Readiris Pro 12 offers several compelling reasons to upgrade from your basic, free OCR software.

Like the typical standalone scanner, an OCR (optical character recognition) software package may no longer be a tempting purchase in its own right, at least as far as the casual user is concerned. That's mainly because, if you buy a Multifunction device or a standalone scanner, you'll probably get OCR software thrown in for free.

However, even if you've been provided with a title from the market leader, Readiris, you may find it pays not to rely on free versions. These will probably be cut-down or older editions, and they may well lack some of the more advanced features and improved character recognition of, for example, Readiris' brand new Version 12.

Readiris Pro 12 takes mere seconds to install. You're then asked to choose a scanner from the list. Our Epson Perfection V30 wasn't on the list, so we had to choose one of the generic Epson drivers. An initial incorrect choice resulted in rather abysmal levels of recognition (particularly when using the scanner in colour mode), so it's important to take care to select the right model wherever possible.

An OCR Wizard can guide you through a series of stages, carefully setting up your scanner and recommending appropriate settings for your project. This does help shorten the learning curve for OCR novices. In reality though, if you're looking to get the best results and accuracy from this program, you'll be eager to get to grips with Readiris Pro 12's many features and settings.

The standard ReadIris interface is quite fast and slick once you get used to it. SmartTasks pop up in the middle of the window, allowing you to perform a series of operations (Scan to Word or OpenOffice, for example, or Archiving as a PDF) at the touch of a single button. For most users, these will quickly become the first port of call.

In the case of our Epson, it took around 15 seconds to scan an A4 page. Readiris Pro 12 turns the scan into a number of windows, separating paragraphs from images. You can inspect these (using the dinky magnifying glass tool for close-ups if needed) and make any necessary changes (such as rotating and deskewing). Windows can also be redrawn or amended, and several different types of window can be used depending upon the content.

Handwriting can be recognised and converted into text, but the success of this will depend very much upon the clarity of your writing - our scrawl wasn't meet with universal comprehension by Readiris Pro 12. Where writing confounds, that part of the document can be treated as a standard image instead.

With complex documents, you may have to spend a bit of time experimenting with different types of window in order to get the best results. However, it only takes a couple of seconds for the program to convert the scan into, for example, a Word file, so trying out the options shouldn't prove too time consuming.

Once we had the right scanner driver, the results were quite accurate, at least with simple source material. A page of printed text was, in essence, flawless. A feature on bullfighting from The Spectator (consisting of three columns of text) was also well done, with even the Spanish phrases (complete with accents) perfectly reproduced.

More intricate source material caused problems though. A review page from the Sunday Times, for instance, had plenty of mistakes. The main text was generally okay, although Martin Chuzzlewit's surname was turned into Chuzzlebit, and the rather erratic spacing (regularly a feature of newspapers) caused a few words to run together.

The information box (which uses several different fonts in a small space) was fairly unsuccessful, and even splitting this into a number of separate windows failed to result in accurate reproduction of many of the lines. Large headings, in general, are a problem, with many words frequently misspelled.

Readiris Pro 12 can struggle with certain letters (a lower-case 'l' was often converted into L, even when in the middle of a word, while the letter 'j' could also cause problems), and numbers were occasionally incorrect. And in a science article, 10 to the power of 11 was turned into 1011.

Readiris also sometimes struggles with justified margins, and there would often be large gaps at the ends of lines that weren't found in the original documents. Most of these points, though, are a touch finnicky, and the software can be trained to cut out certain types of mistake. But compared to older OCR packages, Readiris Pro 12 has very good accuracy, particularly if you're using it with fairly straightforward documents. It can also handle over 120 languages, and certainly the French and German articles that we scanned seemed accurately reproduced.