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

PDF Excel Conversion

Imagine this: you just received or downloaded a PDF file full of tables and numbers, but when you attempted to select the text and copy, nothing happened. Why? 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 the computer-recognizable format. 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.

Since 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? You may wonder.

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 anything 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 actually download 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 the scanned PDF file if it contains business confidential.

Popular options:

Use an OCR PDF to Excel Converter Software

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

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:

  • Free trials have limitations. Require pay to get 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.

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

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 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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