Working with PDF Documents

PDF files are created with special software (Adobe Acrobat) to produce documents with layout determined by the sender (not interpreted by the browser as usual on the Web). It is a format used for many government documents (Census, CDC, many more).

An "Acrobat Reader" can be downloaded for free and comes with a Netscape "plugin", so that pdf files are automatically displayed within a Netscape window -- once the plugin is installed.

Lab installations. As of March 1998, not all computer labs at Hunter (including the large pool of labs in HN1001) have the current version (3.0) of the Acrobat Reader installed. So, while ERes has no problem of handling PDF documents, your students may not be able to open/read such documents in the Hunter labs -- if the file was generated with version 3 and the lab has version 2 installed only.

Full Acrobat software suite. Also, PDF documents tend to get fairly large, and sometimes you only need 1 or 2 pages (say an important table). If you have a copy of the full software, you can easily extract whole pages and create a new, smaller PDF document. But, right now and only after a long wait, Hunter has a limited site license only. So, you may not have easy access to the full software. Therefore, here are some hints for extracting text and graphics from a PDF document and putting them into another format (.txt, .htm, .wpd, etc.) just using the free Acrobat Reader.

Working with the free Adobe Reader

What I describe below works with Reader version 3.0 -- how much of this applies to the earlier version of the Acrobat Reader as well I have not checked. I verified all this under Win95, but I have not checked how things work under Win3.1. I hope they work the same way (according to the documentation, they should). And things should work even better on a Mac, though details may differ.

A. Working from within Netscape (PDF document is *not* on your computer -- yet, but you have accessed a pdf document at another site) and assuming the Acrobat plugin is installed on your computer: Note that there is a separate Acrobat toolbar. The two crucial buttons are the "select tool" (labeled "abc", 9th from the left) and the "copy button" (showing 2 pages, 5th from the left.

  1. Click select button
  2. Use mouse to drag over text you want
  3. Click copy button
Nothing seems to happen, but when you open another application, e.g., MS Word or WP, you simply hit CTRL-V and what you have copied gets put into your application.

Modification: If pdf document has multiple columns and you want text from one column only -- hold down the CTRL key while you drag.

B. Working separately with the Acrobat reader (pdf document has been downloaded or is stored on your computer) after you have started the Reader independently:
Basically the same as above though there is no copy button. Instead you have a full selection of drop down menus (like in any Windows application). To copy, select EDIT, then copy. In this situation, you can also extract graphics. Start with Tools/Select Graphics. More explicit directions are available from the Help menu. Select "Reader online guide/Viewing PDF documents/Copying and pasting text and graphics into another application."