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4 Best Ways: How to Recognize Text in PDF

November 3, 2022
Last Updated
March 14, 2024
4 min read
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Being able to select, copy, paste, and search for text in a PDF is some of the most useful features of PDF documents in the first place.

So having a PDF where you can't recognize the text can be frustrating and time-consuming. Especially if the only alternative is to rewrite the entire text.

Recognizing text in PDFs is what allows us to edit, search, highlight, and interact with the text in a PDF document.

Some PDFs already have recognizable text, while others do not.

If your PDF doesn't, then this is the guide for you!

We've compiled the most reliable, most popular, and most free ways to recognize text in PDFs, so you can do more with them.

Read on to continue, or use our Table of Contents and jump right to the section you need!

What to Know Before You Start

  • Some PDFs are text-based (which have editable and searchable text), while other PDFs are image-based (which are just pictures of the document, rather than actual text).
  • To recognize text in PDFs you'll need a technology called Optical Character Recognition (OCR), which turns image-based PDFs into text that you can edit.
  • The best way recognize text in a PDF is by using a PDF editor with OCR, which will instantly perform OCR and the edit PDFs in just a few clicks.

What Does Recognizing Text in a PDF Mean?

Simply put, there are two types of PDFs:

1. Text-based PDFs

2. Image-based PDFs

Image-based PDFs are PDFs that have been created from pictures or images. While they may show text in the document, it is essentially a picture, and you won't be able to edit, search for, or interact with any of the text in the PDF.

On the other hand, text-based PDFs are documents that originally had text, and were then converted to PDF format. Examples of this include Word documents that are exported to PDF. Since text-based PDFs have actual text, a PDF editor will be able to interact with the text within the document.

If you are trying to edit or search for text within a PDF document, the PDF will need to be text-based, or turned into one.

How do I tell if my PDF is text-based or image-based?

The easiest way to tell is by trying to select or highlight the text with your mouse. If you can't select any of the text, it means that your PDF is image-based.

How to Recognize Text in PDF with a PDF Editor (Recommended)

The most reliable way to recognize text in a PDF is by using a PDF editor with OCR. OCR instantly converts text from images and image-based PDFs, into real text that you can edit, search, and interact with.

Our recommended PDF editor is PDF Pro + OCR: our all-in-one PDF editor, creator, converter, merger, and OCR tool. We like it because it's easy to use, affordable, yet powerful. But these steps will be similar on the PDF editor of your choice.

Don’t have a PDF editor? Download PDF Pro for free today!

1. Open the PDF in PDF Pro.

PDF Pro Open button highlighted.

2. Click OCR tab > Current file.

PDF Pro's OCR tab. The "Current File" button is highlighted.

3. Select Editable text or Searchable text (depending on your needs), then press Run.

PDF Pro's OCR tab. The Editable Text radio button and the Run button is highlighted.

That's it! It's as easy as 1, 2, 3!

Your PDF now has text that you can interact with, edit, search, and more.

How to Recognize Text in PDF with Adobe Acrobat

Please note that this method will only with with Adobe Acrobat (Adobe's PDF editing software). This will not work with Adobe Reader, which is just Adobe's program for opening and viewing PDF files.

Adobe Acrobat requires a subscription to use, and is often a bit over-kill with too many buttons, popups, and a bit of a learning curve.

  1. Open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat.
  2. Tools.
  3. Recognize text.
  4. In This File.
  5. OK.

How to Recognize Text in PDF in Microsoft Word

If you have access to Microsoft Word, you can use it to recognize text in a PDF document. Please note that this method isn't perfect, since OCR is not the main job of Word. This method is prone to spacing and formatting issues, which is why it works better on PDFs that don't have many images. But this method can be useful in a pinch.

Rather than converting your PDF into one with OCR performed on it, this method will result in a brand new PDF file with recognizable text within it.

1. Launch Microsoft Word.

2. Press Open > Browse.

Word Open context menu. The Browse files button is highlighted.

3. Find & Open the PDF file.

Microsoft Word Open dialog box. A PDF titled "Employee Evaluation Form" is selected. The Open button is highlighted.

4. Press Ok.

Microsoft Word's PDF to Word document conversion dialog box. The OK button is highlighted.

5. Press File > Export > Create PDF/XPS file.

Word Create PDF/XPS button highlighted. There's an orange arrow pointing to the button from the Export button.

6. Name and Publish your new PDF document.

Publish as PDF or XPS dialog box with the Publish button highlighted.

You now have a new PDF document with recognizable text!

How to Recognize Text in PDF in Google Docs (Free)

Google Docs, like Word, can be used in a pinch to recognize text in PDF documents. This Google Docs method has many of the same drawbacks as the Word method, such as being prone to formatting & spacing issues, and working better on PDFs without many (or any) images.

Like the Word method, this method will result in a new PDF with recognizable text being created.

  1. Upload the PDF to Google Drive.
  2. Open the PDF in Google Docs. (Double-click PDF > Open with Google Docs).
  3. Press File > Download > As PDF (.pdf).

You now have a PDF document with recognizable text!

OCR Recognize Text in Any PDF!

If you're in a pinch and need a free way to recognize the text in a PDF, we've shown you how to do that in Google Docs or Microsoft Word!

These methods aren't perfect, and are common to spacing and formatting issues. Especially with PDF files that contain a lot of images.

If reliability matters to you, you're going to want to invest in a PDF editor with OCR technology built-in. So you can instantly OCR and interact with any PDF, in just a few clicks!

When it comes to PDF editors, we recommend PDF Pro: our all-in-one PDF editor, creator, converter, merger, and OCR tool.

PDF Pro is our affordable, no nonsense Adobe alternative.

What does "no nonsense" mean?

It means that PDF Pro was created to be simple and easy to use, while not compromising power or quality. No endless pop-ups, no confusing buttons, no steep learning curves! Just open your PDF and get to work.

PDF Pro can help you:

Don’t have a PDF editor? Download PDF Pro for free today or Buy Now!

Digital Marketing SpecialistArron Staradub
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.

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