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4 Ways to Extract Data from PDFs

Portable Document Formats (PDFs) are considered the best digital alternative for paper-based files due to their great compatibility across different operating systems and devices. They are commonly used for exchanging digital business documents, including contracts and invoices. The main advantage of PDFs is that they are portable, readable, and platform-independent.

However, PDFs don’t have a standard format, making it hard to access the information for data analysis. Therefore, it’s essential to know how to extra data from PDF files and understand the information within them. Here are four common ways of extracting data from PDFs.  

1. Copy and paste

Copy-pasting information from PDF to an appropriate program is one of the easiest ways of extracting data, especially when dealing with a small number of simple documents. You can use a PDF Editor or reader to extract information by copying without hassle. However, you must have Microsoft Office 2013 or the latest version to use this method.

  • Open each PDF file
  • Select a portion of data or text on a certain page or a collection of pages
  • Press Ctrl + C to copy the selected data
  • Use the Ctrl + V shortcut to paste the copied data into a Doc, XLS, or any other target file

Although this method offers excellent results, it can’t handle complicated elements, such as tables with cell spacing. It’s also impossible to extra data in bulk since you have to open one PDF at a time.

2. Convert PDF file to excel

Excel is an editable file, so you can convert a PDF file to an excel file to extract data from PDFs. Here is how you can easily convert your PDF documents to editable excel files using Adobe Acrobat.

  • Open a PDF document in Acrobat
  • Click on the “Export PDF” tool in the right pane
  • Select “Worksheet” as the export format and choose a new “Excel Workbook”
  • Click on “Export.” If your PDF files have scanned text, Adobe Acrobat will automatically run text recognition
  • Save the converted document by naming your new excel file and then clicking “Save”

3. Outsource manual data entry

Handling manual data extraction from PDFs for many files in-house can be unsustainable and expensive in the long run. The fast and cheapest way is to outsource manual data entry. Online services such as Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer, and other similar platforms have thousands of data entry specialists.  However, outsourcing data entry comes with several overheads, so you must find the right providers, agree on terms, and explain your use case.

4. Use automated PDF data extraction software

Due to advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), you can now train an intelligent optical character recognition (OCR) solution that can automatically extract data from PDF files. Here is how to set up a production-ready system.

  • Train from samples: Upload documents and interpret the data you want to extract
  • Integrate email or DMS to send data: Create forwarding rules on your email client to automatically send emails with PDF attachments.
  • Download CSV or integrate API to push data: You can use API or CSV file to send the extracted data to a database or other software.


Data stored in PDF files is nearly accessible as information written on paper. However, this becomes an issue whenever you want to access the data stored inside your file conveniently. Fortunately, these few methods can help you extract data from PDF documents efficiently.

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