So you finally figured you need a way to automatically mark exams or surveys? You may have already read about OMR (short for Optical Mark Recognition or Optical Mark Reading) which is the process of computerized imaging equipment detecting marks made on paper forms used.
OMR is not a new technology, it has become widely used since the 1960s. The 1990s introduced a lot of changes in both cost of and features associated with OMR. Notably, the 90's saw the adoption of OMR software over the traditional OMR reader. While they both achieve the same basic purpose, OMR reader solutions are completely different from OMR software / scanner solutions. You should be well informed of what the differences are before making a decision to purchase one or the other.
Once an extremely expensive machine, the OMR reader has become much cheaper over the years and is now quite affordable for most organizations. The most important point for people to remember with OMR readers is that they are NOT image scanners. OMR readers consist of a number of LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes), often between 40-50 of them which shine reflected beams of light toward forms passed through them at a timed speed. The reflection of this light helps sensors in the OMR reader determine if marks have been placed in the form's "bubbles". Most OMR readers read forms that are professionally printed and contain "timing tracks" that assist the reader in determining which row of bubbles the machine is reading. OMR readers can also have adaptors for barcode detection to help assist in the automation process of matching form responses to their responder.
- OMR readers can have the ability to have separate hoppers for automatically rejected forms.
- You can pack more bubbles into an OMR reader form than one read by OMR software as most OMR software applications use silhouette extraction and are sensitive to closely located objects.
- Faster when compared to low-end document scanners.
- While speed was once the biggest benefit of OMR readers, high-end document scanners such as the Canon DR-X10C have recently caught up to the speed of OMR readers for a similar price. Hence, speed is not always a benefit of OMR readers.
- OMR readers are still considerably more expensive than a document scanner / software solution.
- OMR readers can not record handwritten (ICR) or typed data (OCR).
- OMR reader forms are not as customizable as software forms.
- You can not easily print your own customized forms as the bubbles may not always line up with the timing tracks and columns. Usually requires you to purchase OMR forms.
- You do not get a digitized copy of the form.
- Can not automatically de-skew forms. Forms must be fed in straight.
- Can not read pen marks without an ink reader or paying more money for support that is built-in.
- Can not read barcodes without adding a barcode adaptor or paying more money for one that is built-in.
Best suited for:
- Large scale OMR projects where you do not want to sort through unrecognized pages.
- People who want high density mark forms.
- People who already have an existing OMR reader and do not want to re-train staff to use OMR software.
Software based OMR requires an image scanner to work. That is, OMR software extracts mark data from computer images such as TIFF files. An image scanner is generally a flatbed scanner or document scanner. Some OMR software applications can also read data from images taken by digital cameras and fax machines. Please note that the features and implementation of OMR software applications vary greatly, you will also need to compare these when selecting an OMR software application.
- Forms are customizable and interchangeable when scanning.
- Image scanners can be used for more than just OMR scanning.
- OMR software forms do not need to be as exact in alignment as OMR reader forms.
- Can optionally read barcodes, handwritten information (ICR) and typed information (OCR).
- Allows you to keep a digitized copy of the form.
- Cheaper than OMR readers.
- Can optionally automatically de-skew. Forms can be automatically rotated to make the images straight.
- Can read blue pen and pencil easily.
- Can read any barcode type the OMR software supports.
- Better automation with automatic ID generation / reconciliation and form personalization.
- Cheaper document scanners can only hold small amounts of paper (between 50-100 pages)
- Cheaper document scanners have low duty cycles (around 3000 pages per day)
- Can not put bubbles as close together as OMR reader forms.
- Can not physically sort unrecognized documents.
Best suited for:
- Everyone except the cases stated above.
OMR software has consumed a lot of the OMR hardware market in the last decade because of its flexibility and power. However, a market still exists for OMR readers and will continue to do so until low-end document scanners catch up to the speed of the average OMR reader. It will also exist until someone develops a way to automatically sort forms that are unrecognized. The best advice if you are looking at OMR readers is to determine if you are one of the people who it is best suited to. Also, compare prices of OMR readers for the number of forms you want to process versus the cost of one or more document scanners that have an appropriate speed and duty cycle combined with a decent OMR software system.