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!
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.
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.
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.
2. Click OCR tab > Current file.
3. Select Editable text or Searchable text (depending on your needs), then press Run.
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.
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.
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.
3. Find & Open the PDF file.
4. Press Ok.
5. Press File > Export > Create PDF/XPS file.
6. Name and Publish your new PDF document.
You now have a new PDF document with recognizable text!
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.
You now have a PDF document with recognizable text!
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: