The PDF format has become an expected standard for immigration forms and supporting documents. Indeed, we wrote an entire blog post about the top five PDF editing tools immigration law firms should know.
However, there will be moments when your clients may need to upload or provide a document in PDF format but may not have access to a proper scanner - since typically turning a physical document into a PDF requires scanning it and saving it as a PDF. Fortunately, nowadays this does not need to be a problem.
If either you or your client has a smartphone (and it’s likely that you both might in this day and age!), you can use your smartphone to take a picture of the physical document and convert it to a PDF file. There are a variety of apps available, ranging from free and simple to paid and more sophisticated, that either you or your client can use to turn photos of important documents into proper PDF files.
Here they are.
Five smartphone apps that convert photos to PDFs that you can use in your immigration law practice.
Some of the apps we recommend on this list are available in both iOS and Android, while others are only available for one but not the other. Either way, there is a photo-to-PDF app for you no matter what kind of smartphone you own.
Being able to digitize physical documents into PDF format that can be easily uploaded into your client portal or a government portal saves you time and allows you to keep moving cases along without getting stuck. So let’s go over some of the best reviewed applications in the main app stores right now:
Available in iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, and a web version, CamScanner allows you to scan documents from your phone, digitize documents like licenses and passport identification pages, sign documents, extract and edit text like a PDF annotating tool, protect documents with a pin, and save your documents in multiple formats, not just PDF. According to its description in the iOS App store, CamScanner has been downloaded over 750 million times.
CamScanner also allows you to share files through different formats, including email, WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams, and iMessage. To stay in the loop with notes and changes made to documents you’ve shared via CamScanner, the app allows you to turn on notifications on individual documents so you can stay on top of communicating with your team and your clients about the work you’ve done on that document from a different location. One account gives you access across multiple devices, including phones, computers, and tablets.
CamScanner has a free version and two paid versions. Let’s look at some of the features that differentiate the free version from the two paid versions:
- CamScanner Free: Some of the features of the free version include 200MB of cloud storage, the ability to sync your documents across devices, customizable watermarks, and the ability to upload your document to cloud storage services like Google Drive, Evernote, Dropbox, and OneDrive. All you need to do to access CamScanner free is to create an account.
- There are two types of paid CamScanner plans: Premium and Business. Some of the highlights of the Premium subscription are translations in over 60 languages and the ability to share multiple documents at once through the website. On the other hand, the Business plan has all the Premium features in addition to features that allow administrators more control over access to specific members. In both of these plans you can pay monthly or get a yearly subscription and save a little money.
This is not the only available platform you can try, though. PDFElement has similar features to CamScanner, with special emphasis on its ability to also convert PDFs to other formats.
Available for both iOS and Android, PDFElement goes beyond converting photos to PDF to also allowing you to edit and annotate your PDF once you’ve converted it. Most importantly, PDFElement lets you convert the PDF to other formats too, including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. You can also include scanned signatures and insert links into PDF documents.
There are three ways in which you can use PDFElement:
- Desktop: The desktop version gives you 1GB of free storage and gives you all the basic features of PDFElements, which are pretty exhaustive: editing, annotating, signing, converting, and filling out forms. To access the Desktop version of PDFElement, you can download it for free from their website. You can use the Desktop version of PDFElement on either a PC or Mac.
- Mobile: Available for iOS and Android, the mobile version includes all the features of the desktop version but without any cloud storage.
- Cloud: This version provides a significant increase in cloud storage space by providing 100GB. This is the best suited version for teams that need to collaborate from remote locations. One innovative feature of the Cloud version of PDFElement is the ability to track the activity in your PDF documents and comment on your documents, so your team can see your comments and follow up.
If, in addition to being mobile-friendly, you want an app that can convert pictures to PDFs offline, try Able2Extract PDF Converter. This could be a great recommendation to pass onto clients that don’t always have access to the Internet.
Able2Extract PDF Converter
Able2Extract is available for iOS and Android and serves as a very basic PDF converter. By itself, it doesn’t offer many of the bells and whistles that some of the other apps we feature in this article. For example, you’ll need a separate PDF reader to see the file you convert, and other apps to make edits or annotations, as opposed to making those changes in the same app.
But converting a file into PDF using this app is very simple, though - simply upload your picture and convert to PDF.
This is a very basic app that can help you get a picture converted to PDF quickly, especially if you’re trying to work with a client in challenging conditions. There may be an option for you that does more among the ones we’re discussing here. Our next recommendation is an iOS-specific app that converts any file on your phone into a PDF. Let’s take a look.
Readdle PDF Converter
Available for iPhone and iPad, Readdle allows you to convert pictures, web pages, and other documents on your clipboard into PDF. Once you convert your picture into PDF, you can store your file in a cloud-based storage like Dropbox.
A major selling point of this app is its ability to convert any file into a PDF and the ability to open and download files from your email, cloud storage apps, your files folder on your phone, or the web. To continue working with your file once it’s converted to PDF, Readdle recommends its sister app, PDF Expert.
If at this point you’re wondering if the inventors of the PDF format have anything to contribute to the photo-to-PDF market of applications, the answer is yes, they do. Let’s wrap this list up with the Adobe Scan mobile app.
This is a free application advertised as “your scanner in your back pocket” and focuses on scanning and recognizing text. One of the highlighted features of Adobe Scan is its ability to convert pictures from any surface (whiteboards, papers, and cards for example). However, Adobe Scan also gives you the chance to save your scans as both PDFs and JPEGs, so you can add these to other documents you may be working on. As in other apps, you can password-protect your documents, compress them to smaller formats to make sharing easier, and save them in the format of your choice by folders. You can later open your files in a desktop app like Adobe Acrobat Reader.
Adobe Scan is available for iOS and Android and is about as straightforward to use as you can go: scan your document or choose a picture, and convert to PDF. Every scan you capture is automatically stored in the Adobe Document Cloud, which allows you to access your scans across devices and on the go. Adobe Scan also excels at text recognition, along with features that let you “clean up” your scan to make the text clearer.
Notably, Adobe Scan is the New York Times’ pick of 2022 for the best mobile scanning app.
Organize and manage your immigration law firm’s cases with Docketwise
Docketwise is your one-stop solution to manage all your immigration law cases, client relationships, and yes, all your client’s PDFs. With our full library of immigration forms, easy-to-use client questionnaires and industry-leading integrations, Docketwise helps you stay up to date on all your immigration cases, communicate easily with your clients, and otherwise build and manage your immigration law firm.