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How to Make a PDF Look Scanned: A Comprehensive Guide

In today's digital age, the demand for transmitting documents electronically has grown exponentially. Yet, there are instances when making a PDF look scanned is essential—whether to retain an old-school appeal or meet specific document submission requirements. This guide is here to help you turn your perfectly clean PDFs into scanned-looking documents in a few easy steps.

Why Make a PDF Look Scanned?

Before we dive in, it's crucial to understand the reasons behind making a PDF look scanned:

  1. Authenticity: Sometimes, a scanned look provides an air of authenticity, as if the document was initially a hard copy.
  2. Regulatory Requirements: Certain institutions might require documents to appear scanned for verification purposes.
  3. Aesthetic Preference: Some people prefer the aesthetic characteristics of scanned documents, including slight text imperfections and background textures.

Tools You Will Need

To make a PDF look scanned, you can opt for various tools ranging from online converters to downloadable applications. Here are a few popular choices:

  • Adobe Acrobat Pro DC: A well-known PDF editor with extensive capabilities.
  • GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program): A free and open-source image editor.
  • Online Tools: Sites like DeftPDF and Smallpdf offer online services for enhancing PDFs.
  • Mobile Apps: Applications like CamScanner and Adobe Scan are also suitable for this purpose.

In this guide, we'll focus on using Adobe Acrobat Pro DC and GIMP for their robustness and feature sets.

Step-by-Step Guide Using Adobe Acrobat Pro DC

Step 1: Open Your PDF

Open Adobe Acrobat Pro DC and load your PDF file by clicking File > Open and selecting the document you wish to modify.

Step 2: Convert to Image

Convert the PDF to an image format (such as JPEG) by navigating to File > Export To > Image > JPEG. Save the image in a convenient location on your computer.

Step 3: Edit the Image

To simulate a scanned look, we’ll add grain, blur, and adjustments to the image characteristics:

  1. Open the Image: Use any photo editing software (Adobe Photoshop or GIMP). For this guide, we'll use GIMP.
  2. Add Noise: Go to Filters > Noise > RGB Noise to add graininess typical of scanned documents.
  3. Apply Blur: Go to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur, and use a slight blur to mimic the effect of scanning.
  4. Adjust Brightness & Contrast: Navigate to Colors > Brightness-Contrast and tweak settings to make the document look like it was scanned.

Step 4: Convert Back to PDF

Save the edited image, then go back to Adobe Acrobat Pro DC:

  1. Click File > Create > PDF from File.
  2. Select the edited image file, and click Open to import it into Acrobat.
  3. Save the newly created PDF document.

Step-by-Step Guide Using GIMP

Step 1: Open Your PDF with GIMP

  1. Open GIMP and import your PDF file by going to File > Open as Layers.
  2. Set the resolution at around 150-300 DPI for a realistic scanned look.

Step 2: Add Scanned Effects

  1. Noise Addition: Click Filters > Noise > RGB Noise. Adjust parameters to add subtle graininess.
  2. Blur Effect: Navigate to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Use a minimal blur level to avoid readability issues.
  3. Brightness & Contrast: Navigate to Colors > Brightness-Contrast, and adjust accordingly to amplify the scanned effect.
  4. Desaturate (Optional): For a monochrome scanned look, go to Colors > Desaturate.

Step 3: Export as PDF

  1. Click on File > Export As.
  2. Choose PDF format, configure settings if needed, and click Export.

Tips and Tricks for Best Results

  • Batch Processing: If you have multiple pages, use batch processing features in GIMP or Adobe Acrobat Pro DC.
  • Layer Adjustments: For multi-page documents, consider editing each page individually for more consistent results.
  • Metadata: Preserve or add metadata to mimic the details often seen in scanned documents.
  • Compression: Use mild compression to simulate file size characteristics of scanned documents.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

  • Blurry Text: If your text becomes unreadable, slightly reduce the blur effects.
  • Artifacts: Excessive noise can introduce unwanted artifacts. Adjust the noise level if necessary.
  • Large File Size: Optimize the final PDF by reducing the image resolution slightly or using compressed formats.


Making a PDF look scanned can be achieved efficiently using tools like Adobe Acrobat Pro DC and GIMP. Whether you're aiming for a genuine appearance to meet specific requirements or simply prefer the aesthetic, these steps ensure your digital documents look convincingly scanned. Follow this guide and elevate your PDF editing capabilities efficiently and professionally.

By adopting these methods and tips, you’ll be well on your way to making your PDFs look scanned, ensuring they meet any required specifications or personal preferences.

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