Sometimes tables and sheets are only available as PDFs, but you can convert a PDF to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to edit it. While the conversion process has come a long way over the years, it's still not completely perfect. However, it's free to convert your PDF to Excel and maintain most of the original look of the spreadsheet.
Tip: you can also perform a quick PDF-to-Word document conversion with a series of free tools.
What You Can and Can't Do
Before you try to convert your PDF, it's important to know what is and isn't possible. Outside of basic spreadsheets, you're not going to get an exact conversion in most cases. For example, the sizes of cells may be slightly different or fonts may change a little.
On more complex spreadsheets with a lot of formatting, the converted Excel version might not even line up exactly like the original PDF. Another issue is your PDF containing formulas that won't transfer to Excel, as you just get text and background colors. Of course, having to do a little touch-up work is much easier than trying to manually recreate the entire PDF in Excel.
What is possible is getting a surprisingly close conversion of your text, cell sizes, alignment, color formatting, and any included images, such as a business logo. As long as you don't expect perfection, you'll likely be pretty happy when you convert a PDF to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.
While you can technically import the PDF into Excel as an image, the results aren't worth your time and effort. More often than not, it's a mess. Instead, it's better to use other conversion tools.
Remember, you can export Office files as PDFs, but Excel doesn't let you do the reverse.
Convert a PDF to Excel with Adobe
The simplest method involves using Adobe's free PDF-to-Excel conversion tool. For our examples throughout this post, we're using a teen budget template that was originally in PDF format. It includes several columns, different types of formatting, a header image, and formulas to automatically calculate items.
While you can do this if you have the full version of Adobe, you don't need it to convert your files. Instead, you can use the free online converter, which automatically deletes your files shortly after the conversion unless you create an account to store them.
- Click "Select a file."
- Find your file on your computer.
- Wait for the file to convert, which usually takes just seconds.
- Choose whether to download your file immediately or save it to your Adobe account. It's free to create an account.
- The preview on the right isn't exactly what the final file looks like. As you can see in the image above, the third column is missing. But after opening the converted file in Excel (screenshot below), everything is there.
As you can see in the image, everything actually looks almost identical to the original PDF. As expected, the formulas in the "Total" cells don't exist anymore, so you'll need to add those in manually. However, the header image, alignment, and even fonts and colors converted nicely from PDF to Excel.
Note: the only downside to using the free tool in Adobe Acrobat is that you're limited to two free conversions per month.
If you have Adobe Acrobat Pro, the process is fairly similar. Open your PDF file, then select "Tools -> Export PDF." Next up, select your desired file format, in this case "Spreadsheet." To wrap up, choose where you want to save the converted file.
Convert PDF to Excel Using Smallpdf
While Smallpdf offers multiple PDF tools, all you'll need right now is PDF to Excel Converter. It's free to use for up to two documents per day. You can also subscribe to a premium plan that starts at $9/month.
- Select "Choose Files" or drag and drop your PDFs onto the screen. You can upload files from your device, Google Drive, or Dropbox.
- Wait for it to upload, then select the type of conversion you want. The free version doesn't offer full OCR conversion, which means some things may not transfer well. If you have the Pro version, you can select OCR conversion for a better 1:1 conversion. For this example, we're using the free version.
- Once it's ready, download your file.
Without the OCR support, Smallpdf doesn't work as well as Adobe's free conversion tool. While everything converted, Smallpdf divided each section of the PDF spreadsheet into different tabs.
If you have a PDF with multiple tables you'd like to separate, this could be the best option.
Convert PDF to Excel with PDF2Go
If you want to convert a PDF that doesn't include images to Microsoft Excel, PDF2Go is a great option. It handles text and formatting fairly well but doesn't bring over images.
- Click on "Choose File" and select your file. You can also enter a PDF's URL, grab files from Dropbox or Google Drive, or drag and drop files.
- Once the file uploads, click the green "Start" button. By default, the tool converts into XLSX format. If you'd prefer XLS format, select the file type directly under your file's name before pressing "Start."
- Your file will automatically try to download once the conversion finishes. Choose where you want to save it or exit the dialog box and select "Cloud upload" to upload to Google Drive or Dropbox.
- The converted file looks close to the original but doesn't have the header image.
Good to know: ramp up your Excel skills with Power Pivot and other advanced features that can help you generate complex analyses.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can't I just copy and paste the data from PDF to Excel?
Some PDFs don't let you copy the text at all. For those that do, all you copy is the text itself. When you paste it into Excel, everything pastes into a single cell.
How can I convert more than a few PDFs in free tools?
When you need to convert a PDF to Microsoft Excel, you're usually limited to just a few per day or even month with free tools. The only way to bypass this restriction is to pay for a premium version or use your desired tool in different browsers.
For instance, if you need to convert four PDFs to Excel, you could convert two in Chrome and two in Edge. You could also use Incognito Mode in the same browser or try clearing all your browsing data and cookies, just like when trying to bypass paywalls on popular news sites.
Do professional conversion tools work better than the free ones?
Not necessarily. Adobe's free tool works the best out of all the options mentioned. The free tool does give you the same results as Adobe Acrobat Pro.
In Smallpdf's case, however, switching to a paid tier will add full OCR conversion for more precise results.
Image credit: Pixabay. All screenshots by Crystal Crowder.
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