In Ubuntu 12.10, if I type

gnome-screenshot -a | tesseract output

it returns:

** Message: Unable to use GNOME Shell's builtin screenshot interface, resorting to fallback X11.

How can I select a text from the screen and convert it to text (clipboard or document)?

Thank you!

  • You get that error using only gnome-screenshot -a? Also why you pipe the output to tesseract? If i'm not wrong gnome-screenshot saves the picture on a file, and does not "print" it... – Salem Apr 12 '13 at 14:04
  • Warning should be harmless if I look through bugzilla. Question: what is the auto-save-directory? And did it drop anything in there? Interesting link: forums.debian.net/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=85683 – Rinzwind Apr 12 '13 at 14:04
  • gnome-screenchot -a -c is supposed to copy selection to clipboard,isnt it?. but piping it to tesseract gives the same error. the default directory is home/pictures (works well). – Erling Apr 12 '13 at 14:39
  • 1
    Just done this using gnome-screenshot - I then had to edit the files to decrease the colour depth from 16m to 2 (it was black text on white background, but with today's fancy font smoothing and so-on, it wasn't really black) I then had to scale the image up to 200% of the original before I got an accurate OCR from tesseract - but it worked really well once I'd done that. – user192591 Sep 13 '13 at 11:01
  • @SteveLake Hey Steve, thanks for the suggestion. I edited the script to programmatically modify the image in the way you described before OCRing it. Detection rate should now be much better. – Glutanimate Sep 13 '13 at 14:48

Maybe there is already some tool that does that, but you can also create a simple script with some screenshot tool and tesseract, as you are trying to use.

Take as an example this script (in my system I saved it as /usr/local/bin/screen_ts):

# Dependencies: tesseract-ocr imagemagick scrot

select tesseract_lang in eng rus equ ;do break;done
# Quick language menu, add more if you need other languages.

trap "rm $SCR_IMG*" EXIT

scrot -s $SCR_IMG.png -q 100 
# increase quality with option -q from default 75 to 100
# Typo "$SCR_IMG.png000" does not continue with same name.

mogrify -modulate 100,0 -resize 400% $SCR_IMG.png 
#should increase detection rate

tesseract $SCR_IMG.png $SCR_IMG &> /dev/null
cat $SCR_IMG.txt

And with clipboard support:

# Dependencies: tesseract-ocr imagemagick scrot xsel

select tesseract_lang in eng rus equ ;do break;done
# quick language menu, add more if you need other languages.

trap "rm $SCR_IMG*" EXIT

scrot -s $SCR_IMG.png -q 100    
# increase image quality with option -q from default 75 to 100

mogrify -modulate 100,0 -resize 400% $SCR_IMG.png 
#should increase detection rate

tesseract $SCR_IMG.png $SCR_IMG &> /dev/null
cat $SCR_IMG.txt | xsel -bi


It uses scrot to take the screen, tesseract to recognize the text and cat to display the result. The clipboard version additionally utilizes xsel to pipe the output into the clipboard.

sample usage

NOTE: scrot, xsel, imagemagick and tesseract-ocr are not installed by default but are available from the the default repositories.

You may be able to replace scrot with gnome-screenshot, but it may take a lot of work. Regarding the output you can use anything that can read a text file (open with Text Editor, show the recognized text as a notification, etc).

GUI version of the script

Here's a simple graphical version of the OCR script including a language selection dialog:

# DEPENDENCIES: tesseract-ocr imagemagick scrot yad
# AUTHOR:       Glutanimate 2013 (http://askubuntu.com/users/81372/)
# NAME:         ScreenOCR
# BASED ON:     OCR script by Salem (http://askubuntu.com/a/280713/81372)

TITLE=ScreenOCR # set yad variables

# - tesseract won't work if LC_ALL is unset so we set it here
# - you might want to delete or modify this line if you 
#   have a different locale:

export LC_ALL=en_US.UTF-8

# language selection dialog
LANG=$(yad \
    --width 300 --entry --title "$TITLE" \
    --image=$ICON \
    --window-icon=$ICON \
    --button="ok:0" --button="cancel:1" \
    --text "Select language:" \
    --entry-text \
    "eng" "ita" "deu")

# - You can modify the list of available languages by editing the line above
# - Make sure to use the same ISO codes tesseract does (man tesseract for details)
# - Languages will of course only work if you have installed their respective
#   language packs (https://code.google.com/p/tesseract-ocr/downloads/list)

RET=$? # check return status

if [ "$RET" = 252 ] || [ "$RET" = 1 ]  # WM-Close or "cancel"

echo "Language set to $LANG"

SCR_IMG=$(mktemp) # create tempfile
trap "rm $SCR_IMG*" EXIT # make sure tempfiles get deleted afterwards

scrot -s "$SCR_IMG".png -q 100 #take screenshot of area
mogrify -modulate 100,0 -resize 400% "$SCR_IMG".png # postprocess to prepare for OCR
tesseract -l "$LANG" "$SCR_IMG".png "$SCR_IMG" # OCR in given language
xsel -bi < "$SCR_IMG".txt # pass to clipboard

Aside from the dependencies listed above you will need to install the Zenity fork YAD from the webupd8 PPA to make the script work.

  • works greate in terminal! thank you! I want to screencopy codetext from tutorials for testing. How to use scrot to clipboard? – Erling Apr 12 '13 at 15:07
  • 1
    what happens with the tempfiles? – Erling Apr 12 '13 at 15:18
  • 1
    The tempfiles stay there until you reboot your computer. If that is a problem to you, you can just delete them at the end (rm $SCR_IMG.png $SCR_IMG.txt). – Salem Apr 12 '13 at 15:27
  • 1
    scrot by itself can't use the clipboard. But there are tools like xclip or xsel that may do what you need if it is to copy/paste text. – Salem Apr 12 '13 at 15:28
  • 1
    Adding to Salem's answer: If you're running KDE then you can call another script to automatically send the text you've generated to the clipboard, ready to paste. You'll find a suitable script here. Follow the instructions on that page to install that script. Then all you need to is add | clipboard to the end of the final line of Salem's script. – Chris Jun 17 '13 at 18:59

I created a free and open source program for this purpose:


enter image description here

  • 1
    Awesome tool, solved my problem. I did have to compile from source to get it to work on Ubuntu 18, but it was very straightforward - just install dependencies, and run cmake. Then just use the hot key to start the selection, hot key to end, and you've got the text in history! – Sasha Pachev Feb 21 '20 at 19:38

Don't know if any one need my solution. Here is one that runs with wayland.

It shows the character-recognition in a Text-Editor and if you add the paramter "yes" you got the translation from the goggle trans tool (Internet connection is mandatory) Before you can use it install tesseract-ocr imagemagick and google-trans. Start the script i.e. in gnome with Alt+F2 when you see your text that you want to recognize. Move the courser arround the text. Thats it. This script was testetd only for gnome. For other window manager it musst be accommodate. To translate the text in other languages replace the language ID in line 25.

# Dependencies: tesseract-ocr imagemagick google-trans


trap "rm $SCR_IMG*" EXIT

gnome-screenshot -a -f $SCR_IMG.png  
# increase quality with option -q from default 75 to 100
# Typo "$SCR_IMG.png000" does not continue with same name.

mogrify -modulate 100,0 -resize 400% $SCR_IMG.png 
#should increase detection rate

tesseract $SCR_IMG.png $SCR_IMG &> /dev/null

if [ $translate = "yes" ] ; then

        trans :de file://$SCR_IMG.txt -o $SCR_IMG.translate.txt
        gnome-text-editor $SCR_IMG.translate.txt
        gnome-text-editor $SCR_IMG.txt


I just done a blogging about how to use screenshot in modern day. Even though i target Chinese but the screen cast and code is in english. OCR is merely one of the feature.

Feature for my OCR:

  • Open in konsole+vimx OR gedit to further edit.

  • For vimx+english, enable spelling checking.

  • Support dynamic language selection without hard code.

  • Progress dialog when converting and tesseracting which is slow.

Function code:

function ocr () {
    atom="$(tesseract --list-langs 2>&1)"; atom=(`echo "${atom#*:}"`); atom=(`echo "$(printf 'FALSE\n%s\n' "${atom[@]}")"`); atom[0]='True'
    ans=(`yad --center --height=200 --width=300 --separator='|' --on-top --list --title '' --text='Select Languages:' --radiolist --column '✓' --column 'Languages' "${atom[@]}" 2>/dev/null`) && ans="$(echo "${ans:5:-1}")" &&  convert "$tmpj[x2000]" -unsharp 15.6x7.8+2.69+0 "$tmpocr_p" | yad --on-top --title '' --text='Converting ...' --progress --pulsate --auto-close 2>/dev/null && tesseract "$tmpocr_p" "$tmpocr" -l "$ans" 2>>/tmp/tesseract.log | yad --percentage=50 --on-top --title '' --text='Tesseracting ...' --progress --pulsate --auto-close 2>/dev/null && if [[ "$ans" == 'eng' ]]; then konsole -e "vimx -c 'setlocal spell spelllang=en_us' -n $tmpocr.txt" 2>/dev/null; else gedit "$tmpocr.txt"; fi
    rm "$tmpocr_p"

Caller code:

for cmd in "mktemp" "convert" "tesseract" "gedit" "konsole" "vimx" "yad"; do 
    command -v $cmd >/dev/null 2>&1 || {  LANG=POSIX; xmessage "Require $cmd but it's not installed.  Aborting." >&2; exit 1; }; :;
tmpj="$(mktemp /tmp/`date +"%s_%Y-%m-%d"`_XXXXXXXXXX.png)"
tmpocr="$(mktemp -u /tmp/`date +"%s_%Y-%m-%d"`_ocr_XXXXX)"
gnome-screenshot -a -f "$tmpj" 2>&1 >/dev/null | ts >>/tmp/gnome_area_PrtSc_error.log
ocr $tmpj $tmpocr $tmpocr_p &

Combine this 2 code in single shell script to run.

Screenshot 1: enter image description here

Screenshot 2: enter image description here

  • seems like a decent solution but the readability of your script is very bad – ukos Feb 15 '18 at 0:27

The idea is anytime a new screenshot files appear in the folder run tesseract OCR on it and open in a file editor.

You can leave this running script in the output directory of your favorite screen shot output directory

#cat wait_for_it.sh
inotifywait -m . -e create -e moved_to |
    while read path action file; do
        echo "The file '$file' appeared in directory '$path' via '$action'"
        cd "$path"
        if [ ${file: -4} == ".png" ]; then
                tesseract "$file" "$file"
                sleep 1
                gedit "$file".txt &


You will need this to be istalled

sudo apt install tesseract-ocr
sudo apt install inotify-tools

This single line script (based on https://askubuntu.com/a/1084151/456438) is to be used with a keyboard shortcut, so that you can ocr anywhere in the screen without having to open a terminal, just as illustrated in this image.

usage example

# Dependencies: convert imagemagick xsel tesseract-ocr-fra [tesseract-ocr-jpn ...]  

convert x: -modulate 100,0 -resize 400% -set density 300 png:- |
  tesseract stdin stdout -l fra+eng+jpn --psm 3 | 
  sed 's/'$(printf '%b' '\014')'//g;s/|/I/g' | 
  xsel -bi

Change the --psm and -l options as needed. Examples:

  • --psm 10 is for an image with a single character
  • --psm 3 is the default.
  • -l fra+eng+jpn will first consider French, then English, then Japanese.

Adapt the sed post processing to your need. sed 's/'$(printf '%b' '\014')'//g;s/|/I/g' removes the Form Feed character (octal 014) and replaces the vertical bar "|" with "I".

Use the standard instructions https://help.ubuntu.com/stable/ubuntu-help/keyboard-shortcuts-set.html.en to create a keyboard shortcut that will execute the script. Put the script in ~/bin or anywhere in your path environment variable to avoid using the full path to your script.

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