How to copy and paste from a PDF

Have you been sent a PDF document from which you would like to extract a piece of text but you don’t know how to do it? Then you don’t have to worry, because in this guide of mine I will explain, in detail, how to copy and paste from a PDF, through simple solutions accessible from all devices: computers, smartphones and tablets.

First, I’ll tell you how to select text from a standard PDF, i.e. a text document that has subsequently been converted to a PDF file. After that, I will explain how to act also on those PDF files obtained by scanning documents with the scanner without OCR treatment (then scanned as photos). Finally, if you have received a password-protected document, I will explain how to remove it and then copy the text freely.

How do you say? Did this introduction of mine intrigue you and you can’t wait to get started? So what are you waiting for? Let’s not waste any more precious time. You just have to give me a few minutes of your free time, carefully read the procedures and advice I have prepared for you and put everything into practice. I just have to wish you a good reading and, above all, a good job!


  • How to copy and paste from a standard PDF
    • Microsoft Edge (Windows)
    • Safari / Preview (macOS)
    • PDF Viewer (Android)
    • Safari / File (iOS)
    • Other tools for copying and pasting from a PDF
  • How to copy and paste from a scanned PDF
    • PDFElement (Windows / macOS)
    • App to copy and paste from a PDF
  • How to copy and paste from a protected PDF

How to copy and paste from a standard PDF

If you want to copy the text of a PDF document previously created by converting a text document, you can proceed through the solutions that I will show you in the next chapters.

Microsoft Edge (Windows)

On Windows operating systems, the Microsoft Edge web browser is available, which allows you to browse the Internet and view PDFs saved on your PC. This software is already pre-installed on Windows 10, but an improved version of it based on Chromium, currently in development, can also be downloaded on previous versions of Windows and on macOS, proceeding from the Microsoft website.

The first thing you need to do is locate the PDF file to open by navigating to the folder where it is saved (via File Explorer ). After finding the document, double-click on it to open it with Microsoft Edge. If the file does not open with this software, right-click on it and select, from the context menu, the items Open with> Microsoft Edge.

The procedure for copying text from the PDF file is as follows: highlight the text by left clicking on the first or last letter of the paragraph and dragging the pointer to select it. At this point, right-click on the highlighted text and, from the context menu, choose the Copy item. Alternatively, you can also press the key combination Ctrl + C.

After doing this, open any text editor software, such as Notepad or WordPad, and paste the text previously copied, using the key combination Ctrl + V or by right-clicking on the software screen and choosing, from the menu contextual, the Paste item.

Safari / Preview (macOS)

If you have a Mac, you can copy the text of a PDF file using some predefined macOS tools: you can proceed via the Safari web browser, if you are viewing a PDF directly from the web, or via the Preview application which, among the its functions, also allows you to view PDF documents saved on your PC.

The procedure for copying a text from a PDF with these two tools is the same: after viewing the PDF file with Safari or with Preview, highlight the portion of text you want to copy by clicking on it and dragging the pointer to highlight it. Then right-click on the selected text and choose Copy from the context menu. Alternatively, you can also use the key combination cmd + c.

Now, open a text editor, such as TextEdit, and paste the copied text. You can also do this by using the key combination cmd + v or by right-clicking on the text editor screen and choosing Paste from the context menu.

PDF Viewer (Android)

The Drive PDF Viewer is available on smartphones and tablets with the Android operating system, a feature integrated in the Google Drive app that allows you to view and interact with documents in PDF format. The latter, in general, is pre-installed on the devices animated by the operating system of the green robot but, if this is not the case, it is possible to install it from the Play Store.

Can’t install Google Drive on your device? Then you can use the Google PDF Viewer app, which can be downloaded for free from the Play Store. This app was designed as an alternative solution in case it is not possible to install Google Drive on some devices.

Now, the first thing you need to do is go to the folder where the PDF file is located, using the file manager pre-installed on your smartphone or tablet or using Google Files. After identifying it, tap on it and, in case you were asked which app to open it with, choose the item Drive PDF Viewer or Google PDF Viewer.

After opening the PDF file, keep your finger pressed on any portion of the text to enter selection mode. Then move the two sliders to the right and left, in order to highlight the text.

At this point, tap on the icon with the two sheets, which you find in the upper right corner, to copy the selected text. Now, just open any app (e.g. a document editor or a messaging app) and paste the text: to do this, keep your finger pressed in the text box and choose the Paste item from the box that it is shown to you.

Safari / File (iOS)

On iPhone and iPad, you can copy text from a PDF document using the Safari or File apps, both of which are pre-installed on iOS. A PDF file you find on the web can be viewed directly through Safari or you can download and open it with the Files app (the default file manager of Apple’s mobile operating system).

After opening the PDF, you can copy the text of the document following a procedure that is the same regardless of which of the two apps you are using: first, keep your finger pressed on the text, to activate the selection mode. At this point, move the sliders to the right and left, to highlight the words of your interest.

Once this is done, in the box that is shown to you, presses the Copy item to copy the text. Then open the app in which you want to paste the copied text, keep your finger pressed in the text typing box and select the Paste item from the box that is shown to you.

Other tools for copying and pasting from a PDF

In addition to the tools I suggested in the previous chapters, which are all integrated “by default” in their respective operating systems, you can use others, made by third parties, to select the text of a PDF file. Here are some of the most interesting.

  • Adobe Acrobat ReaderWindows / macOS / Android / iOS ) – is a software for Windows and macOS that allows viewing of PDF files. It is also available as an app for Android and iOS. For PDFs generated from text documents, you can easily copy the text by selecting it.
  • Google ChromeWindows / macOS / Linux / Android / iOS ) – is a very popular Google web browser. It is available, in fact, both on computers, for Windows, macOS and Linux, and on smartphones and tablets, on Android and iOS. However, only in its version for PC and in that for iPhone and iPad does it allow you to view PDFs directly within it. After viewing the PDF, you can easily highlight the text and copy it, then paste it into other software or apps.
  • Foxit ReaderWindows / macOS / Android / iOS ) – is a free software for Windows PC, Mac, Android devices and iPhone / iPad that allows you to view PDFs and highlight the text contained in them, and then copy it. It also supports basic editing functions.

How to copy and paste from a scanned PDF

If you are in possession of a PDF document, previously scanned as a simple image, you cannot follow the procedures I indicated in the previous chapter, as the content of the document is, in fact, graphic and not textual.

To solve the problem, you need to use OCR software, which allows you to analyze the text of a PDF or an image and make it selectable, thus transforming it into “true” characters. Below you will find tips, I hope useful, in this regard.

PDFElement (Windows / macOS)

Among the many OCR software available for Windows and macOS, the one I recommend you use is PDFElement, which is available in a free version, albeit with some limitations. You must know, in fact, that PDFElement allows you to create PDFs that have no more than 3 pages, applying a watermark. Also, PDF files on which the OCR functionality has been used cannot be saved.

Removing these limitations can be done by purchasing a license at a one-time cost of 89 euros. You can still use the free version as a PDF viewer and to perform OCR on documents to copy text on the fly.

If you want to use PDFElement, go to the official website of the developer and press the Try PDFElement Pro button, to download the evaluation version of the program on your PC.

At the end of the download, if you use Windows, open the .exe file obtained and press the Yes button, in the Windows User Account Control screen. Once this is done, in the installation launcher interface, press the Install and Start now buttons to complete the setup.

If you are using macOS, on the other hand, double-click on the downloaded .dmg file and press the Accept button, in the screen that is shown to you. At this point, move the PDFElement icon to your Mac’s Applications folder and then start the program by clicking on its icon in the Launchpad. In the warning that is shown to you, you consent to the launch of the software, via the Open button.

What you need to do now is open the PDF file with PDFElement: to do this, in the main screen of the software, click on the word Open file and select the document on which to act.

Next, you need to enable the OCR feature: to do this on Windows, select the Edit> OCR items from the top menu; to do this on macOS, instead, go to the Tools menu > OCR text recognition. If the OCR plugin has not yet been downloaded, an automatic download and installation procedure will start.

At the end of this procedure, the document will be analyzed and you will be offered two options: make the text selectable ( Image with searchable text ) or editable (Editable text ). Before this choice, set the language of the document, using the Change languages button. Then press the OK button and the conversion of the PDF to selectable text will start.

When done, just highlight the text, right-click on it and choose the Copy option from the context menu. After that you can paste the text into any editor by right-clicking and choosing the Paste option from the context menu.

In case you want more information on the software to use to perform an OCR analysis on a PDF document, I suggest you read my guide dedicated to the subject.

App to copy and paste from a PDF

Would you like to make the text of a PDF selectable by acting from a smartphone or tablet? No problem. Among the apps you can use to recognize the text of a PDF document, I recommend Prime Scanner, which can be downloaded for free on smartphones and tablets with the Android operating system. The app is supported through banner ads, which you can remove at a cost of € 8.99.

If you are interested in this solution, what you need to do is download it to your device. Reach, therefore, this link and press the Install button of the Play Store.

When the download is complete, tap on the Prime Scanner icon, located on the home screen, to start the app. Then press the Continue button with the advertisements you see on the screen, to reach the main screen of the app.

At this point, to add a PDF document to the application, press the + button at the bottom and choose the PDF Document item from the box you see. Now, locate the PDF file to import into the app and press the  button, located at the bottom center.

To start the text recognition, press the OCR button at the top and use the markers to highlight the area of ​​the document where the text is present. Then press the  key to go to the next step. In the new screen that is shown to you, select the language of the document and press the  button.

Well: now you just have to wait a few moments for the document to be analyzed. At the end of this procedure, the text will be selectable. You can then keep your finger pressed on the text, then select it using the on-screen cursors and copy it, pressing the Copy item displayed later.

Once this is done, start the app in which you want to paste the text, keep your finger pressed on the typing box and press the Paste key, in the box that is shown to you.

How to copy and paste from a protected PDF

If you have a PDF document protected by a password that prevents you from editing it and selecting the text it contains (technically called the owner password ), what you need to do is try to remove this protection from the file first.

This operation can be easily performed using an online tool, such as iLovePDF, which can be used for free without registration and protects users’ privacy, as it automatically deletes the files uploaded to its servers within 24 hours. It does not, however, allow you to delete passwords that prevent PDFs from being opened (the user password ).

That said, let’s take action. Then reach this Smallpdf page and upload the PDF document to be unlocked from your PC (by dragging it into the browser). Then press the Unlock PDF button and that’s it.

After you have removed the protection from the PDF file, you can act on the document by following the advice I gave you in the previous chapters, in order to copy and paste the text.

Although Smallpdf protects users’ privacy, it is still an online solution over which the user cannot have absolute control. In light of this, if you need to unlock documents that contain sensitive information, my advice is to resort to local solutions, ie programs to be installed on the computer, which do not send the files to be processed online.

Among the solutions in question, in the free area, I point out QPDF, which works from the command line but is not very difficult to use: I told you about it in detail in my tutorial on how to remove passwords from PDFs.



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