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How to OCR pages in a PDF with free software

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Experience Level: Beginner
Joe Winograd, EE Fellow 2017, MVE 2016, MVE 2015
50+ years in computer industry. Everything from development to sales. CIO. Document imaging. EE MVE 2015, EE MVE 2016, EE FELLOW 2017.
We often encounter PDF files that are pure images, that is, they do not have text characters, but instead contain only raster graphics. The most common causes of this are document scanning software and faxing software/services that create image-only PDF files rather than PDF searchable image files, the latter having the scanned or faxed images and text created by Optical Character Recognition (OCR). The solution is to perform OCR on the image-only PDFs to create text. Many software products can do this, such as ABBYY FineReader, Adobe Acrobat (but not Adobe Reader) and Nuance's OmniPage, PaperPort, and Power PDF. Some can even do it in batch mode via a command line interface. But they are all non-free products, many quite expensive. This video Micro Tutorial shows how to OCR the pages of an image-only PDF, thereby creating searchable/copyable text, with excellent, free software called PDF-XChange Editor from Tracker Software Products.

Video Steps

1. Download the Free Version of PDF-XChange Editor

Visit the website for PDF-XChange Editor at Tracker Software Products:


Tick the radio button for the installer you prefer and then click the DOWNLOAD NOW button.


2. Run the downloaded installer

Run the installer that you downloaded and select the Free Version (unless, of course, you want more features and would like to purchase the Pro Version).


3. Open the document in PDF-XChange Editor

The installer creates a program group called PDF-XChange with a shortcut in it for PDF-XChange Editor. Click the shortcut to run it and then open an image-only PDF document in it.


4. Run the OCR feature

Click Document menu.

Click OCR Pages.


5. Enter page range to OCR

Specify page range in the first section of the OCR Pages dialog. Choices are All, Current Page, Selected Pages, Pages, All Pages, Odd Pages Only, Even Pages Only.


6. Enter language, accuracy, output type/quality

Specify primary language. Immediately available are English, French, German, Spanish. Click More Languages to visit the web for others.

Specify accuracy: Low (fastest), Medium, High (slowest).

Select Create New Searchable PDF or Preserve Original Content and Add Text Layer. If choosing the former, you may select a Quality (300 is usually fine for a typical PDF) and/or Auto Deskew (straighten).

Click OK.


7. Save the OCR'ed document

Do a File>Save or File>Save As or another Save choice on the File menu to save the PDF with the text from OCR (but Save Optimized Copy is not available in the Free Version).

That's it! You now have a PDF with text from the OCR process. You may search for this text in any PDF reader/viewer, copy/paste it into Word or a text editor, etc.

If you find this video to be helpful, please click the thumbs-up icon below. Thank you for watching!

Expert Comment

Brilliant Heads Up
I have used their Viewer for years, and for many of those years I was confused by their various programs and downloads. Difficult to ensure that you were getting the free viewer. Hasn't been quite as difficult for the last year.
With that history behind me, I strongly doubt that I could have worked out that they had a free Editor.

If you are just viewing PDFs and you had both the editor and the viewer installed - Do you just use the editor program all the time, or do you fell the viewer has extra viewing options ?

LVL 58
Hi Rob,
I agree — their downloads have always been confusing!

My recollection is that I received an email from them saying, essentially, that the free PDF-XChange Viewer (which I had been using for a long time) was being replaced/superseded by the free PDF-XChange Editor. In other words, there was no reason to have both products on the same system. However, I recollect keeping both for a while, until I was comfortable that the free Editor was all I needed. Once I made that determination, I uninstalled the Viewer and have used only the Editor ever since.

I see at their website that they still offer the Viewer, but note this comment at that link:

The PDF-XChange Editor is now available and supersedes the PDF-XChange Viewer !

So even Tracker Software is saying that there's no reason to use the free Viewer — use the free Editor instead!

Btw, here's another video that I did about the free version of the Editor:
How to rotate pages in a PDF with free software

Regards, Joe

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