How to Extract Text from Screen on Mac (for FREE)

If you have ever wanted to copy an un-copyable text (on a YouTube video, scanned pdf file, an image or your handwriting), this article is for you. You will learn how you can copy any text you see on your screen in just 2 easy steps (without paying anything).

Copying text from a screen is a fairly common scenario. For example, you might be watching a YouTube video and want to copy down a recipe that the instructor is showing you. Instead of writing or typing it down, you can use an OCR tool to do it for you.

OCR stands for optical character recognition. It means that any text you see on your screen, even if you can’t select and copy it normally, can be copied using an OCR tool.

There are several OCR tools available online but I’m going to focus on the free one, that works as good as the paid OCR tools like TextSniper.

How to OCR on Mac

The tool I’m going to talk about isn’t a stand alone app, but is rather an extension for another awesome app, called Raycast. If you already have the Raycast app installed, you can skip next two paragraphs and jump to the next sub-heading.

Also read: How to Read the New Yorker’s & the Atlantic’s articles for FREE

I have written about Raycast a lot, about its awesome extensions, how its keyboard friendly and how its one of the reasons I love my new Mac so much.

But if you are hearing about it for first time, Raycast is a free launcher app, just like the native Spotlight but 100x powerful and robust. It comes bundled with some awesome features such as clipboard manager, emoji picker, window manager, app launcher, file search etc, but can be further extended by its vast library of over a thousand extensions.

The Best OCR extension for Raycast

The extension we will be using to OCR our screen is called ScreenOCR. (Its completely free.)

To install this extension, you will have to have the Raycast app installed first. After installing Raycast, launch it (Cmd + Space) → search for ‘store’ → search for ‘ScreenOCR’ → press enter (to view details) → press enter to install it.

Once you have it installed, using ScreenOCR is a breeze. Just launch Raycast, type ScreenOCR, hit enter and capture whatever it is you want to copy.

For even faster workflow, tie a global shortcut from the extension settings in Raycast.

How to assign a keyboard shortcut to a command in Raycast

I’ve tied Ctrl + 0 to launch it so no matter the app I’m working in, I can pull up this extension with just a shortcut, select the area of the screen I’m trying to OCR and voila!, the text is automatically placed in my clipboard.

And does it work? Yup, and it’s strangely more robust than I expected it to be. It can scan text in videos, images, scanned pdf files, and even your handwriting, with surprising accuracy. It even scans text if its at an angle of 90 degrees or completely upside down.

Further, it not only matches the paid tools like TextSniper in performance and accuracy but even outdoes them in some cases.

Also read: 4 Awesome tricks to Change the Default Fonts in Excalidraw

Comparison with TextSniper

TextSniper is probably the best-known paid OCR tool available for Mac. I have it installed on my system through SetApp subscription.

So, naturally, I pitted these tools against each other.

Handwriting recognition

My first test was my handwriting recognition. I tested both of them with my handwriting samples and both of them got it nearly 92% right.

How to OCR on Mac with free tools

And this was the output of OCR:

This is a test to check if the

scuenor extensian for Raycast

can detect this text arnot.

They both got just three words wrong: ScreenOCR as scuenor, or not as arnot and extension as extensian. (Note that this output is in multiple lines because I’ve turned on the setting to ‘keep line breaks as is’, but you to tweak this setting in both these tools.)

As the output from both of them is same, so this round is a tie.

Inverted handwriting

My second test was scanning my handwriting upside down. I fed the same sample, (just inverted) to both these tools.

This free OCR tool on Mac can even recognize and copy handwriting at an angle, even if its 180 inverted or upside down.

This time too, the outputs were similar but different in just one aspect.

ScreenOCR’s output

This is a test to check if the

Screenor estension for Raycast

can detect this text or not.

TextSniper’s output

can detect this text or not

scener extensiar for Raycast

This is a test to check if the

While both of these tools detected that the input text was inverted, the ScreenOCR extension treated it as a single block of text so the sequence of sentences is same as my input. In contrast, TextSniper treated every sentence as an independent block and put them in the manner of their appearance (from top to bottom).

Also read: How to use AI in Raycast for FREE

(What’s more surprising is that the output from both tools is more accurate with the inverted input than it was with the properly positioned text.)

Languages support

Both of these tools support 16 languages for OCR: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Cantonese Simplified, Cantonese Traditional, Korean, Japanese, Russian, Ukrainian, Thai, Vietnamese.

So, that’s a tie again.

Wrap up

As far as text recognition is concerned, the ScreenOCR extension matches up with the paid tools, although the paid tools do offer some more features.

TextSniper can also scan QR codes, can speak the text aloud after copying (text-to-speech) and supports ‘additive clipboard’ (means that new text will be appended to the previously scanned text).

Also read: Why Raycast is the Best FREE YouTube Downloader for Mac

Both these tools allow you to ‘skip line breaks’ which is great for scenarios where sentences run in multiple lines.

All in all, the best tool for your needs depend on individual scenario, but if you only need text recognition, the ScreenOCR extension is a perfect companion for you.

Thanks for reading.

Leave a Comment