PDFs: There and back again

In newsgroups, one frequently sees a form of the question "I have a PDF, how do I make a Word / Frame / Excel / whatever document out of it?"

Many will complain that PDF are troublesome because they can't round-trip the files. Such comlainers are missing the point: PDF was never meant to be a means to an end . . . it is the end, other than printing, separations, and the other usual stuff you do with a PDF.


If you only want the text -- you'll worry about the layout later -- you can select the text (unless the ability to has been turned off by the security settings) and paste it elsewhere. For multipage documents, you can save time by setting your view to continuous: you will end up with a file you can do a Ctrl+A on and grab the whole thing.

If you have full Acrobat, not just the Reader, you can do a Save As or an Export to several formats. Be aware, however, that the result is rarely what you want, and you'll need to spend a lot of time formatting the file.

If you want something that's much close to the original, there are some third-party tools out there that might be able to do the job. For more information, visit the Adobe Acrobat resources page, Planet PDF, or PDF Zone. I have never used any of these tools, so you're on your own there. You will also find tools to grab tables and pump them into Excel.


Extracting graphics can be a bit more troublesome, depending on how far you want to go to get as good as the original, but there are several solutions.

Third party. See the same links above. Some tools extract individual graphics, while others (such as SuperPrint from Zenographics, www.zeno.com but last time I checked it wasn't released for Windows 2000) can print a whole page to a big TIFF, JPEG, or other bitmapped file.

Illustrator, Photoshop or other Acrobat-reading program. These programs can read PDFs directly. When opened, you get a page-sized graphic: blow away what you don't want and keep the rest.

Use Acrobat's Edit Image tool. I've found this a great tool, and it's also an excellent way to grab screenshots out of a PDF or . . . and this is what's really great . . . a great way to extract screenshots that were pasted rather than linked (and even resized!) into a Word document. For details, click here, which takes you into my FrameMaker online help, then click "How to extract embedded grasphics" in the left column. Or, if you have no interest in the help and just want to see the basics, click here.

Make an EPS from the PDF. If you have a graphics program that can work with EPSs but not open PDFs, then consider making an EPS from the PDF and then opening that. You will need the full Acrobat product, not just the Reader.