Convert Your Old Typed Manuscripts to PDF and Word Docs

Piles of Typed Manuscripts

Piles of Typed Manuscripts

“I have an old pile of typed manuscripts that were never saved on a computer. I want to find a scanner that can EASILY and EFFICIENTLY connect to my Macbook Pro, which will turn those old manuscripts into pdf files to be saved digitally. It would be even better if the scanner would save the files in a form that could be edited, but that’s less important than just getting them into digital form.”

Scan it to PDF

This part is easy, especially on a Mac. At BestBuy or wherever, request a scanner known to “see” text pretty well–but really, any of today’s scanners can credibly digitize your old stuff as an image file. Save your scan as a multi-page, high-quality image–a .tiff or a .psd. After the save, select it, click Print, and when the Print Menu comes up, look for a “Save as PDF” option (on any computer running OS X, it will always be there). Click on “Save as PDF” and you’re done.

PDF to MS Word – the OCR Dilemma
Here’s where it gets tricky. PDF is technically an image format, so turning it into editable text (a doc or docx file) is like cramming the square peg into a round hole. Because software for OCR (optical character recognition) costs a lot of money.

But happily shareware developers are coming up with cheaper solutions. In Windows, there are a variety of options. But for your MacBook Pro, running OS X, the pickin’s are slimmer. There’s an application called PDF OCR. I haven’t used it, but at $29.95 it’s certainly worth a try. Also: a web based service called PDF Converter with have various membership levels. Try out their $9/mo. level–you can cancel at any time.

For the Rich
I’ll mention, for the record, a couple of “Cadillac” OCR mentions. One is Adobe Acrobat (not Adobe Reader, mind you). It’ll cost you $449 (ouch!). The other is Final Draft.

For Playwrights
Final Draft can take over and do an excellent draft of giving you a formatted Final Draft file (.fdr) that you can “Save As” a Word doc or docx–keeping the original FD formatting. That’s pretty slick, and almost effortless–assuming you already own Final Draft or have $249 to drop.

The Winner
Probably the best solution of all, if you don’t mind learning how to use it, is OmniPage Pro X, even pricier, for the Mac, at $499. For Windows, Omnipage comes in the usual array of cheaper versions–from $49 to $149 and up–but even with the Windows limitation, Omnipage gets my vote for the software of choice. You’ll either have to own a Windows computer, know someone who does, or have Windows installed on a partition of your Mac’s hard drive, but compared to coughing up $449, the extra trouble may be worth it.

Background Note for Info Nerds

OCR, being a form of object recognition, is one of the toughest challenges a computer can face. The slightest typographical irregularity can make a scan spin off into irregularity–old newsprint is an absolute nightmare. This is why you should try to start with a totally clean print job (use a lazer printer, if possible) and a non-Seraph font.

Happily, the folks at Google, who want to digitize every text on the face of the earth, are deeply into research on this as we sleep, so you can expect OCR to improve noticeably over the next few years.

For playwrights using Final Draft, the key is getting a good PDF file. At that point, Final Draft can take over and do an excellent draft of giving you a formatted Final Draft file (.fdr). Once you have that, you can “Save As” a Word doc or docx–and keep the formatting. That’s another ideal solution–assuming you have $249 to drop on Final Draft.


Prashanth May 21, 2010 at 4:01 am

I need to convert manuscript images to word document

lonnie darrel harris April 8, 2013 at 6:57 pm

KIND SR./can u help i have some manuscripts with some color art ,i am computer beginner,i got first 2 manuscripts,done[put on p] but it cost my hole v.a. check,what kind of scanner could i get that i can scan my other 32 manuscripts on as to cut my cost.,them how do i put all of them on thee web. for free? reading? 4 all Thee Star Surfing Kid;s IN THEE FUTURE ? Thee books go along with my music an art on you tube NOW. my goal is 2 make all my creations free to thee kid;s of earth. can you help.

Bob Hanshaw April 17, 2013 at 1:50 pm

One piece of software I use extensively, but not mentioned above, is AABBY Fine Reader Pro. It’s available for the PC, and for Mac users there’s an Express version available, although less robust than its big-brother-PC version. I have both–I’ve urged AABBY to complete the development of the Mac version, but we’ll have to wait & see.

AABBY allows you to edit your scans before outputting them in various formats, including images, and I believe for the Pro PC version I paid $149–the primary reason for not going with OmniPro.

Regarding scanners: I am considering using one of the ScanSnap scanners from Fujitsu. They have good reviews, and some of them can scan both sides of the page simultaneously. This is a great feature when trying to recapture some old papers, especially when they were printed on both sides, like some of the course material I received in the various classes I’ve attended over the years. I currently use an old HP scanner, which is capable of scanning at least 300dpi; however, for good text (OCR) recognition, I find 600 dpi necessary for reading newspaper articles and the fine text usually used in captions or insets in magazine articles.

Hope this helps!

R D MIRZA August 10, 2014 at 4:52 am

I can write very fast. , but my typing speed is very slow. Is there any app that can convert my written words in typed form simultaneously. If so ,its details together with cost and source where available

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Patricia November 12, 2015 at 6:15 pm

My project is a children’s picture book containing photographs and some text. The printer tells me he needs these pages in PDF format with CYMK color. I have done the lay-out in MS Publisher. My question is: Will this software change the RGB color to CYMK?

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