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How to turn a printed document into a PDF with your phone

One of the difficulties of working at home is the absence of office equipment we typically take for granted, such as a scanner. So, what are your options if you have a document that you need to scan?

Good news! You almost certainly have the solution nearby. Did you know that you can use the camera on both Apple and Android smartphones to quickly and easily create PDFs from printed documents?

In this article, we’ll tell you about how how to create PDFs using native apps on an iPhone or Android device, as well as two apps that you can download to accomplish the same task. 

iPhone (Notes)

Since 2017, Apple has provided a scanner right within the Notes app. This app—which is free and on every iPhone by default—can, with a little know-how, create PDFs using your camera in just a few touches.

  • Go to the Notes app and create a new note.
  • Tap the camera symbol, then tap Scan Documents.
  • Place your document in view of the phone’s camera.

Screenshot of Apple Notes app

  • If the auto-mode is enabled, your document will scan automatically. If you need to capture a scan manually, tap on the round capture button.
  • Once captured, you can drag the corners to fit the page. You can then add additional pages or save when done.
  • Click the Share icon to email or text the document to yourself.

Android (Google Drive)

Phones that run on Android also have a simple, built-in way to create PDFs using the camera.

  • Open the Google Drive app.
  • In the bottom right, tap Add
  • Tap on the camera icon to scan. 
  • Take a photograph of the document that you’d like to scan.
  • Adjust by tapping on the crop icon, re-scan, or add additional pages as required. When you’re ready, tap Done.

Adobe Scan

Adobe Scan is available as a free app for both iPhones and Android devices. It is an excellent option if you want a little more functionality than the native options above without getting too complicated.

  • After downloading, open the app, hold it above your document, and wait for the capture.
  • Follow the on-screen hints. The app uses auto-crop and image cleaning, so once you’re happy, just hit Save.

The app uses auto-cropping and image cleaning, so—some argue—creates a higher-quality scan than the native apps. The app has a text-recognition (OCR) feature built-in, particularly useful if you’re scanning filings for your court filing, which must be text-searchable. It will automatically store your scans in the Adobe Document Cloud, so this is a particularly convenient option if your firm uses the desktop Adobe Acrobat software. 

Microsoft Lens

If you spend more of your time working in the Microsoft Office suite than in Acrobat, then Microsoft Lens might be a better choice. Like Adobe Scan, it’s free to download on both iPhones and Android devices.

  • After downloading the app, open it up, and point it at the document that you need to scan. 
  • As in the other apps, you’ll have the chance to crop, rotate, resize, and so on.
  • When you’re ready, you will see a range of export options in addition to PDF, including Word or PowerPoint.

If you’re using OneDrive or Office365 you’ll be invited to connect your account to store your scans in the cloud. As with Adobe Scan, the app also comes with text recognition capability as standard.

Getting the document from your phone to your computer

Often (e.g., if you’re placing an order on One Legal), you’ll need to get your freshly scanned document from your phone to your computer. To do this, either save the document in the cloud (i.e., Adobe Document Cloud, Google Drive, iCloud, OneDrive) directly from the app and then access it from the browser on your computer. If you’d prefer not to put the document in the cloud, you could email it or send it to yourself using a messenger tool like Slack or Teams.

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