How to use OCR to bring data into Excel.

Learn how OCR technology can read text from PDFs or images and turn the data into an editable Excel spreadsheet.

Microsoft Excel is often the go-to spreadsheet editing software for both businesses and households — but it can sometimes be tricky to work with. For example, it can’t read spreadsheets saved as PDFs. So, if you need to work on a PDF sheet, you might be wondering what to do.

Luckily, OCR technology can help Excel understand your PDF. Let’s find out how to use OCR to turn text data into an Excel-readable format.

How OCR technology works.

OCR stands for optical character recognition. This technology can identify text and recreate it in a machine-readable form.

If that sounds complicated, think about a page scanned into a JPG image. The text is there, but you can’t select, copy, or edit it — your computer doesn’t know the image contains text.

An OCR application can scan the image, recognize the letters and symbols, and reproduce them as actual text. After you save the processed page as a machine-readable document, like a PDF or Word file, you can then copy or edit the text.

Prepare Excel documents with OCR.

OCR technology works with Excel in the same way. It can read “flat” documents, like images or PDF files, and reconstruct them as a functional spreadsheet.

If you’re working with a PDF spreadsheet, an easy way to prepare it for editing is to use an OCR-capable converter to turn it into an Excel file. Here’s how to convert a PDF with, for example, Adobe Acrobat online services:

  1. Open your browser and launch the PDF to Excel converter.
  2. Upload the PDF by dragging and dropping it into the tool.
  3. Once the converter is done, download the converted Excel file.

Sometimes you might notice that the spreadsheet formatting is a bit off after the conversion. But that’s no problem — since OCR has recognized all the text, you can quickly and easily fix any issues directly in Excel and get right back to work.