Adobe Acrobat: “Renderable Text”

When working with PDF documents you may encounter a “renderable text” error message.  This message will sometimes occur when trying to make a scanned paper PDF file text searchable (also know as adding OCR to a document).

error messageDepending on the version of Acrobat you have, the message may read something like:

“Renderable text” is typically text that has been added to an scanned paper image (like a header, footer or bates number), through a non-Acrobat program.  The way this text is encoded into the page can cause Acrobat to disallow additional searchable text (OCR text).

This message can certainly be annoying and it can also be significant as it can limit your ability to run searches.  In Acrobat, you will be unable to add new searchable OCR text, or improve the quality of the existing OCR, until the error is fixed.

If you’ve seen this message before, and have tried to fix the document without success, you are not alone!  We spoken with a number of people over the years who have come up with some creative solutions.  Though we have yet to find “one solution” that will always fix this particular error, here are a number of possible solutions (results will vary depending on the cause of the error):

Solution 1: Obtain a version of the document with OCR.

  • It may seem simplistic, but if you receive documents without searchable OCR, ask for it.  Often the person or organization that gave it to you will want to search the files themselves and may already have a copy that has been OCR’ed.  Even if the documents they give you generate “renderable text” error messages, you will still be able to search any of the existing OCR text within the files.

Solution 2: If the files are from PACER / ECF, download a new copy.

  • The default download settings in PACER / ECF will add “purple” headers with the case number (which will cause a “renderable text” error message).  If you can find the document again in PACER / ECF, download it with the header option turned off.

Solution 3: Run “Add Tags to Document” (available in Acrobat Pro).
accessibility menu

  • If you have Acrobat Pro installed there is a special “Accessibility” menu where you can run “Add Tags to Document”.  For certain PDF’s, running this option will clear up the issue and allow the document OCR to be run.

Solution 4: Print the document to PDF (available in Acrobat Standard and Acrobat Pro).

  • If you have Acrobat installed (Standard or Pro) you’ll probably also have access to an “Acrobat PDF” virtual printer.  By printing the document to this virtual printer, the new PDF that is created will often avoid having the renderable text issue.

Solution 5: “Sanitize” the document then rerun OCR (available in Acrobat Pro).

  • From the “Protection” menu run “Sanitize Document”.  This will remove all of the document metadata including some of the rendered text that might be causing the error.
  • Re-run the OCR process.

Solution 6: Convert to TIFF files and back, and then re-run OCR (available in Acrobat Standard and Acrobat Pro).

  • Open the PDF document in Acrobat and choose “File > Save As“.
  • In the “Save As” dialog box, choose TIFF (*.tif, *.tiff) from the Save As Type (Windows) or Format (Mac OS) pop-up menu. Specify a location, and then click Save.  Acrobat saves each page of the PDF document as a separate, sequentially numbered TIFF file.
  • Combine the single pages back into a multipage document and re-run the OCR process.

Solution 7: Convert to XPS file format and back, and then re-run OCR.

  • If your computer has the “XPS” virtual printer installed (it comes with many version of MS Office) then print the file using the “Microsoft XPS Document Writer” printer.
    • The XPS printer will ask you to save the file.
    • Convert the saved XPS file to PDF.
    • Re-run the OCR process on the new PDF.

Solution 8: Try running the OCR using a different program.