How to Edit a Scanned Document on Mac

While it is becoming less common in today’s tech world, we do still sometimes have paper documents and there is sometimes a need to scan those documents in and possibly edit them. Thankfully this can be readily done on your Mac. 

With just a little work, we can take that scanned document, edit it and then save it as a new document that can be printed, emailed, uploaded to a cloud drive, or whatever else you might need to do with it.

My name is Eric and I have been working with computers since the early 1980s. Finding ways to be productive with our computers is something that I really enjoy and being able to edit a scanned document on your Mac is something that can be very useful.

If you would like to learn how to do this, stick around and I will show you this relatively simple process. 

Let’s get started by first making sure your scanned document is in PDF format.

Scan or Convert to PDF

If you already have your scanned document in PDF format, you are all set and ready to move on to the next section. If not you will either need to scan the document or convert some other type of scanned image file into a PDF.

Most scanning software has the ability to save the scanned file in PDF format. If you are scanning in the document, look for the file type setting in your scanning app and set it to PDF type. 

If your software does not have a PDF option go ahead and save it as whatever image file type is available. Once you have the image file or if you already had an image file of the document, follow the steps below to convert it into a PDF file.

Step 1: Locate your file using Finder.

Step 2: Right-click on the file and select Open With >

Step 3: Once the file has been opened in Preview, Go to the File menu and select Export as PDF.

Your document will now be in PDF format. 

Create an Editable File

Now that you have the file in PDF format you can open it up to get the contents and edit them. Use the following steps to create a file with the document contents that can be edited.

Step 1: Open the PDF file with the preview app.

Step 2: Once the PDF is opened, go to the File menu and click on Select All.

Step 3: With the text selected, go back to the Edit menu, and click on Copy.

Step 4: Open a text editor. For our example, we will use Mac’s TextEdit, but you can use Google Docs or any other text editor that you would like.

Step 5: Click in the text editor’s window and press the Command+V keys to paste the text into the editor.

Step 6: You may need to do some slight editing to make the document look the same. For our example above you would need to center the Title.

Step 7: Make your edits to the document wherever needed.

Step 8: Save the document.

You can now print, save, email, make more edits, or do whatever you want to the document. With most text editors you can even save it as a PDF file again if you want.

How Does a Scanned Image File Become Text?

Now that you have seen or even completed this process, you may be wondering how a scanned image file can become editable text. It may seem like magic and it kind of is a little bit of software magic called OCR or Optical Character Recognition.

When you convert your image file or your scanning software saves the image as a PDF file, the PDF format uses OCR to detect any text that may be contained on the image. Once detected, OCR takes the text images and converts them to real characters in the PDF file.

OCR is not perfect and it often depends on the quality of the original image file. If the image is unclear or distorted due to wrinkled or damaged paper, it may not interpret all of the characters correctly. 

Because of this, it is good to make sure you go back and verify the entire text for accuracy. Once the text is in the PDF file, PDF gives us the ability to select and copy text from it, which in turn allows us to paste the copied text into another text editor.

The Power of Preview

During this process, you will use Mac’s Preview tool. You may notice some of the powerful features that Preview actually has. When using it with a PDF file, you can make some edits right in the Preview tool. You can’t edit the existing text, but you can add things to the document.

You can add text, shapes, and highlighting. You can even redact text within the PDF if there are things in there you don’t want others to see. The preview application really does have some great tools that can allow you to make many of the changes you might need.

Can This Process Work For a Hand-Written Document?

This is a great question and one that is a big topic with those trying to convert paper documents to digital ones. The short answer, at least for PDF formatted files is no. Our handwriting, especially cursive writing is just too different for OCR technology to read and convert.

I have seen some OCR software that can kind of translate very well-written hand-printed text, but even at that, it does not come close to getting every character correct and you end up with a document that needs tons of editing to make it look correct.

While PDF’s OCR technology is not quite advanced enough to convert handwritten text, there are some other conversion methods on the rise that can handle it. 

One called ICR or Intelligent Character Recognition is good at reading clearly printed letters printed in individual boxes. You have probably filled out some of these forms yourself. 

Another is called IR or Intelligent Recognition and it has the ability to pick up an unconstrained handwritten text and can even read cursive writing. So if you are looking to try and convert handwritten text, it is possible that there is a solution out there for you.

Final Words

The ability to translate and edit scanned documents can be a great tool for those looking to get rid of traditional paper documents. As you can see from the steps above scanning and editing a typical typed document is fairly easy and can provide a quality end product.

I hope this article has provided the information you need to edit your scanned documents. As usual, let us know if you have any questions or comments. We would love to hear from you!

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  • Wolveriain

    Hi Eric, WolveyG here I just followed your tutorial, I nearly finished where I got to the textedit bit & I only needed to change the date @ the top of my letter. So I copied pasted & changed the date but no further meaning I’m a Thick lol, it’s just a lack of using my Mac. It’s always been windows but last year needed to replace it , I always wanted a Mac so I bought two one for my daughter & one for me & a car for my son. As I’m always on the road in my Truckin mobile haven’t had much time with my new toy but I’m of work so I have been catchin up but it takes a wee bit of getting used to or maybe it’s me.

    Cheers WolveyG