How do I copy text from a scanned PDF?

Updated: 12/09/2018 by Computer Hope

Adobe Acrobat PDF iconWhen a PDF is scanned or photo copied into a PDF, it is essentially a picture — any text within that PDF cannot be copied or changed. However, using an OCR 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: Any PDF that contains pages that need to be rotated we suggest using Online OCR instead of Google Drive since it will 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 above settings, any PDF file you upload to Google Docs will be converted to text automatically.

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 OCR - FREE OCR is another great free service that can convert PDF and other scanned images into text and other formats. The only restriction is that the images must not be larger than 2 MB, no wider or higher than 5000 pixels and there is 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 PDF programs that have OCR features that are free, so keep in mind that some of the below recommendations 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.

Additional information