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How to apply OCR to PDFs on Mac

Do you have a PDF document, but the text isn’t searchable? You can change that with optical character recognition (OCR) software. Read on for some options to apply OCR to PDFs on Mac.

If you have a PDF that isn’t searchable it was likely sourced from an image, like a scan. While the Preview app on macOS can handle basic editing of PDFs and other documents, it doesn’t have OCR software built-in. Let’s take a look at two trusted software options below.

How to apply OCR to scanned PDFs on Mac


  1. Download PDFpen or PDFpenPro if you don’t already have it (free trial available)
  2. After installing the app on your Mac, open the PDF document you’d like to apply OCR to
  3. PDFpen will automatically ask if you want to use OCR on a scanned document
  4. Click OCR Document

Here’s how the process looks:

PDFpen supports OCR for 19 languages, use the checkboxes to choose the ones you’d like as shown below.

ocr pdf mac

If you don’t see the automatic dialog box asking about OCR, click File → OCR Files…

Adobe Acrobat Pro

  1. Download Adobe Acrobat Pro if you don’t already have it (free trial available)
  2. Open the PDF with Acrobat that you’d like to apply OCR to
  3. Click the Edit PDF tool in right hand sidebar and Acrobat will automatically apply OCR to your document (it will also be editable)

Other options

There are a lot of free options that pop up in a Google search for “OCR PDF on Mac” but be careful of what software you choose. Many of the options are from unknown developers, and there are inherently risks associated with downloading and using free software outside of the Mac App Store.

If you just need to OCR a couple of PDFs, using a free trial of PDFpen or Adobe’s Acrobat Pro will work. If you regularly work with PDFs and need a good solution, PDFpen or PDFpenPro are great options with a fixed $75 or $125 price to own the software.

In contrast, Adobe has moved to the subscription model for Adobe Acrobat Pro and runs from $15-$25/month after the trial depending on if you opt for a year’s subscription or not ($180/year total at the cheapest).

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Avatar for Michael Potuck Michael Potuck

Michael is an editor for 9to5Mac. Since joining in 2016 he has written more than 3,000 articles including breaking news, reviews, and detailed comparisons and tutorials.