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How to convert images to text with Google Drive

Google Drive has a hidden OCR tool—here's how to use it.

By Justin Pot · December 6, 2021
A hero image for Google Drive app tips with the Google Drive logo on a yellowish-brown background

There are too many images of text on the internet. I'm sick of it. Someone needs to do something. 

Half the posts on Reddit are just screenshots from Twitter or Facebook, and Instagram stories are the same thing. Every social network, at this point, is mostly just screenshots from other websites, which is annoying when you just want to copy and paste a quote.

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It's annoying enough on social media. It's a much bigger problem at work, especially if you get a long document sent as a photo, or a long PDF without text you can easily capture. 

It turns out Google Drive can solve this problem and grab the text from any image or PDF using a built-in optical character recognition (OCR). You can see this using the search feature—every search includes all the text in an image, which is basically magic. 

A screenshot of a search for "trembling earth" in Google Drive and three png files appearing in the results

But there's also a way to extract the complete text from any image. This feature, while very useful, is totally hidden from the user. Here's how to find it.

How to convert image to text with Google Drive

A screenshot showing right-clicking on an image and selecting, Open with > Google Docs
  1. Upload your image or PDF to Google Drive.

  2. Right-click the file, and select Open with > Google Docs.

  3. Wait a bit, and you'll get a document with both the original file and the extracted text.

It will take a while for the document to load—particularly if there's a lot of text—but you'll eventually get it. Your original image or file will be at the top, with all of the text from the image right below. 

A screenshot of the image in Google Docs, with the text below it

As you can see, it's not perfect. Line breaks don't transfer over perfectly, which is far from ideal if you're copying poetry. It works much better for prose. 

A screenshot of an image in Google Docs, with the text below it, this time using prose

I'd recommend not relying on this without at least a little bit of copyediting because the transcription isn't perfect. Still, it's really accurate overall—and a heck of a lot faster than re-typing everything yourself. 

Google's support documentation for the feature includes a few tips: 

  • The file should be 2MB or less

  • Text should be right-side up—rotate the image before uploading to Google Drive if necessary. 

  • Common fonts work best 

  • The sharper the image the better

Want more tips? Learn how to find files faster in Google Drive, or try Zapier's Google Drive integrations to connect your documents with thousands of other apps.

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