The problem: I had stacks of business cards in my desk drawer that I’d been given over the past two years in Tokyo. I’d typically collected them in batches at events, and for the vast majority I’d never made the time to sit down and transfer all the the contact info into my address book.

About 8 weeks ago I quit my full time job and went freelance. As a result of this I’ve been a lot more communicative with my local network, and have found myself shuffling through hundreds of cards to find various key people whom I now see opportunities to work with.

I’m also a digital media storage junkie, wanting all my data backed up and searchable wherever I am. I like physical business cards and don’t want to see the end of them, but I also want the information contained on them in a digital format.

However, I also know that I will probably only ever use the contact details on a small proportion of all of those cards, so I don’t want to spend hours digitising them, and am not too fussed if they’re in separate database instead of my Address Book.

If I only had a few cards I would try Cardsnap Lite Business Card Scanner for the iPhone (what I will probably use from now on following meetings etc for non-Japanese cards) which can be used to get info directly into your Addressbook within 24 hours or so.

Evernote fits the bill perfectly for the task at hand. Using a standard Epson flatbed scanner and Epson Scan (or Image Capture), I can scan about 12 cards at once. I lay them out in position, do an initial Overview scan, set the scan areas (one image per card) and then just replace the cards and scan again.

I set the destination for the image files as the Evernote app (in which I have a ‘Business Card’ notebook). The cards then pop up as new notes one-by-one; there’s just enough time between cards to add tags such as ‘Media’ ‘Publishing’, Met at Twitter Tweetup’ etc.

Evernote’s OCR engine takes care of the rest, reading all the text in both English and Japanese, making them all searchable. (Note that OCR does not take place locally – you need to sync to the Evernote server where the images are processed and then data sent back to your local app, read here for more info). The accuracy of the OCR in both languages is pretty incredible – and quite fast too. I don’t bother rename the notes (which are named  ‘scan 1.jpg, scan2.jpg etc by the scanner), as the names on the cards are all searchable.

I’m delighted by the speed with which I was able to digitise several hundred cards. Having the pro-version of Evernote I’m able to keep a local copy of the database on my iPhone too (although you can still search notes with a free account, then download the note you need).

Basically, this was a quick, affordable (i.e. just a few hours of my time) method of dealing with a chore that has been hanging over me for many months.

Hurrah for Evernote – proving to be well worth the cost of the pro version (which I actually only bought because I wanted to support the company… the free account would be perfectly adequate for most people I would imagine).


p.s. There is a business card app that has Evernote integration – Business Card Manager – but to be honest it’s a waste of money as you have to manually enter all the contact info yourself – might as well just use the iPhone’s Addressbook or send a photo of the card via email to your Evernote account.


@jonnyli has pointed out that Evernote has a partnership deal with Shoeboxed for scanning business cards etc. Unfortunately it’ll cost you – from $9.95 per month for 50 cards (so not what you need if you want to make digital copies of an existing pile of cards). Also note that Shoeboxed does not support Japanese OCR.

4 Responses

  1. Thanks Seth.
    The app does look excellent, with all the features you could want. Having all my cards in Evernote now I could sync and have them scanned by the app.

    …or so you’d think from watching their video. Having just bought and tried the app on about 10 cards I’m very disappointed. Extremely poor recognition on any cards except the included samples! Most of the text it came up with was complete rubbish. It even had problems with phone numbers.

    I wouldn’t expect it do very well as it’s trying to do in-app OCR.

    Also, it would only import 50 notes from Evernote.

    For the time being I’d say give this app a miss.

  2. Many thanks for this Joseph.

    I’ve been searching for a method to digitise my card collection on and off for the past couple of years. Its really frustrating going somewhere and not being able to remember who it was you met there a couple of years ago or bought some goods from, and of course carrying the cards with you is a burden.

    I hope to get my (100 or so!) cards scanned in as soon as possible. Until now I was debating buying a card scanner which would sit unused once the project was complete… What with a flatbed scanner sitting at home practically unused I didn’t really want to invest.

    May I suggest using a cardboard template when scanning? I saw this mentioned somewhere and would make the job of aligning the cards much easier, if it is made of black card it would also ease the selection process. It would just take a bit of time to cut out for first use and then could be stored alongside the scanner (or on the glass as the scanner is so little used!).

    Once again many thanks… 😉