How to Copy Text from a Photo, Image or Live Camera View

Did you know that you can copy and paste text from a photo or screenshot? You can do this on your iPhone, iPad or Mac from the Photos app and in Preview on Mac. On your iPhone, you can also use your Camera to capture text without even taking a photo. This even works for handwritten text. This feature is called Live Text and became available with iOS 15 and macOS Monterey. With Live Text, you can do the following:

  • Take a photo of something written on a piece of paper or on a whiteboard for example and then copy and paste the text into another app. How well this works for handwritten text of course depends on the handwriting.
  • Capture text information from a poster, sign or anywhere else you can read text using your iPhone’s Camera app.
  • Take a screenshot on any of your devices and later copy text from the screenshot and paste it into another app.

How to grab text from the iPhone Camera view

In order to use Live Text to capture text using the iPhone Camera app, you must have an iPhone XS or XR or later and be running iOS 15 or later. There are many options available for what you can do with the text captured by your camera. You can:

  • Copy text, to paste it elsewhere. Using Universal Clipboard, you can paste it on another Apple device.
  • Select All of the text in the view.
  • Look Up the text. This will show you either a dictionary entry or some Siri-suggested websites.
  • Translate the text. You will be able to choose the language to which you wish to translate.
  • Share the text.

To use Live Text:

  1. Open your Camera app on your iPhone.
  2. Make sure you are in Photo mode.
  3. Arrange the text in the view and tap to focus, if necessary.
  4. You will see the text surrounded by a yellow-cornered rectangle.
  5. Press the small image in the lower-right (or top-right, depending on your iPhone’s orientation) portion of the view window. The image looks like a depiction of text inside a rectangle.
live text selected in camera view
  1. You will see an options menu appear with the Copy, Select All, Look Up, Translate and Share options.
  2. If the text contains an email address, web address or phone number, you have other functions available:
    • Email address – You can tap on the email address to open Mail and begin writing an email to that address.
    • Website – If you tap on the web address in the text, Safari will open that site.
    • Phone number – Tap on the phone number to bring up a menu. This menu will have different options depending on if the number is from someone in your Contacts. You will see an option to call or message the number and if the number is in your contacts, you may see options to FaceTime Video, FaceTime Audio or email that contact.
live text in camera app with phone number

How to copy typed or handwritten text from an image

On iPhone or iPad

  1. Open an image in Photos or use Preview in the Files app on your iPhone or iPad.
  2. Press on the text to highlight it and bring up a menu of options.
  3. The options you see will be the same as in the section above: Copy, Select All, Look Up, Translate and Share.

On Mac

  1. Open an image in Photos or Preview on your Mac. You can open an image file using Preview from Finder.
  2. Hover the cursor near the text until you see the “I bar” appear indicating that you can select text, then click and drag to highlight as you would in another app. Right-click or Controlclick the highlighted text to bring up an options menu.
  3. The options you see will be the same as in the section above: Copy, Select All, Look Up, Translate and Share.

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Dr. Stacey Butler is a tech writer at macReports covering news, how-tos, and user guides. She is a longtime Mac and iPhone user and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Here is her LinkedIn profile.

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