How do I copy text from a scanned PDF?

Updated: 02/01/2021 by Computer Hope
Adobe Acrobat PDF icon

When a document is scanned or photo copied into a PDF, it's essentially a digital photograph; any text within that PDF cannot be copied or changed. However, using an OCR (optical character recognition) program or online service you can convert text contained in an image or PDF into text that can be copied and edited.

Online OCR PDF to text converters

Online PDF OCR services can sometimes be the easiest solution since they do not require you to install any software. They also allow the user to get a PDF document converted almost immediately with any operating system or computing device.

Warning

Always be cautious when transmitting sensitive documents online. If your PDF contains sensitive data (social security numbers, credit card information, etc.), consider using an editor on your computer rather than an online tool.

Google Drive

Google Drive, which is integrated with Google Docs, is a fantastic free online service provided by Google that supports multiple document formats including PDF files. To convert a PDF to text using Google Docs, follow the steps below.

Tip

For any PDF containing pages that need to be rotated, we suggest using Online OCR instead of Google Drive since it automatically rotate all pages.

  1. Open Google Docs.
  2. In Google Docs, click the Settings icon in the top-right corner (shown below) and click Upload settings and then make sure Convert text from uploaded PDF and image files is checked.

Google Docs PDF to OCR

3. After checking the settings above, any PDF file you upload to Google Docs is automatically converted to text.

Other online services

  • Online OCR - Online OCR is a great free service that can convert scanned PDF files into text, Word documents, Excel, HTML, and other formats. The service can also rotate your PDF files if necessary, and supports multiple languages. However, in guest mode the program only converts one page of your PDF, if your PDF has multiple pages you need to register (which is still free).
  • Free Online OCR - Another great free service that can convert PDF and other scanned images into text and other formats. The only restrictions are the images must not be larger than 2 MB, and no wider or higher than 5000 pixels. There's also a limit of 10 image uploads per hour.

OCR PDF converter programs

There are also software programs that can be installed onto your computer that are capable of converting your PDF files into text files. Unfortunately, we are not familiar with many free PDF programs with OCR features, so keep in mind that some of the recommendations below are not free.

  • Adobe Acrobat Pro - The Pro edition of Adobe Acrobat is not free and is expensive. However, it has all of the features anyone dealing with PDF's would ever need including OCR conversion.