How do I edit a scanned PDF file (on OS X El Capitan)?

Documents in PDF format are difficult to deal with. I’ve personally experienced a lot of hard times tweaking PDFs while I only have a PC. Now on my Mac, it’s become way easier. Why? Because of the Preview app. But, editing a normal PDF file and a scanned one may be quite different. Here’s a question I got asked a few days back from a reader:

“Hi Tysa, a colleague of mine sent me a PDF file; it is basically an image as I can’t select any text or element on it. I guess she just used a machine to scan it and export it in such a ‘weird’ format. How do I edit it as a normal PDF? Thanks.”

Here’s my answer:

Well, it depends on how you want to edit it. By editing, do you mean to add a few texts, highlight a sentence, embed a digital signature to authorize, etc.? Anyway, the point is it can be easy as well as challenging based on your needs.

I’ve outlined a couple of options below.

#1: Preview app is enough to handle basic editing

I love using the Preview app for viewing and editing images. Yes, a scanned PDF file is like an image too. To edit on it, you first open the scanned PDF document in Preview app. Now under Tools > Annotate, you’ll find a lot of smaller tools like adding a rectangle, line of text, or mask, etc.

But, as I was trying it, there are some functions you can’t use to deal with a scanned PDF, for example, highlight text, underline text, etc. which requires you to be able to select targeted text elements. You just can’t do this with a scanned PDF. You’ll have to try a PDF editor, continue reading.

#2: An online PDF editor may help (but use wisely)

I tried a free online service called PDFEscape and it worked nicely (though not great). All you have to do is upload your PDF by dropping it to the zone (see the screenshot). Then you’ll see a number of editing tools listed on the pane.

Warning: the reason why said use it wisely is that the service requires you to upload your file to their server. That means somebody else could have access to the content of your file. If your file contains private or confidential data (most likely), I’d recommend you think twice before you try this option.

Also, PDFEscape has some limitations such as the file can’t be more than 10MB in size, and no more than 100 pages.

#3: Use a desktop PDF editing tool (not free though)

Note: this option is not free. The price of desktop software ranges vary, some cost $50 bucks while others may charge a few hundred. The most well-known program is Adobe Acrobat DC for Macintosh, free to try, $299 to buy (there is also a subscription-based pricing model recently). If you prefer a cheaper one, this article reviewed several good PDF editor apps. Bottom line – always test the trials or evaluations before paying for anything.

Hope my answer helps :=)

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