Copy text from images using an Android Phone or iPhone

OCR, optical character recognition, is so good these days that extracting text from images like photos is as easy as tapping a button or two on your phone. Copy text from photos and edit it.

There are many reasons why you might want to copy text out of a photo and signs and notices can easily be photographed on your phone and the text copied and pasted elsewhere. You can photograph documents, business cards, leaflets, posters, pamphlets, product packaging, and so on.

A phone is perfect for the job because it has good camera for taking photos and free software that can do the OCR and recognize text in images. In this guide I will be using Google Photos to extract text from images, but there are other apps available.

Google Photos is available on the iPhone and Android phones and works pretty much the same on both platforms. I am using a budget Android phone here, but the iPhone is good for this too.

1 Take or find a photo

Open Google Photos on your phone and browse your snapshots. Find a photograph that contains text. The example I am using contains very obvious text, but it need not be this big or this clear. You can even use a photo of an A4 document and copy the text from it.

A photo of a sign containing text
Google Photos

There are two buttons that could be used here and Google Photos has already noticed that the image contains recognizable text and it displays a large Copy text from image button. If the text was just a small part of the image, that button may not appear. In this case, tap the Lens button and the image is analyzed. It will then find the text.

2 Find and highlight text

Text recognition in Google Photos on an Android phone
Google Photos

What you see next depends on the photo. The whole text may be automatically selected or just part of it. Here you can see that Google Photos has found the text and highlighted a sentence in the middle. What if you want all the text?

3 Select the text

The text can be selected in the usual way phones do it. There is a blue blob at the start and end of the text selection, just drag them to select some or all of the text. There is a text snippet below the image.

Select text in an image in Google Photos
Google lens in Google Photos

Two buttons at the bottom enable the text in the image to be copied to the phone’s clipboard or the computer. The one you use depends on where you want to use the text and also if you are sitting at your computer or not. It’s no use copying it to your computer if you are not using it.

4 Open a notes app

Microsoft OneNote Sticky Notes on an Android phone
OneNote Quick Notes

Where do you want to save or use the text? Here I have opened Microsoft OneNote on the phone and then selected a new Quick Note. We could have copied the to Microsoft Word or any other app that you can paste text into

5 Paste the copied text

Microsoft OneNote Sticky Notes on an Android phone
OneNote Quick Notes

The text copied from the image is inserted into the note. A useful feature of OneNote Quick Notes is that they are synced with a PC and they appear on the desktop in the Sticky Notes app which is bundled with Windows. It even has the bullet points from the original text.

Windows Sticky Notes
Windows Sticky Notes

You can run also OneNote on a PC or Mac and access the notes that way, but there is an interesting alternative.

6 Copy image text to a computer

In step 3, there were options to Copy text or Copy to computer. If you choose Copy to computer, you will be shown a list of computers you use Chrome web browser on. A computer is listed as Active if it is powered up and Chrome is running. It is inactive if it is switched off or Chrome is not running. You can see in the screenshot that my HP Laptop Windows PC is active, but my Apple Mac is not.

Copy text from an image in Google Photos
Google Photos

Tap an active computer in the list of devices and the text copied from the image on your phone is copied to the computer’s clipboard, Mac or PC. From there it can be pasted into anything that accepts text.

7 Save copied text on a computer

Windows Notepad
Windows Notepad

The text copied from the photo on the phone is now on the Windows or macOS clipboard, depending on which computer you select. It can then be pasted into any app you want. Here I pasted it into Windows Notepad, but the image text could have been pasted just as easily into Microsoft Word, Apple Pages or some other application that handles text. It even has the bullet points.

The text from a simple sign was copied to Windows Notepad and Sticky Notes, but it is just as easy to copy more complex and longer text, such as documents,, business cards, leaflets, posters and so on. The text can be pasted into an app on the phone or the computer.

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