From paper to searchable PDF on the cheap

Becky waring
By Becky Waring

You don’t have to shell out $500 for software that converts scanned paper documents into searchable PDF or Office files.

One of the three programs I tested is the clear winner in turning all your scanned images into fully indexed documents.


Ditch the software bundled with your scanner

I’m addicted to the quick and streamlined (and free) Copernic Desktop Search utility. The program finds past articles to help me research new ones, it locates that six-year-old e-mail from my sister, and it looks up forgotten serial numbers. Basically, Copernic unlocks all the data floating around on my hard drive.

But I have a ton of data sitting untouched and forgotten simply because it resides only on paper: my print magazine articles, financial statements, letters from friends and family, etc.

I’ve been looking for good, low-cost software that can turn my scanned paper into searchable PDF or Word documents. I’m not willing to drop a cool $400 on ABBYY FineReader Professional or $500 for Nuance’s OmniPage Professional, the two leading optical-character recognition (OCR) programs for translating scans into text. Nor can I afford $300 for Adobe Acrobat Standard.

My five-year-old scanner — which was top-of-the-line when I bought it and is still very good — came with third-party OCR software, but the program doesn’t work with Vista and lacks upgrade privileges. I can scan documents, but if I want to translate those scans into searchable text, I’m on my own.

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Becky Waring

About Becky Waring

Becky Waring has worked as a writer and editor for CNET, ZDNET, Technology Review, Upside Magazine, and many other news sources. She alternates the Best Software column with Windows Secrets contributing editor Scott Spanbauer.