etc., aiming to create an environment for iterative processing of large documents with the ability to utilise custom scripts.

For example, given a document text.pdf, the simplest OCR session may look like the following:

▶ mkdir book && cd book
▶ ocr-open ../text.pdf
ocr-open: processing file "../text.pdf"
ocr-open: extracting all pages
▶ ocr
ocr: processing page 1 [ "./page-01.pgm" ]
ocr: processing page 2 [ "./page-02.pgm" ]
{ ... }
ocr: processing page 15 [ "./page-15.pgm" ]
▶ ocr-ls --text | xargs cat
{ ... recognised text }
▶

In this simple example we first create a directory and cd into it, after that we convert each page of the document text.pdf to an image using ocr-open tool, and then we do the actual character recognition via ocr tool. The last command gives an example of how other custom tools can be integrated into the process with the help of the ocr-ls utility. Here we use the standard Linux cat utility to display the recognised text.

Internally, the toolset operates on images in PGM format, that has been chosen as the lowest common denominator between all the tools wrapped by this toolset, and also because it is understood by the good old netpbm package, which is often a bit faster than imagemagic when it comes to simple operations like image cropping.

All images are named using pattern page-N.pgm, where N is the page number ranging from 1 to the maximum of 9999, as in the source document, and with a sufficient number of leading zeroes to make sure that a list of files sorted alphabetically gives the correct page order. The text recognised from each page is stored in a file named using the same pattern, but with the .txt extension. Most of the tools in this toolset can operate on a sub-range of pages via -p or --pages command line option, see help (-h or --help) on a particular tool. Generally, the toolset is designed to operate on "pages" rather than files, for convenience.

Another thing these tools are designed to do is to check all the parameters and input files before passing them over to the underlying programs, because the error messages from those programs are sometimes a bit cryptic.

For details on the command line options supported by a particular tool, simply invoke the tool with -h or --help option.

The included tools are:

ocr-open

This is usually the first command to invoke when starting a new project. The tool converts each page of the specified document to a separate image. There are options to specify the range of pages to extract, and the destination directory. Input document can be either in .pdf or .djvu format. Internally the tool invokes either ddjvu or pdftoppm program, depending on the type of the input file.

ocr-ls

The main purpose of the tool is to produce a list of files for bulk-processing. The tool outputs a list of files, text or images, from the selected range(s) of pages, in order. A simple example is given above, where it is used to concatenate all the recognised text. For a more involved example, consider the situation where every page except the first one has a page number at the bottom that we don't want to see in the recognised text, and so we want to crop (for example) 6.5% from the bottom of each image starting from the page 2, and till the end of the document. This can be achieved with the following command:

ocr-ls -p 2- | xargs -I{} -n 1 crop-image -b 6.5% {} {}

(see below for the description of the crop-image command)

ocr

The tool invokes tesseract program to recognise text from the given images. There are options to specify the range of pages to process, as well as the directory where the image files are stored. Per each page, the recognised text is written to the same directory, and to the file with the same name but with a .txt extension. For example, this is how to extract text in Russian and English, from pages 5 to 10 only, all located in the directory book:

ocr -p 5-10 -d book/ -- -l rus+eng

Note: everything to the right from "--" is passed over to the tesseract program.

crop-image

Crops the specified image. The amount of space to crop is given as the percentage of the image's width or height, which is often more convenient than using pixels. Wraps around the pamcut utility from netpbm toolset.

norm-image

A tiny utility that crops the image to content and then adds 5% white border. Wraps around ImageMagic convert tool. Rarely useful, except the situations where there are poor quality scanned images with some dust bits on the space surrounding the text, that sometimes get recognised as punctuation.

norm-text

A script to normalise text by removing hyphenation and line breaks inside paragraphs. Normally, tesseract separates paragraphs by empty lines, and this is required for the tool to work correctly. The tool takes its input from stdin, and writes to stdout.

norm-page

Ensures the correct paragraph boundary at the end of the page. Takes one or more text files as input, and writes its output to stdout. Can be used in conjunction with other tools, for example:

ocr-ls -t | xargs norm-page | norm-text

Installation

The toolset makes use of external tools that need to be installed first:

sudo apt install netpbm imagemagick tesseract-ocr djvulibre-bin poppler-utils

Optionally, install language packs for tesseract, for example:

sudo apt install tesseract-ocr-rus

Now, the preferred way to install the toolset is to grab the ocr-*.tar.xz archive attached to the latest release on github (starting from version 0.8), and extract it to a directory listed on the $PATH. Alternatively, if the very recent but yet unreleased updates are required, just clone the project from github and run make release from the root directory of the project. This will compile the toolset and create the archive with all the utilities, which can then be extracted to a directory on the $PATH. The compilation step requires more dependencies to be installed:

sudo apt install build-essential libmagic-dev

The toolset has been tested on Linux Mint 19.3, and will probably work on other Debian-based distributions as well. Supported tesseract version is 4.0.0 or later.

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