Monday, July 30, 2012

PDF to Text Converters - Review

Here is a problem I’m trying to solve.  How do I turn a scanned document into text that I can edit in a program like Microsoft Word?

Schools are very fortunate to now have multifunction photocopiers available for teacher use.  The machines make quick work of scanning multipage documents into PDF attachments.  These PDF’s can now be stored on a teacher website for sharing.  But what if the teacher wants to edit the document prior to posting?  For example, perhaps they have lost the original word document of a newsletter and want update some of the information.

There are a number of FREE programs that provide this service.  Let’s see how they work with a PDF document that I have from our copier/scanner.

Nuance PDF reader 7.0 image

Cost: FREE

Problems:  needs to be installed on a teacher computer. That means jumping through hoops to get a technician to install.

Outcome: Did an almost perfect job of interpreting the document.  It even found the bolded words.  Only about one error/page.

Zamzar Online

Cost: FREE

Fully online and easy to use with their four-step process.


Outcome: Didn’t turn any of the text in the document into something that could be edited in word.  Seems to have turned all the text to a single image.  Not helpful.

PDF Converterimage

Cost: FREE

Got an email from this company asking me to evaluate their product, here is my first trial.  The are fully online so there isn’t software to install.  They have much less distracting advertising on their site than Zamzar and they offer a straightforward three step process.

NOTE (update to original post) This free version is intended to convert originally created PDF documents rather than scanned versions.  Their paid product PDF Converter Elite is designed to work with scanned documents.

Outcome:  Fairly good conversion.  Had errors in characters of the text that a different font in the original.  Also had layout errors.  For example, where a paragraph was indented it added unwanted line breaks.  While the text is editable, it would take a while to cleanup for reuse.


Nuance PDF Reader (and converter) was the best overall PDF to word converter.  For teachers it would be worth the extra effort to get it installed on a desktop for use.


I’d be interested to hear from other teachers.  What do you use and recommend for scanning and converting documents?

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