How to Make a PDF Searchable in 2022

Published on: December 9, 2021
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Learn how to make PDF text searchable, selectable, and copy/pastable.

If you’ve wanted to search, select, copy or paste text in a PDF but were unable to, it means that your PDF wasn’t searchable.

This guide is meant to help you learn how to easily make your PDFs searchable.

We’ve provided a few alternative methods below.

What is a Searchable PDF?

By “searchable” PDF, we’re referring to a PDF document with text that you’re able to select, search, copy, and paste.

You may have noticed that some PDFs are searchable while others are not.

Why Are Some PDFs Not Searchable?

To understand why some PDFs have searchable text, while others do not, let’s explore the different types of PDFs you may encounter.

The 3 Different Types of PDF Files

1. Text-based PDFs: Text-based PDFs are created when saving the document directly as a PDF from a word processor such as Microsoft Word, or similar applications.

2. Image-based PDFs: Image PDFs are created through scanning paper documents, taking photographs, screenshots, and the like. So rather than typed text in the document, it’s simply an image of the text. Thus the text won't be searchable, selected, or copy and pasted.

3. OCR PDFs: OCR PDFs are image-based PDFs that have been turned into text-based PDFs. Thus making them fully text-searchable. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is used to read the image of the text and add a layer of real text on top, thus converting the document to a text-based PDF.

Note: In order to perform Optical Character Recognition on a PDF file, you will need special software. However, any PDF that has had OCR performed on it can be read by any PDF reader.

How to Find Out if Your PDF is Searchable

To figure out if you PDF is searchable or not, open your PDF and try searching or selecting text with your keyboard or mouse.

If you can select or highlight text, then your then your PDF is searchable.

If you can't then it means your PDF is not searchable.

How to Make a PDF Searchable (Without Adobe)

The easiest way to make a PDF searchable without Adobe is with PDF Pro + OCR! It’s our affordable All-in-One Adobe alternative, with state-of-the-art OCR and text recognition capabilities.

1. Open your PDF document in PDF Pro.

Open Sample PDF highlighted in PDF Pro.

2. Press the OCR tab.

OCR tab with a red box around it in PDF Pro.

3. Click Current file.

OCR Current file button with a red box around it.

4. In the dialog box, specify settings (page range, languages, recognition mode) making sure to select Searchable text.

OCR dialog box with Searchable text radio button selected and highlighted.

5. Once ready, press Run.

OCR dialog box with Run button highlighted

Your PDF is now searchable! You can now select, search, copy, paste the text from the PDF.

How to Convert a Scanned Paper Document or Image into a Searchable PDF

Once again, we’ll be using PDF Pro to demonstrate how to easily make scanned documents and images into searchable PDF.

We'll provide two methods. Both will provide the same result.

Method 1:

1. Open PDF Pro.

2. Click the OCR tab.

OCR tab with a red box around it in PDF Pro.

3. Press From file.

OCR From file button with a red box around it in PDF Pro.

4. Find, select, and open your scanned document.

5. Select Searchable text in the dialog box.

OCR dialog box with Searchable text radio button selected and highlighted.

6. Press Run.

OCR dialog box with Run button highlighted

Your document is now a searchable PDF!

Method 2:

1. Open PDF Pro.

2. Click the Create tab.

Create tab with a red box around it in PDF Pro.

3. Press Create from file.

Create from file button with a red box around it in PDF Pro.

4. Press Add files.

Add files buttons with red boxes around them in the Create PDF Files dialog box.

5. Find and select your document or image, then press Open to convert it into a PDF.

Open button highlighted in Add files dialog box.

6. Press Create.

Create button highlighted in Create PDF Files dialog box.

7. Press the OCR tab.

OCR tab with a red box around it in PDF Pro.

8. Press Current file.

OCR Current file button with a red box around it in PDF Pro.

9. Specify settings, such as Searchable text.

OCR dialog box with Searchable text radio button selected and highlighted.

10. Press Run.

OCR dialog box with Run button highlighted

Your PDF is now a text-searchable PDF.

How to Convert a Word Document into a Searchable PDF

To convert a Word document to a searchable PDF, we'll take advantage of Microsoft Word's Save As PDF feature:

1. Open the Word document.

2. Click File.

File tab in Word with a red box around it.

3. Press Save As.

Save As button in Word highlighted.

4. Press Browse.

Browse button highlighted in Word.

5. Scroll and select PDF.

PDF selected from the dropdown menu of the Save As dialog box in Word.

6. Click Save.

Save button highlighted in Save As dialog box of PDF Pro.

To convert a Word document to a searchable PDF without having Word installed:

1. Upload your Word document to Google drive.

Screenshot of Google Drive, showing a Word document.

2. Open your document in Google Drive/Google Docs.

Open Word document with Google Docs.

3. Go to File, scroll down to Download.

Download option from File menu highlighted highlighted in Google Docs.

4. Select download as a PDF Document (.pdf).

PDF Document highlighted as file type to download from Google Docs.

How to Make a PDF Searchable in Adobe Acrobat

Please note that you will need a full subscription to Adobe Acrobat Pro DC to be able to make a PDF text-searchable. Adobe Reader will not be enough.

  1. Open Adobe Acrobat on your computer.
  2. Click Open.
  3. Find and select the document you want to make searchable, then click Open.
  4. Head to Tools and select Recognize Text.
  5. Press PDF Output Style Searchable Image.
  6. Then select OK.

FAQ

Can I Make a PDF Searchable with Adobe Acrobat Reader?

No, you will need to use PDF software with OCR technology, which Reader does not have.

If you need to convert your PDFs to text today, download PDF Pro for free or Buy Now.

PDF Pro + OCR is our All-in-One PDF converter, creator, editor, OCR, and more. Convert any Microsoft Office program into PDF format, quickly and accurately.

We use world-class OCR technology to allow you to easily scan documents to text, convert PDFs to text, and more!

Find out what else PDF Pro can help you do:

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Arron StaradubDigital Marketing Specialist
Arron is a Digital Marketer at PDF Pro, where he writes helpful and engaging articles for those that that use PDFs in their daily life. He has a knack for explaining concepts in an easily understandable way. He also loves reading and drinking too much coffee.