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How to Make a PDF Searchable Online with OCR

by Hung Nguyen

You can also read this article in German, Spanish, French, Indonesian, Italian and Portuguese.

A free online tool to convert and extract text into searchable content within PDF files—no software download needed.

If you can’t search a PDF file for its content, the whole file probably has been saved as one big image. This is usually the case with scanned PDF files. Alternatively, the PDF file could’ve been protected to prevent editing and copying. That doesn’t mean there’s no way to undo this. Smallpdf has a powerful OCR (Optical Character Recognition) feature up its sleeve to extract text from images like scans into an editable Word file and then convert it back to PDF if needed.

How To Make a PDF Searchable Using Smallpdf Converters

  1. Access the online PDF to Word converter.

  2. Drag and drop your PDF into the toolbox.

  3. Choose “Convert text from scans.”

  4. Download the Word file, with searchable content.

  5. Go to Word to PDF to convert the file to PDF.

2023-08-21 - How To Make a PDF Searchable Online With OCR

How to make a PDF searchable online using two converters

In case you need another party to open the PDF files in a search-only state, you can use the Word to PDF tool to convert scans back to PDF format. With this tool, a searchable PDF will be created, free of charge.

Can I Convert a PDF to a Searchable PDF for Free?


The converters on our website are free for limited use, at no cost. However, our OCR option is a Pro feature. You can give it a try for free, though, with a 7-day free trial. With a trial, you’ll gain unrestricted and unlimited access to the OCR option to make PDF files searchable by recognizing text. You also remove the usage limits and gain access to all Pro features, such as advanced editing, faster upload speeds, and strong compression mode in our PDF compressor.

On top of that, you can also merge, split, rotate, and add additional text to your editable PDF with Smallpdf. Text layers and formatting will be retained as needed. And if you’re a current user of another PDF provider, such as Adobe Acrobat, do check out our pricing. You’ll learn that we’re a more affordable and yet just as effective alternative.

Can I Undo the Process?


Once you make a PDF searchable, you can also reverse this process in two different ways. The most common method would be to convert it to a JPG file, which turns the content into an image again. Doing so will effectively lock a PDF file from being edited altogether; the full How to Lock a PDF from Editing tutorial is available on our blog to assist you.

The other option would be to encrypt the PDF with a password. When you do this, the file can’t be viewed without entering the password first. The document won’t be searchable otherwise. When you use Smallpdf to apply a password to your PDF, you’ll benefit from our strong encryption capabilities—no one will be able to crack that password!

And finally, if you’re a newbie to the PDF format and have no clue how to search a PDF, don’t worry. You can do this with any PDF reader by opening the document and pressing CTRL/Command + F. Check out this article for more info.

Hung Nguyen
Hung Nguyen
Senior Growth Marketing Manager @Smallpdf