PDFpen Scan+ – How to OCR Your Existing Scanned, Non-Searchable PDF Files

PDFpen Scan+ – How to OCR Your Existing Scanned, Non-Searchable PDF Files

Download PDFpen Scan+ ($6.99)

Today’s app is PDFpen Scan+ from Smile Software, a universal app for both the iPhone and iPad at $6.99, and requires iOS 8.0 and higher.

I am a big fan of Smile Software and their PDFpen software for Mac and apps for iOS (as well as their time-saving TextExpander apps, and I wanted to talk about their “scanning” app called PDFpen Scan+.

Now, there are several apps for “scanning” documents with the iPhone & iPad – in fact, I recently reviewed Scanner Pro from Readdle and if you are scanning a paper document from scratch, then I absolutely recommend using Scanner Pro or the excellent Scanbot app (review coming soon).

But I still keep PDFpen Scan+ on my iPhone and iPad for one specific reason – to OCR non-searchable PDFs that I already have, or that were e-mailed to me.

So let me explain … If someone hands me a piece of paper, and I want to “scan it” with my iPhone or iPad, I go straight to Scanner Pro or Scanbot (usually Scanbot). I snap the picture (or “scan”) the document and now both apps will automatically OCR the document.

That is, the app will do its best job at optically recognizing the characters of text so that the resulting PDF is searchable. If I don’t do this, I just have a pretty picture of a document which I can read with human eyeballs, but it’s just a picture to the iPad.

OCR stands for “Optical Character Recognition” and it is how a computer (or iPad) converts a picture of a document into a fully searchable PDF file.

Why is this important? Because the next step in my workflow is that I want to pull the PDF into GoodReader or PDF Expert so that I can annotate the file with text highlights, underline, etc. But text highlighting won’t work on a NON-searchable PDF.

Again, if I’m starting from scratch with a paper document, this isn’t a problem because when I’m done with Scanner Pro or Scanbot, I just use the “Open In” button to copy the OCR’d PDF over to GoodReader.

But what happens if someone e-mails me a PDF and didn’t OCR it first? I SHOULD just be able to use the “Open In” function to send the non-searchable PDF to Scanner Pro or Scanbot so I can OCR it there, but I don’t have that option!

There is no option for Scanner Pro, and Scanbot even states on their support website that “Applying OCR to existing scans is not yet possible, but we’re working on it.”

WE INTERRUPT THIS REIVIEW FOR AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE: Just as I was going to press with this review, Scanbot released a major update (version 6) that now may offer this option – I will review Scanbot soon.

And that’s why I keep PDFpen Scan+ on my iPhone & iPad. An attorney just recently e-mailed me a great e-discovery opinion from a county court in Michigan, but it wasn’t searchable and I wanted to highlight some of the great quotes.

From the Mail app, I opened the PDF in PDFpen Scan+ and tapped OCR. Scan+ highlighted the text as it worked. It takes a lot of crunch power for a computer processor to try to recognize text, and the results are rarely 100%. Even high-end computers get OCR wrong many times, so don’t expect the iPhone or iPad to be perfect. But … it’s good enough in a pinch!

You can have the entire document scanned, or just a select page.

Once it’s done, you can tap the screen to toggle between the scanned text and the OCR’d text.

You can also copy the OCR’d text of the document to paste it into a Word document or an e-mail message. Just note that you may have odd line breaks with the text due to the way that OCR sees text breaks a little differently from a PDF.

But for my workflow, I typically just use the “Open In” in Scan+ option to copy it over to GoodReader where I can highlight the text that I need, and upload it to Dropbox.

So that’s why I keep PDFpen Scan+ on my iPhone and iPad – it’s a tool in my belt for a very specific purpose of OCR’ing existing scanned PDFs that’s totally worth $6.99.

Download PDFpen Scan+ ($6.99)


  1. joe bahgat - December 1, 2016 12:18 pm

    Brett – I’m anxiously awaiting your Scanbot review/update because I just want the bottom line (what’s the hands-down best iOS scanning app?). I have PDF Scan+ installed, but I’ve only used it a couple times at most. Scanbot is in my widgets, so it’s something I use all the time (thanks to YOUR review of it when it first launched, a couple years ago!).

    • Brett Burney - December 1, 2016 4:47 pm

      Thanks Joe! I’ll be reviewing Scanbot soon, I promise. Especially since they recently updated the app and it’s even better than before. Spoiler: I think Scanbot is the hands-down best iOS scanning app 🙂