How to Make a Scanned PDF Searchable

A key component to scanning in documents is being able to search those scanned documents. There is little point to scanning in documents when it is just an image. An image is not searchable; however, text can be.

That is why when learning how to make a scanned PDF searchable, you need to learn how to convert an image PDF to a text PDF.

Most important documents tend to have a lot of text to go through. If you work in a business where you must find information quickly, being able to search scanned PDF documents will save you a lot of time.

PDF Software

Adobe is the main creator of much of the PDF software out there. PDF files are made for storing documents and information. PDF Software has a lot of different functions for editing, converting, and creating PDF files.

When it comes to working with PDF, you will want to make sure that you are using an Adobe PDF software.

How to Make a Scanned PDF Searchable?

There are many ways to make a PDF file searchable. Using the before mentioned software, you can convert your PDF files from an image into text. Similar to how you edit PDF Files, the image recognition from the PDF software is used.

Image recognition searches over an image and converts what it can to text. Once the built-in function is done, you will be able to search for exactly what you are looking for in your scanned PDF documents.

Document Quality

Before we continue with the guide, you should note that it is crucial to have a quality scanner. Imagine scanning in an image document that you want to search.

Once it is on your computer, you notice that you can barely read the information in the document because either the document image is low quality, or the document you scanned in has big black ink that appears to have connected all your words into a blob.

If you cannot read or understand the words on the document, then you cannot expect the computer to do so either. These issues can be fixed by making sure your scanner provides images that are clear and easy to read. This way, the image recognition feature in the Adobe programs can easily notice the words in your document.

Adobe Acrobat

Enhance Scans

Being the main software used to create, edit, and view PDF files, Adobe Acrobat is a great tool for making scanned PDF documents searchable. Opening your PDF file and then looking at the right hand of your screen, you will see a set of valuable options.

The option we want to use is the “Enhance Scans” option. This option is very powerful. Enhance Scans can single handily convert any photo or document scan into a searchable PDF with selectable text.

After clicking on the button, you will notice a brand-new task bar towards the top of your screen. The bar will say “Enhance Scans”. You then want to locate the “Enhance” button and click on the “Scanned Document” button under the drop-down.

With additional filters, you can choose to only enhance a single page or the entire document. The more pages that your scanned document has, the longer it will take to enhance the entire PDF document. Now you can click on the “Enhance” button.

This will enhance the scanned document you have and convert it into a fully searchable PDF. Now you can search the document, edit the document, and save your changes.

Paper Capture

There are typically always multiple ways to do a single task. There is no exception here. Another way you can make a scanned PDF searchable is through a plugin called Paper Capture. This plugin works with Adobe Acrobat 5 and up.

Looking at the top of your screen, you can click on “Tools” then click on “Paper Capture”. Just like with Enhance Scans, you have the option of processing the entire scanned document or just a few select pages.

After you make your decision, simply click the OK button. Paper Capture will then begin doing similar tasks with image recognition to convert your PDF into a searchable PDF. Unlike the Enhance Scans feature, Paper Capture gives you different ways to convert your PDF.

  1. Choosing the Formatted Text & Graphics option allows for you to make the PDF file searchable and editable. This is especially useful for anyone who plans to edit their document but is not sure exactly where the content is that they need to edit.
  2. Next, you have the option to make an Exact Searchable Image. This option is the most basic option and it allows for you to create a searchable PDF but not editable. This is also the option that is set by default. Some documents should never be tampered with and that is why this option is available. Try to avoid editing documents such as contracts as that can be a breach and lead to legal troubles.
  3. Lastly, we have the Compact Searchable Image. This works like the Exact Searchable Image setting in that it will only make the image searchable and not editable. However, with the Compact Searchable Image option, all the graphics in the document are compressed. This will speed up the process of conversion and searching and lower your PDF file size. If your document contains a lot of graphical images, you do not want to have to process those uncompressed.

If you would like to use any of the other options to convert your document, simply click on the preferences button once you click on the Paper Capture option.


Knowing how to make a scanned PDF searchable is important for many different reasons. If you are a business person with lots of files and papers, it can be hard to keep track of them all.

Scanning in these documents for safe keeping on your computer is a step up, however, if you want to significantly cut down the time it takes for you to shuffle through all those documents, this guide will help you for sure. Don’t find yourself wasting time and energy when using the built-in features of Adobe’s software truly is easy.

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