Can’t Copy Text from a PDF File on iPhone?

I used to copy text from PDF files in iBooks for the use in Notes, Word, and other apps on my iPhone. However this time have received a PDF doc through email which does not allow me to select and copy the contents of the PDF document. This PDF must be a scanned PDF or have some sort of security set on it. Luckily there are many third-party apps can help select, copy and extract text from scanned or protected PDF docs.

There are different reasons why you can’t select and copy text from certain PDF files. The PDF file may have security settings applied that restrict copying or extracting text; it may be a scanned document or an image-based PDF; they may have font or formatting issues that prevent text selection, etc. In this article, we’ll walk through the easy steps to copy text from PDF documents using free OCR apps on iPhone. By doing so, you can save a lot of time typing the text manually. Can’t select or copy text from a PDF file on iPhone? Check out solutions below.

How to copy text from any PDF on iPhone through OCR?

Optical character recognition is a technology allows you to copy text from scanned PDF and images and even convert them into editable Word, Text, Excel, and other output formats. In a related article, we showed you the steps to scan paper documents to iPhone and then perform OCR to extract text from scanned PDF. It however does not allow users to import an existing PDF from email, iBooks or web browser. So how can it help us select and copy text from any PDF documents on iPhone?

If you take a close look at the OCR app we mentioned in previous page, you may notice that it also accepts pictures. That’s right. A workaround is to take a screenshot of scanned or secured PDF and then insert the captured screenshot image into the OCR app. Sounds like too much work? Not really.

Step 1. Take a screenshot of PDF on iPhone

iPhone allows us to easily capture screen to save anything displayed on iPhone screen as image files in the Photos app. Open the PDF which you can’t copy its text. Then take a screenshot on iPhone.

  • For iPhones with a Home button (e.g., iPhone 8 and earlier): Simultaneously and briefly press the Home button and the Power button.
  • For iPhones without a Home button (e.g., iPhone X and newer): Simultaneously and briefly press the Side button (the power button, typically located on the right side) and the Volume Up button.

When you see a flash on the screen, and/or also hear a camera shutter sound, it means the PDF content displayed on your iPhone screen will be captured and saved as screenshot image file to the Photos app on your iPhone. Now you can follow below instructions to extract text from the image files.

Step 2. Copy text from image using OCR

Your PDF file was converted into image and saves to the Photos app. Now you can add the screenshots to a OCR app to extract its text context. In this demo, we will use Adobe Scan, our favorite free scanner app, which is free to download and turns our mobile device into a powerful scanner that recognizes text automatically (OCR).

Run the free PDF scanner app on your iPhone. You will be prompted to login or sign up if it was your first time to use it. You can sign in using your Google account or Apple account. Alternatively use your email address to sign up a free account with Adobe.

Once logged on, the Document auto-capture mode opens your camera so you can quickly scan any thing to PDF using your iPhone.

Adobe Scan document scanning on iPhone

Tap on the Images icon in the bottom-left corner to browse through the Screenshots album and import the screenshots into the scanner app. Tap on the Confirm button in the top-right corner to import the photos.

add screenshots from photos to Adobe Scan on iPhone

Once the screenshots were added, tap the Save PDF button at the upper right corner to convert the screenshots to PDF on iPhone.

Adobe Scan Save PDF on iPhone

After that Adobe Scan automatically uploads the PDF to Adobe cloud server to perform OCR. This upload and OCR process may take some time. Once finished, tap to open the PDF in Adobe Scan, you can then select and copy text from them.

adobe scan text actions - select and copy text to clipboard on iphone

That’s how you can extract text from screenshots using Adobe Scan on your iPhone. Keep in mind that the accuracy of the results may vary depending on the quality of the scanned document and the legibility of the text. Remember to check the accuracy of the extracted text and make any necessary corrections before saving or sharing it.

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