How to convert PDF to Word DOC for free: a comparison

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If you are wondering whether you can do good PDF to Word (DOC, DOCX, or RTF) conversion for free, the answer is: Absolutely. This posting will present and compare a number of different ways to do this, for free, without any watermarks or restrictions.

This is our fourth update of this article, which we believe to be the best critical  overview of TRULY free PDF to Word tools on the internet. With each update, a slew of tools are added and a number of the old ones removed, either because they no longer offer a FREE service, or because they were superseded by newer tools that are simply better quality. Last updated: Oct 7th 2013.

There are two kinds of tools available to users: free desktop programs that can convert PDF to Word, and free online conversion services. Note that our focus in this article will be on those services that offer the highest quality. In making this article we tested more than thirty tools, of which we decided to include sixteen different tools here; 5 desktop-based apps and 11 online conversion services.

Here’s quick table of contents (click any link to jump to that section):

  1. The list of free PDF to Word tools:

    Desktop apps and online services both.

  2. Important issues and questions to address:

    E.g will I be able to edit the resulting document?, what is the difference between desktop and online tools?, etc.

  3. Overall Comparison: which tool(s) are the best:

    An overall comparison table and verdict section, but also we present more in-depth comparisons broken down into the following sub-criteria Text Handling | Image Handling | Table Handling | Reliability and maximum file sizes | and OCR support.

  4. Removed/excluded services:

    These tools were removed from previous versions of this article or were too low quality to make the cut.

1. A list of the free PDF-to-Word conversion tools discussed in this article

We will compare 16 tools, 5 desktop apps and 11 online conversion services. You can see a comprehensive comparison of these in our ‘Overall Comparison’ table. Or go to the Verdict section which ranks all the tools and links out to an overview page for each (including sections for individual strengths/weaknesses and download links).

Desktop ToolsOnline Services
Free PDF to Word Converter from SmartSoft
(Windows)
NuancePDF
PDF to Word Free from NitroPDF
LibreOffice
(Windows; Mac; Linux)
Convert.Files
Zamzar
OpenOffice with PDF import extension
(Windows; Mac; Linux)
PDFOnline.com
EasyPDF Cloud
PDFMate Converter free (Windows)ConvertOnlineFree.com
ConvertPDFtoWord.net
UniPDF (Windows)Fileminx
Pdfconverter.com
Pdfburger

2. Important issues and questions to address

Before I move on to the comparison section, some questions that I am frequently asked about.

What formats can I convert to? Any of the following: .DOC, .DOCX, or .RTF; which is to say anything that MS Word can read (you can subsequently save to whatever format you like).

Do all tools mentioned in this article convert to one of these formats? No. We figured the point was to allow you to edit your PDF, and in fact two of the tools here (LibreOffice and OpenOffice) do not convert your PDF at all. The reason we included them is that they will let you open a PDF (in the ‘drawing’ component of the suite and not the word processor) and edit then save it directly, which for many people might be enough and even preferable to converting to a Word format.

Are the tools mentioned really free? Yes. All of these are free. Some of them are free versions of more souped up products that are paid, but they should be able to deliver the PDF to Word conversion functionality (without restrictions, trial periods, or watermarks) in order to be included in this article.

Please Note: it is possible that the free version of one or more tools may have been removed by the developers subsequent to the last update of this article, in which case please let us know so we can remove it.

Are free tools as good as paid tools? This site is called ‘Freewaregenius’ and we only look at free programs and tools, so we don’t know how well paid tools fare in comparison. But we are adamant that you can get an excellent PDF to Word conversion using all free tools (especially the ones that came out most highly ranking in our comparison).

Online vs. desktop converters: desktop based converters are programs you install on your machine and that perform the conversion locally and instantly. Online tools are web services that you can upload your file to and then download the result (or get it by email).

The advantages of using a desktop app involve NOT having to upload your file and wait. Uploading very large files can be very inconvenient if your files are large or if you have many files to convert. Desktop apps are more convenient for batch conversions and are more straightforward to use.

One the other hand, it is generally the case that free online conversion services are more sophisticated than free desktop converters and may offer a higher quality conversion, although depending on your document that may or may not be the case. Two issues that have to be considered with online conversions are reliability and security: how long will it take to get my converted document? While most online services will send your converted document within a matter of minutes, it is sometimes the case that your file will arrive hours or even days afterwards. As for the latter issue (security), virtually all of the online services mentioned here promise that your files will be transferred via a secure connection, that your document will not be looked at by a human, and that your email will not be used or shared with any other party. Still, it is up to you to decide whether you are comfortable uploading some private or business documents over the internet to a remote server for conversion.

If you know for sure that you want a desktop-based converter and do not want to upload files online, then we recommend that you use UniPDF, which is the best desktop-based tool mentioned in this article.

Will the document be editable once it is converted?: typically, yes; however the real answer is it depends on your original document and how it was created. Generally speaking you will be able to edit any converted PDF that was created electronically and published using software, which comprises the overwhelming majority of forms and documents that are on the internet. The exception is if your PDF was scanned from a paper document; in this case most converters will consider this to be no different from a photograph, and when converting will produce images inside a .DOC file rather than text. What you need in this case is “Optical Character Recognition” (OCR) software, or a converter than can do OCR (two options mentioned in this article can do OCR; NuancePDF and Convert.files, both online converters); otherwise you can check out our list of free OCR tools. These programs can “read” images and convert them to text, but for documents with a large number of pages it can be somewhat labor intensive to get a good conversion.

Will any of these convert special characters, mathematical notation, etc.: many will, but with various degrees of accuracy. Some tools are intelligent enough to handle the inverted left-to-right direction involved in scripts such as Arabic or Hebrew and the render ‘connected’ letters rather than separate ones as appropriate, while others are not. While we have a column in our comparison table that gives you some idea about special character support, we are not experts on this and at the end of the day you will have to try them out for yourself.

Converting to images: if you are interested in converting your PDF to images then you’re in the wrong place. For this you can try the the excellent free PDF reader called PDF X-Change Viewer which has an export to images option.

Documents used in the PDF-to-Word conversion tests: we converted a dozen different documents intended to test various factors (e.g. very large documents, forms with a lot of tables, a scanned PDF to test for OCR, a trade brochure type document with columns and images, etc.) An earlier incarnation of this article listed all of the documents used in a table, but we removed this to make the article smaller.

3. Overall Comparison: which tool(s) are the best

It depends greatly on what you want it to do and on your original PDF. We will rate the conversion tools based on the following:

  • Conversion quality: specifically, their handling of Text, Images, and Tables in the converted document
  • Other features: which are Reliability (a.k.a can I get a decent looking conversion quickly without jumping through too many hoops), OCR (optical character recognition) support, and max file size support for each tool.

The following table presents an overall comparison/summary. We will use a simple 4-point rating system (  A  /  B  /  C   and   D  ) where ‘A’ is best and ‘D’ is worst. We will also color co-ordinate results so that you could read evaluations at a glance (green/orange/red as shown). The final (overall) score column will contain three more values (  A+ ,   B+  , and   C+  ), in order to make finer distinctions).

Overall Comparison
Online v.Handling ofOther FeaturesOverall
DesktopTextImagesTablesReliabilityMax file
size
OCRScore
A/B/C/D
Free PDF to Word Converter from SmartSoftWindowsCBBANo limitNoB
LibreOfficeWindows;
Mac; Linux
CBBCLarge files
slow to load (*)
NoC+
OpenOffice with PDF import extensionWindows;
Mac; Linux
CBBCLarge files
slow to load (*)
NoC+
PDFMate Converter freeWindowsDDCANo limitNoC
UniPDFWindowsAAAANo limitNoA+
NuancePDFOnlineBAAA10 MB (*)YesA+
PDF to Word Free from NitroPDFOnlineBAAA5 MB or 50
pages per file
NoA
Convert.FilesOnlineBAAA250 MBYesA+
ZamzarOnlineCCCA100 MBNoC
PDFOnline.comOnlineAAAB2 MBNoA
EasyPDF CloudOnlineAAAB2 MBNoA
ConvertOnlineFree.comOnlineAAAA30 MBNoA+
ConvertPDFtoWord.netOnlineDCCB> 12 MB (*)NoC
FileminxOnlineCCDA50 MBNoC
Pdfconverter.comOnlineAABB2 MBNoB+
PdfburgerOnlineBABA> 12 MB (*)NoB+

(*) For more info on these data points refer to the 'Reliability and max file size' comparison table below.

3.1 The Verdict

Ultimately, there are three tiers of tools: those that are excellent/highly recommended, those that are good, and those that we do NOT recommend. Please note that we number the tools below (1 through 16) based on our preference, with the tools we like best on top.

Tier 1 PDF to Word conversion tools: these are highly recommended
  1. UniPDF ( A+ ): Desktop tool (Windows). This is the best desktop-based converter, is technically excellent, and will be the preferred tool for most readers (unless they are not Windows users, or unless they require OCR support, which it does not support).
  2. ConvertOnlineFree.com ( A+ ): Online tool. May be the best overall conversion tool (esp. with support for large files up to 30 gigs). We recommend we use this one if you don’t mind an online tool, unless you need OCR support, which it lacks.
  3. NuancePDF ( A+ ): Online tool, with a required desktop component. Not just excellent all-around conversion, but offers OCR support to boot (and the best OCR out of the two tools mentioned here that have it). Note: OCR support is rare in a free converter and makes me place this high up the ranlings.
  4. Convert.Files ( A+ ): Online tool. Combines excellent all-around conversion with OCR support. Note: OCR support is rare in a free converter and makes me place this high up the ranlings.
  5. PDFOnline.com ( A ): Online tool. An excellent PDF to Word converter. No OCR support. Could have been better without the 2 MB max file size restriction.
  6. EasyPDF Cloud ( A ): Online tool. In fact, a rebranded version of PDFOnline.com (above) with the same pros and cons.
  7. Free PDF to Word Converter from SmartSoft ( B ): Desktop tool (Windows). Makes it into our tier 1 list of tools because it is the second best FREE desktop based converter, and because good desktop converters are a bit of a rarity. We also assume that some people would not want an online converter no matter what. It does a very decent job and is an excellent general use option.
  8. PDF to Word Free from NitroPDF ( A ): Online tool. A very good converter that will deliver. Comes in at this slot only because it trails slightly behind the ones higher up.
Tier 2 PDF to Word conversion tools: good tools
  1. Pdfconverter.com ( B+ ): Online tool. Another excellent converter, although because it trails slightly behind the ones above it becomes somewhat of a ‘me too’ tool in a crowded field..
  2. Pdfburger ( B+ ): Online tool. A very competent and good quality converter which allows uploading of files larger than 10 MB. Also trails slightly behind the ones higher on this list, and also is kind of a ‘me too’ tool in a crowded category..
  3. OpenOffice with PDF import extension ( C+ ): Desktop tool. Does not convert to Word format, but will let you open, edit and save your PDF directly. Suitable for making small edits on small files.
  4. LibreOffice ( C+ ): Desktop tool. LibreOffice is based on OpenOffice and like that one it does not convert to Word format, but will let you open, edit and save your PDF directly. Suitable for making small edits on small files.
Tier 3 PDF to Word conversion tools: NOT recommended
  1. PDFMate Converter Free ( C ): Desktop tool. This is a new entrant which I added to this article recently. I had high hopes that it would be a really good desktop converter because I wanted more of those (given that there are so many good online converters). Alas, it wasn’t.
  2. Zamzar ( C ): Online tool. Although it’s PDF to Word conversion looks decent at first glance, technically it is one of the weakest online tools here and cuts a lot of corners.
  3. Fileminx ( C ): Online tool. One of the weakest online tools in a field that has some really good performers, lands this a tier 3 ranking.
  4. ConvertPDFtoWord.net ( C ): Online tool. Gets my nomination for the weakest online PDF to Word conversion tool.

3.2 Text Handling

There are several factors that affect text handling, but I will say this: all of these tools will convert text more or less satisfactorily for most PDFs. There are some documents where for some reason or another text accuracy will be variable across the different tools, but these are relatively rare.

We evaluate/compare at text handling across the following factors: Text Flow (i.e. how easy it is to edit or work with the resulting text), Text Accuracy (will there be a faithful conversion?, or will the resulting text be glitchy), support for special characters (which will be very important for some), and whether the converted document will retain hyperlinks that may exist in the original PDF.

Comparison: Handling of Text
Ease of EditingConversion of TextScore
Text Flow:
Continuous vs.
Interrupted
Text Accuracy:
Reliably
Accurate vs.
Less Accurate
Special
Characters
Support:
Preserves
Hyperlinks:

Active vs.
Inactive
A,B,C
or D
Examples / ScreenshotsShow meShow meShow meShow me
Free PDF to Word Converter from SmartSoftInterrupted
(text boxes) but text selectable nonetheless
Less
Accurate
Non-
existant
Inactive
Links
C
LibreOfficeInterrupted
(text boxes)
AccurateGoodInactive
Links
C
OpenOffice with PDF import extensionInterrupted
(text boxes)
AccurateGoodInactive
Links
C
PDFMate Converter freeInterrupted
(text boxes)
Less
Accurate
GoodInactive
Links
D
UniPDFContinuousAccurateGoodActive
Links
A
NuancePDFContinuousLess
Accurate
GoodInactive
Links
B
PDF to Word Free from NitroPDFContinuousLess
Accurate
BadActive
Links
B
Convert.FilesContinuousLess
Accurate
BadActive
Links
B
ZamzarInterrupted
(carriage returns)
Less
Accurate
BadActive
Links
C
PDFOnline.comContinuousAccurateGoodActive
Links
A
EasyPDF CloudContinuousAccurateGoodActive
Links
A
ConvertOnlineFree.comContinuousAccurateGoodInactive
Links
A
ConvertPDFtoWord.netInterrupted
(carriage returns)
Less
Accurate
BadInactive
Links
D
FileminxInterrupted
(carriage returns)
Less
Accurate
BadActive
Links
C
Pdfconverter.comContinuousAccurateGoodActive
Links
A
PdfburgerContinuousLess
Accurate
GoodInactive
Links
B

[expand title=”Click to see an in-depth explanation of TEXT HANDLING evaluation criteria” tag=”h5″ trigclass=”bazinga” swaptitle=”Evaluation Criteria Explained / Text Handling”]
Text Flow: continuous vs. interrupted

  • Assuming you are converting a PDF to Word in order to be able to edit it, it would be a lot easier if the text flowed continuously and was not interrupted by carriage returns or was dispersed across many separate text boxes.
  • Therefore, for each of the tools being considered we noted down whether the text was continuous or interrupted (and whether it was interrupted by carriage returns or text boxes).
  • Importance: we thought this was an important issue and gave it a lot of weight when rating the various tools.
  • Examples: click below to see side-by-side examples of text that flows continuously, text that is interrupted by carriage returns, or dispersed across floating text boxes.

Text flow examples

Text Accuracy: reliably accurate vs. less accurate

  • This typically will vary depending on your source PDF, but sometimes the fidelity of the text in the converted file is problematic.
  • This can take two forms: all-out gibberish where you’re supposed to have text, or problems in rendering the correct case, such that the words have lowercase/uppercase characters strewn about seemingly at random, forcing the user to manually correct it (which can be labor intensive for large documents).
  • Importance: we thought this issue was relatively minor, because the inaccuracies, when they happened, occurred in about one out of ten or so of documents that we tested only. Most documents converted just fine.
  • Examples: click below to see side-by-side examples of accurate text correctly rendered vs. gibberish, or text correctly rendered vs. text with incorrect letter cases.

Text accuracy annotated

Special Character support: not something everyone will need, but read on if you do

  • Our evaluation of special character support is somewhat cursory; we only looked at whether special characters were displayed, and whether the right-to-left inversion in some languages (such as Arabic letters or Hebrew) was respected.
  • We made three kinds of judgments: good (displays special characters most of the time and inverts left-to-right when appropriate), bad (displays special characters some of the time and/or does not invert), and nonexistent (does not display special characters). We chose not to make more refined evaluations. There’s a lot of variability with this issue and we are no experts; readers will have to test the various options for themselves to see what works best.
  • Importance: we thought this issue was minor, although we realize that for some it is of great importance.
  • Examples: click below to see side-by-side examples of special characters correctly rendered vs. rendered without left to right inversion vs. not displayed at all.

Special Characters Annotated

Preserves Hyperlinks: active vs. Inactive

  • You care about this if your original PDF contains hyperlinks that you would like preserved in the Word document.
  • This may be especially important for web documents and for ebooks, where the index in many cases contains links into the ebook itself or it may contain links to the web.
  • Importance: we thought this issue was moderately important, because PDF documents are increasingly integrated with the web.
  • Examples: click below to see side-by-side examples of converted documents with hyperlinks preserved and active in one document, and rendered inactive in another.

Hyperlinks - Active v. Inactive
[/expand]

3.3 Image Handling

Things you need to know about image rendering:

  • Formatting in the original PDF (such as the background shading of the document for example) is transformed into images when converting to Word.
  • We evaluate image conversion across two criteria: whether the resulting images are distinct or lumped together, and the fidelity and placement of the resulting images, which is roughly a measure of the quality of the resulting image (and whether the images in the output are placed where they should be).
Comparison: Handling of Images
Distinct images
vs. lumped together
Fidelity of ImageScore
A/B/C
or D
Examples / ScreenshotsShow MeShow Me
Free PDF to Word Converter from SmartSoftDistinct imagesGood Image rendering generally but variable. Images can sometimes be sliced into several pieces and hard to use.B
LibreOfficeDistinct imagesGood Image rendering generally but variable. Images can sometimes be sliced into several pieces and hard to use or distorted.B
OpenOffice with PDF import extensionDistinct imagesGood Image rendering generally but variable. Images can sometimes be sliced into several pieces and hard to use or distorted.B
PDFMate Converter freeVariable; images sometimes lumped together, sometimes distinct.Image rendering passable but often low quality. Will sometimes render incorrect 'background formatting' images.D
UniPDFDistinct, but adjacent images are likely to be combined togetherCorrect rendering and placement of imagesA
NuancePDFDistinct, but adjacent images are likely to be combined togetherCorrect rendering and placement of imagesA
PDF to Word Free from NitroPDFDistinct images; however, sometimes images are hidden behind 'formatting' imagesCorrect rendering and placement of imagesA
Convert.FilesDistinct images; however, sometimes images are hidden behind 'formatting' imagesCorrect rendering and placement of imagesA
ZamzarImages lumped into a single background imagen/a (placement irrelevant since it creates a single background image)C
PDFOnline.comDistinct, but adjacent images are likely to be combined togetherCorrect rendering and placement of imagesA
EasyPDF CloudDistinct, but adjacent images are likely to be combined togetherCorrect rendering and placement of imagesA
ConvertOnlineFree.comDistinct, but adjacent images are likely to be combined togetherCorrect rendering and placement of imagesA
ConvertPDFtoWord.netImages lumped into a single background imagen/a (placement irrelevant since it creates a single background image)C
FileminxDistinct imagesLow quality. Images are sometimes distorted, and sometimes sliced into pieces and hard to use.C
Pdfconverter.comDistinct imagesCorrect rendering and placement of imagesA
PdfburgerDistinct. If adjacent images are combined together they can be 'ungrouped' by right clicking in WordCorrect rendering and placement of imagesA

[expand title=”Click to see an in-depth explanation of IMAGE HANDLING evaluation criteria” tag=”h5″ trigclass=”bazinga” swaptitle=”Evaluation Criteria Explained / Image Handling”]
Distinct Images vs. Lumped together:

  • Some converters make it easy on themselves: they convert all images on the same page into a single image in the resulting Word file (including formatting etc.) Other converters render distinct images that correspond to what you think of as an image. In the middle are converters that tend to lump neighboring images together into one.
  • If you are going to do some editing and manipulate the images, etc. it would obviously be easier to work with distinct images from the get-go. However, if the images are combined together you could always copy and/or crop them as appropriate.
  • Importance: we thought this issue was moderately important, because as stated combined images can be cropped as needed. However, it is nice to have a conversion that delivers ‘correct’ images that do not require too much user intervention.
  • Examples: click below to see side-by-side examples of all images combined together vs. distinct images vs. neighboring images grouped together. Also an example of images hidden behind other images.

Distinct Images vs lumped together

Fidelity and placement of the resulting images: which is to say, the ‘quality’ of the converted image(s)

  • Some images are faithfully rendered, while others contain artifacts (mostly little lines like they were printed out on a dot matrix printer, but sometimes major distortions as well). Lastly, some images are broken up into several pieces, which makes them look junky and makes editing the document or working with those images difficult.
  • Placement: in some instances, there are problems with placement. This is a nuisance insofar as the converted document will not look like the original, especially if the placement of the images pushes parts of them off the page.
  • Importance: we thought this issue was moderately important, because most problems can be taken care of manually via user intervention if need be.
  • Examples: click below to see examples of correctly rendered images vs. lesser quality images featuring artifacts or distortions vs. images broken up into several parts.

Image fidelity examples2
[/expand]

3.4 Table Handling

This is actually straightforward; tables in the output PDF are either rendered as real tables (i.e. you can select cells in Word and right click to see table-specific functions such as merge, insert cells/rows, etc.) or otherwise simulated or ‘drawn’ using images for the formatting and a text box or boxes. This is less preferable than a real table if you are interested in actually going in and editing tables or adding to their content, but some tools do this ‘simulation’ to good effect.

Comparison: Handling of Tables
Table Rendering
(Actual Table vs. simulated or 'drawn')
If simulated, how well?Score
A/B/C
or D
Examples / ScreenshotsShow Me
Free PDF to Word Converter from SmartSoftSimulatedLooks good. Well drawnB
LibreOfficeSimulatedLooks good. Well drawn -but editing tables can be difficultB
OpenOffice with PDF import extensionSimulatedLooks good. Well drawn -but editing tables can be difficult.B
PDFMate Converter freeSimulatedNot very good. Text and formatting misaligned.C
UniPDFActual Table
(without formatting)
n/aA
NuancePDFActual Table
(with formatting)
n/aA
PDF to Word Free from NitroPDFActual Table
(with formatting)
n/aA
Convert.FilesActual Table
(with formatting)
n/aA
ZamzarSimulatedNot very good. Text and formatting misaligned.C
PDFOnline.comActual Table
(without formatting)
n/aA
EasyPDF CloudActual Table
(without formatting)
n/aA
ConvertOnlineFree.comActual Table
(without formatting)
n/aA
ConvertPDFtoWord.netSimulatedNot very good. Text and formatting misaligned.C
FileminxSimulatedNot very good. Text misaligned, formatting off.D
Pdfconverter.comSimulatedLooks good. Well drawnB
PdfburgerSimulatedLooks good. Well drawnB

[expand title=”Click to see an in-depth explanation of TABLE HANDLING evaluation criteria” tag=”h5″ trigclass=”bazinga” swaptitle=”Evaluation Criteria Explained / Table Handling”]
We rate table handling across two criteria:

  • Table Rendering (actual table vs. simulated or drawn): if we found a ‘real’ table in the resulting PDF, we gave in the highest rating. Sometime we found that tables even retain their formatting (i.e. the shading and borders, etc.) and that these were not re-created using images. Regardless, and even if this was not the case, if a real table was rendered we gave the highest ‘A’ rating).
  • If the table was simulated/recreated, what was the quality?: if the tool did not produce a real table we wanted to look at how well the table was re-created or drawn. We hoped to see correctly rendered text that fit correctly inside a re-created simulation of a table/formatting; however, sometimes we found issues of misalignment (where the text was in one place but the ‘table-like’ formatting was elsewhere).
  • Examples: click below to see side-by-side examples of correctly rendered tables vs. simulated tables done well vs. simulated tables done poorly.

Handling of Tables
[/expand]

3.5 Reliability and maximum file sizes

By ‘reliability’ we mean the likelihood that you can use the tool whenever you need it and be able to convert PDF to Word without the process breaking down and without having to wait too long to get your converted file(s).

You may have guessed that this issue relates mostly to online converters, and you would be (mostly) right: what use is a ‘good’ converter if I am unable to upload the files I need? (say, because the servers are slow, or because they have a very small max file size allowance). Or what if the promised emails take hours to arrive or maybe even days?. In fact, most of the tools that made it on the list are fairly reliable (we weeded out some of the worst offenders)

We will also admit a bias toward desktop programs when it comes to reliability, because they are instantly available, because generally speaking they can be relied on to convert very large files without restrictions, and because they are the most secure since your files are never uploaded to a third party server.

Comparison: Reliability and Maximum file size
Instant download links vs. sent by emailMax file
size
Overall
A/B/C/D
Free PDF to Word Converter from SmartSoftn/aNo limitA
LibreOfficen/aLarge files slow to load (1)C
OpenOffice with PDF import extensionn/aLarge files slow to load (1)C
PDFMate Converter freen/aNo limitA
NuancePDFVia Email10 MB (2)A
PDF to Word Free from NitroPDFInstant Link5 MB or 50 pages per fileA
Convert.FilesInstant Link250 MBA
ZamzarVia Email100 MBA
PDFOnline.comInstant Link2 MBB
EasyPDF CloudInstant Link2 MBB
ConvertOnlineFree.comInstant Link30 MBA
ConvertPDFtoWord.netInstant Link> 12 MB (3)B (4)
FileminxInstant Link50 MBA
Pdfconverter.comVia Email2 MBB
PdfburgerInstant Link> 12 MB (3)A

(1) Both programs have such a hard time opening large PDF's for some reason that it can be very frustrating. We recommend that you use only if you have relatively small files. (2) We think this is the largest supported upload size but could not find confirmation anywhere. (3) We couldn't find exact upload limits but a 12 meg file uploaded just fine while a 60 meg file did not convert successfully. (4) We gave a 'B' score because the process of uploading large files would break down without alerting the user.

[expand title=”Click to see an in-depth explanation of ‘Reliability and max file sizes’ evaluation criteria” tag=”h5″ trigclass=”bazinga” swaptitle=”Evaluation Criteria Explained / Reliability and max file sizes”]
Instant download links vs. sending by email

  • We dislike having to wait for the email, for two reasons: first because sometimes the emails do not come or are very late, leaving the user unsure as to whether she should take another action or simply wait. The second reason is that the emails, when they arrive, do not contain your converted files as attachments but actually send you back to the site to download your files anyway, which to us seems somewhat, let’s say, ‘unelegant’.
  • Importance: despite raising the issue and comparing the various online tools, the email vs. direct link issue is not very important at the end of the day and we did not put a lot of weight on it (especially as any conversion service that demonstrated a significant delay of more than one hour in remitting emails was excluded from the list to begin with).

Max file size

  • Our take on this is that a 2 meg max file size is too small. We say this because many of the documents we converted in the course of writing this article were larger than 2 megs, and we got tired of splitting and merging them in order to perform the conversion. Although I am sure that the people behind the online tools will say that 80% or whatever of documents they encounter or that people want to convert come in at 2 megs or under, ebooks, trade brochures, and of course scanned documents are typically a lot larger than this, and we feel that they should be supported.
  • Therefore, all else being equal, any tool that limits processed PDFs to 2 megs or under got a (C) score, while any tool that supported 10 megs or above got an (A) score. Those in between received a (B) score.
  • Importance: actually, we feel quite strongly that maximum file sizes should be at least up to 10 megs, and we saw this criterion as important.

[/expand]

3.6 OCR Support

OCR (optical character recognition) is important when your source PDF has been scanned rather than digitally created. Typically, this means that a converter without OCR support thinks that your PDF contains images rather than text, and will render these images as is, such that you will not be able to edit the document (which we assume is the whole point of converting PDF to Word in the first place).

We discussed this issue in the ‘important issues and questions’ section above (under ‘Will the document be editable once it is converted’. The good news is that with OCR your image based document will be processed and rendered into editable text. Two online conversion tools offer OCR support, and both do a decent job at it: NuancePDF and Convert.Files. We were a bit surprised that any free tools actually had OCR support because this is typically regarded as a ‘premium’ feature.

OCR Quality: of the two tools mentioned here, Nuance seemed to provide the better quality OCR, although both were good. Note that we did not consider OCR in languages other than English. For more about OCR, we can point you to another article published on this site which offers a list of free OCR tools, with the disclaimer that converting an image document to text can be a labor intensive or involved process depending on the quality of the source.

4. Removed/Excluded Services

Why this section, you might ask? For the following reasons:

  • In case you are looking for a tool you read about in a previous version of this article, which may have been removed for whatever reason (typically, it is no longer free)
  • In case you know of a PDF to Word conversion tool that is not mentioned in this article; it could have been glossed over for a reason.

[expand title=”Click to see the list of PDF to Word conversion tools that were removed or excluded from the article” tag=”h5″ trigclass=”bazinga” swaptitle=”These PDF to Word conversion tools were deliberately excluded or removed from this article”]

These did not make the cut
NameTypereference
Wondershare PDF to Word ConverterDesktopIs not free. The free (and legal) version which used to be available for download in various places is no longer on offer. (You may encounter free Giveaways for this on the internet quite frequently though).
Wondershare PDF to Word Converter OnlineOnlineThe service seems to have been shut down or in any case the servers seem to not be responsive when we tried to test it over the past month prior to the update of this article. In any case it is just another online converter.
Doxillion Document ConverterDesktopThis program is free for personal use. However; it strangely attempts to download executables from the internet on performing the first conversion that will cause your antivirus program to freak out and interrupt the process. But even if you let it (like I did) the PDF to Word conversion was particularly poor and didn't warrant being written up.
FirstPDFDesktopNo longer a free program (and anyway nothing special)
PDF ShaperDesktopConversion quality so bad it had to be excluded.
Freemore PDF to Word ConverterDesktopSimply doesn't work.
Boxoft PDF to WordDesktopWorks; but does a very poor job almost across the board (although perhaps better that many of the converters also excluded in this table).
3D PageFlip Free PDF to WordDesktopIs in fact a rebranded version of Boxoft (above). Does not do a very good job.
Nemo Free PDF to Word ConverterDesktopCrashed so much on Win7 64 bit that I gave up on it (when it didn’t crash; it only converted the first 100 pages of a 272 page document). Quality wasn’t stellar either.
SomePDFDesktopWas removed because the conversion results were extremely poor compared to the others
Walker PDF to WordDesktopDid not work at all when we tried to test it.
SobiSoftware Convert PDF to Word FreeDesktopCrashes; doesn’t work; and anyway I can’t find it on the internet anymore.
HelloPDFDesktopWill only convert after sending the user to a webpage full of ads; which is very annoying. It also insists on being online to work.
FM PDF to Word ConverterDesktopInsists on installing some crapware toolbar – even when you uncheck it during the install process – and very low conversion quality to boot.
PDF to Word Converter from pdfwordconverter.netDesktopAssures you it is free; but will only convert 50% of your document for free.
Free PDF to Word Converter from free-pdf-to-word.comDesktopIs not really free; despite the ‘really freeware’ claim on the site.
Pdftohtml.netOnlineActually does a great job converting PDF to HTML (which you can load into MS Word); but a lot of the formatting is lost and this article is about converting PDF to DOC or RTF.
PDF MechanicDesktopConverts PDF to HTML (which you can load into MS Word); but does a poor job (and anyway this article is about converting PDF to DOC/DOCX/RTF). Seems to be discontinued and is hard to still find on the internet (although possible).
KoolwireOnlineRemoved because they discontinued the PDF conversion service
Cometdocs.comOnlineUnreliable; the promised email came days later; with a link that ‘expired’ mere minutes after the email arrived.
Convertpdftoword.org; Pdftowordconverter.orgOnlineAre landing pages powered by Cometdocs; and like that one; they are unreliable and will either not email your file at all; or make you wait a very long time.
[/expand]


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