How to Convert Scanned PDF to Excel Spreadsheet (You’ll Need OCR)

Last updated: Apr. 25, 2017

PDF Excel Conversion

Imagine this: you just got a PDF file full of tables and numbers, but once you attempted to select the text and copy, nothing happened. Because the file is basically a scanned image.

To take the data out, you probably heard about converting a PDF file to an Excel spreadsheet. Yes, that's one of the best solutions. But does the technique work with scanned PDF documents?

The answer is positive. However, you'll need to take extra efforts because normal PDF to Excel conversion methods do not support scanned PDFs. But with OCR technology, it's totally doable.

What's OCR and Why Do You Need It?

OCR is short for Optical Character Recognition, simply put, it's a technology that can scan an image and extract the text into a computer-recognizable format (learn more here). You can then copy, cut, or paste the text as you want. With an increasing number of languages being added to the database, most OCR software is able to support major languages.

Because a scanned PDF file is essentially an image, you'll need to rely on OCR technology to match the elements in the file first, then organize the data and finally convert all the data into an Excel sheet.

What is the best way to convert scanned PDF to Excel?

Here we'd like to introduce two most popular techniques: one is to use online conversion services, the other is by using a desktop software. Each technique has its own pros and cons. We'll explain.

OCR Online PDF to Excel Services

Pros:

  • Fast and convenient. No need to download or install any third-party programs on your computer.

Cons:

  • Security concerns. Not all service providers disclose how they'll deal with the documents you upload.
  • Restrictions. Most of such services have file size limitations or require you to register to get the converted files.
  • Conversion quality tends to be low compared to that of desktop software.

Best to use: you only have a few unimportant PDFs to be converted. We highly recommend you not to upload scanned PDF files if they contain personal privacies or business confidentials.

Popular options:

Use an OCR PDF to Excel Converter Software

Note: you'll need to install the software on your computer first, then upload your scanned PDF file(s) to convert.

Pros:

  • Stand-alone application, more secure and in-control.
  • File conversion quality is much better than online services, in general.
  • Support batch or partial PDF conversion, more flexible.

Cons:

  • It's not free. Payment is required to access full functionalities.

If you are on a Windows PC, we recommend Soda PDF — besides converting scanned PDF to Excel and other types of files, you can also use it to directly edit on any PDF. The program is compatible with Windows 7, 8, 10.

Get Soda PDF Now (50% OFF, limited time offer)

For Apple Mac users, we recommend PDFelement for Mac — a comprehensive all-in-one PDF suite for macOS (Sierra included) that integrates a list of small but powerful utilities that enables you to do any tasks related to business documents.

Get PDFelement for Mac Here

Don't Forget to Check Potential Errors

There is no guarantee that the content on the output Excel file will be 100% accurate, due to the nature of OCR technology. Certain errors may occur during the process of recognition. Therefore, it's best to double check the words, numbers on the document. Also, some formatting adjustments may be necessary but they shouldn't take many extra efforts.

Andreas Louis
 

Based in CA, Andreas is an Apple and Microsoft fanboy who works with his Mac and lives with a PC at home. He also has contributed to several other notable technology journals.

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