Advanced features

Control of unpaper

OCRmyPDF uses unpaper to provide the implementation of the --clean and --clean-final arguments. unpaper provides a variety of image processing filters to improve images.

By default, OCRmyPDF uses only unpaper arguments that were found to be safe to use on almost all files without having to inspect every page of the file afterwards. This is particularly true when only --clean is used, since that instructs OCRmyPDF to only clean the image before OCR and not the final image.

However, if you wish to use the more aggressive options in unpaper, you may use --unpaper-args '...' to override the OCRmyPDF’s defaults and forward other arguments to unpaper. This option will forward arguments to unpaper without any knowledge of what that program considers to be valid arguments. The string of arguments must be quoted as shown in the examples below. No filename arguments may be included. OCRmyPDF will assume it can append input and output filename of intermediate images to the --unpaper-args string.

In this example, we tell unpaper to expect two pages of text on a sheet (image), such as occurs when two facing pages of a book are scanned. unpaper uses this information to deskew each independently and clean up the margins of both.

ocrmypdf --clean --clean-final --unpaper-args '--layout double' input.pdf output.pdf
ocrmypdf --clean --clean-final --unpaper-args '--layout double --no-noisefilter' input.pdf output.pdf


Some unpaper features will reposition text within the image. --clean-final is recommended to avoid this issue.


Some unpaper features cause multiple input or output files to be consumed or produced. OCRmyPDF requires unpaper to consume one file and produce one file; errors will result if this assumption is not met.


unpaper uses uncompressed PBM/PGM/PPM files for its intermediate files. For large images or documents, it can take a lot of temporary disk space.

Control of OCR options

OCRmyPDF provides many features to control the behavior of the OCR engine, Tesseract.

When OCR is skipped

If a page in a PDF seems to have text, by default OCRmyPDF will exit without modifying the PDF. This is to ensure that PDFs that were previously OCRed or were “born digital” rather than scanned are not processed.

If --skip-text is issued, then no image processing or OCR will be performed on pages that already have text. The page will be copied to the output. This may be useful for documents that contain both “born digital” and scanned content, or to use OCRmyPDF to normalize and convert to PDF/A regardless of their contents.

If --redo-ocr is issued, then a detailed text analysis is performed. Text is categorized as either visible or invisible. Invisible text (OCR) is stripped out. Then an image of each page is created with visible text masked out. The page image is sent for OCR, and any additional text is inserted as OCR. If a file contains a mix of text and bitmap images that contain text, OCRmyPDF will locate the additional text in images without disrupting the existing text. Some PDF OCR solutions render text as technically printable or visible in some way, perhaps by drawing it and then painting over it. OCRmyPDF cannot distinguish this type of OCR text from real text, so it will not be “redone”.

If --force-ocr is issued, then all pages will be rasterized to images, discarding any hidden OCR text, rasterizing any printable text, and flattening form fields or interactive objects into their visual representation. This is useful for redoing OCR, for fixing OCR text with a damaged character map (text is selectable but not searchable), and destroying redacted information.

Time and image size limits

By default, OCRmyPDF permits tesseract to run for three minutes (180 seconds) per page. This is usually more than enough time to find all text on a reasonably sized page with modern hardware.

If a page is skipped, it will be inserted without OCR. If preprocessing was requested, the preprocessed image layer will be inserted.

If you want to adjust the amount of time spent on OCR, change --tesseract-timeout. You can also automatically skip images that exceed a certain number of megapixels with --skip-big. (A 300 DPI, 8.5×11” page image is 8.4 megapixels.)

# Allow 300 seconds for OCR; skip any page larger than 50 megapixels
ocrmypdf --tesseract-timeout 300 --skip-big 50 bigfile.pdf output.pdf

OCR for huge images

Tesseract has internal limits on the size of images it will process. If you issue --tesseract-downsample-large-images, OCRmyPDF will downsample images to fit Tesseract limits. (The limits are usually entered only for scanned images of oversized media, such as large maps or blueprints exceeding 110 cm or 43 inches in either dimension, and at high DPI.)

--tesseract-downsample-above Npixels adjusts the threshold at which images will be downsampled. By default, only images that exceed any of Tesseract’s internal limits are downsampled.

You will also need to set --tesseract-timeout high enough to allow for processing.

Only the image sent for OCR is downsampled. The original image is preserved.

# Allow 600 seconds for OCR on huge images
ocrmypdf --tesseract-timeout 600 \
    --tesseract-downsample-large-images \
    bigfile.pdf output.pdf

# Downsample images above 5000 pixels on the longest dimension to
# 5000 pixels
ocrmypdf --tesseract-timeout 120 \
    --tesseract-downsample-large-images \
    --tesseract-downsample-above 5000 \
    bigfile.pdf output_downsampled_ocr.pdf

Overriding default tesseract

OCRmyPDF checks the system PATH for the tesseract binary.

Some relevant environment variables that influence Tesseract’s behavior include:


Overrides the path to Tesseract’s data files. This can allow simultaneous installation of the “best” and “fast” training data sets. OCRmyPDF does not manage this environment variable.


Controls the number of threads Tesseract will use. OCRmyPDF will manage this environment variable if it is not already set.

For example, if you have a development build of Tesseract don’t wish to use the system installation, you can launch OCRmyPDF as follows:

env \
    PATH=/home/user/src/tesseract/api:$PATH \
    TESSDATA_PREFIX=/home/user/src/tesseract \
    ocrmypdf input.pdf output.pdf

In this example TESSDATA_PREFIX is required to redirect Tesseract to an alternate folder for its “tessdata” files.

Overriding other support programs

In addition to tesseract, OCRmyPDF uses the following external binaries:

  • gs (Ghostscript)

  • unpaper

  • pngquant

  • jbig2

In each case OCRmyPDF will search the PATH environment variable to locate the binaries. By modifying the PATH environment variable, you can override the binaries that OCRmyPDF uses.

Changing Tesseract configuration variables

You can override Tesseract’s default control parameters with a configuration file.

As an example, this configuration will disable Tesseract’s dictionary for current language. Normally the dictionary is helpful for interpolating words that are unclear, but it may interfere with OCR if the document does not contain many words (for example, a list of part numbers).

Create a file named “no-dict.cfg” with these contents:

load_system_dawg 0
language_model_penalty_non_dict_word 0
language_model_penalty_non_freq_dict_word 0

then run ocrmypdf as follows (along with any other desired arguments):

ocrmypdf --tesseract-config no-dict.cfg input.pdf output.pdf


Some combinations of control parameters will break Tesseract or break assumptions that OCRmyPDF makes about Tesseract’s output.

Changing the PDF renderer


Converting a PDF to an image for display.


Creating a new PDF from other data (such as an existing PDF).

OCRmyPDF has these PDF renderers: sandwich and hocr. The renderer may be selected using --pdf-renderer. The default is auto which lets OCRmyPDF select the renderer to use. Currently, auto always selects hocr.

The hocr renderer

Changed in version 16.0.0.

In both renderers, a text-only layer is rendered and sandwiched (overlaid) on to either the original PDF page, or newly rasterized version of the original PDF page (when --force-ocr is used). In this way, loss of PDF information is generally avoided. (You may need to disable PDF/A conversion and optimization to eliminate all lossy transformations.)

The current approach used by the new hOCR renderer is a re-implementation of Tesseract’s PDF renderer, using the same Glyphless font and general ideas, but fixing many technical issues that impeded it. The new hocr provides better text placement accuracy, avoids issues with word segmentation, and provides better positioning of skewed text.

Using the experimental API, it is also possible to edit the OCR output from Tesseract, using any tool that is capable of editing hOCR files.

Older versions of this renderer did not support non-Latin languages, but it is now universal.

The sandwich renderer

The sandwich renderer uses Tesseract’s text-only PDF feature, which produces a PDF page that lays out the OCR in invisible text.

Currently some problematic PDF viewers like Mozilla PDF.js and macOS Preview have problems with segmenting its text output, and mightrunseveralwordstogether. It also does not implement right to left fonts (Arabic, Hebrew, Persian). The output of this renderer cannot be edited. The sandwich renderer is retained for testing.

When image preprocessing features like --deskew are used, the original PDF will be rendered as a full page and the OCR layer will be placed on top.

Rendering and rasterizing options

New in version 14.3.0.

The --continue-on-soft-render-error option allows OCRmyPDF to proceed if a page cannot be rasterized/rendered. This is useful if you are trying to get the best possible OCR from a PDF that is not well-formed, and you are willing to accept some pages that may not visually match the input, and that may not OCR well.

Color conversion strategy

New in version 15.0.0.

OCRmyPDF uses Ghostscript to convert PDF to PDF/A. In some cases, this conversion requires color conversion. The default strategy is to convert using the LeaveColorUnchanged strategy, which preserves the original color space wherever possible (some rare color spaces might still be converted).

Usually document scanners produce PDFs in the sRGB color space, and do not need to be converted, so the default strategy is appropriate.

Suppose that you have a document that was prepared for professional printing in a Separation or CMYK color space, and text was converted to curves. In this case, you may want to use a different color conversion strategy. The --color-conversion-strategy option allows you to select a different strategy, such as RGB.

Return code policy

OCRmyPDF writes all messages to stderr. stdout is reserved for piping output files. stdin is reserved for piping input files.

The return codes generated by the OCRmyPDF are considered part of the stable user interface. They may be imported from ocrmypdf.exceptions.

Return codes






Everything worked as expected.



Invalid arguments, exited with an error.



The input file does not seem to be a valid PDF.



An external program required by OCRmyPDF is missing.



An output file was created, but it does not seem to be a valid PDF. The file will be available.



The user running OCRmyPDF does not have sufficient permissions to read the input file and write the output file.



The file already appears to contain text so it may not need OCR. See output message.



An error occurred in an external program (child process) and OCRmyPDF cannot continue.



The input PDF is encrypted. OCRmyPDF does not read encrypted PDFs. Use another program such as qpdf to remove encryption.



A custom configuration file was forwarded to Tesseract using --tesseract-config, and Tesseract rejected this file.



A valid PDF was created, PDF/A conversion failed. The file will be available.



Some other error occurred.



The program was interrupted by pressing Ctrl+C.

Changing temporary storage location

OCRmyPDF generates many temporary files during processing.

To change where temporary files are stored, change the TMPDIR environment variable for ocrmypdf’s environment. (Python’s tempfile.gettempdir() returns the root directory in which temporary files will be stored.) For example, one could redirect TMPDIR to a large RAM disk to avoid wear on HDD/SSD and potentially improve performance.

On Windows, the TEMP environment variable is used instead.

Debugging the intermediate files

OCRmyPDF normally saves its intermediate results to a temporary folder and deletes this folder when it exits, whether it succeeded or failed.

If the --keep-temporary-files (-k`) argument is issued on the command line, OCRmyPDF will keep the temporary folder and print the location, whether it succeeded or failed. An example message is:

Temporary working files retained at:

The organization of this folder is an implementation detail and subject to change between releases. However the general organization is that working files on a per page basis have the page number as a prefix (starting with page 1), an infix indicates the processing stage, and a suffix indicates the file type. Some important files include:

  • _rasterize.png - what the input page looks like

  • _ocr.png - the file that is sent to Tesseract for OCR; depending on arguments this may differ from the presentation image

  • _pp_deskew.png - the image, after deskewing

  • _pp_clean.png - the image, after cleaning with unpaper

  • _ocr_tess.pdf - the OCR file; appears as a blank page with invisible text embedded

  • _ocr_tess.txt - the OCR text (not necessarily all text on the page, if the page is mixed format)

  • fix_docinfo.pdf - a temporary file created to fix the PDF DocumentInfo data structure

  • graft_layers.pdf - the rendered PDF with OCR layers grafted on

  • pdfa.pdf - graft_layers.pdf after conversion to PDF/A

  • - a PostScript file used by Ghostscript for PDF/A conversion

  • optimize.pdf - the PDF generated before optimization

  • optimize.out.pdf - the PDF generated by optimization

  • origin - the input file

  • origin.pdf - the input file or the input image converted to PDF

  • images/* - images extracted during the optimization process; here the prefix indicates a PDF object ID not a page number