Convert text to image, and image to text

Arcticsid asked the Answer Line forum about turning text into a .jpg. I'll also explain converting an image back into text.

Double-click any word in this paragraph. Your browser will select the word, and you'll be able to copy and paste it into your word processor or email program. But try double-clicking a word in the picture above (or in any of the other pictures in this article). It doesn't work. In the digital world, there's a big difference between real text and an image that looks like text--even if it's not always obvious to the user. Fortunately, there are ways to turn either one into the other.

[Email your tech questions to answer@pcworld.com.]

Let's start with turning text into a bitmapped image like a .jpg or .png.

This is extremely simple if you're using Microsoft Word. Select the text you want "photographed," and press CTRL-c to copy it to the clipboard. Open Paint, the free image editor that comes with Windows. Press CTRL-v to paste the text as an image, and save the file. (My thanks to ElfBane for bringing up this trick in the original forum discussion.)

Unfortunately, this trick doesn't work with every word processor. In fact, in my experience, it only works with Word. If you're writing in another program, you can use Windows' Snipping Tool to grab any portion of the screen and save it as an image file.

Or, if your version of Windows pre-dates the Snipping Tool, simply press your keyboard's Print Screen key, then open Paint (or any other image editor) and paste the image. This captures the entire screen, so you'll probably want to crop the image to just show the text.

Going the other way--grabbing text out of an image-- requires optical character recognition (OCR) software. But that doesn't mean it needs a scanner.

If you have Microsoft's OneNote, which comes with recent versions of Office, you've already got OCR software. Copy the image, then paste it into OneNote. Next, right-click the image in OneNote and select Copy Text from Picture. The text, as text, will move to your clipboard, where you can paste it anywhere.

If you don't have OneNote, you can use the Web service Free OCR. You simply upload the image file (maximum size: 2MB), do the Captcha to prove you're human, and click Send file. The text will appear in a frame, from which you can copy it and paste it anywhere.

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