Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Can I Add Text to a PDF?

Someone recently asked if they could change a PDF into a Word document so that they could add text.

PDFs are wonderful in that the documents remain the same no matter what computer you are on, hence the name Portable Document Format. For example, if the IRS did not use PDFs for their tax forms, different computers would arrange the text in different ways. Not what the IRS wants. So whenever people want to place their documents online and they also want to ensure that the format of those documents is not changed, they will place them online as PDFs.

However, what if you, or a customer, wanted to add text to a PDF? For example, here is a link to a PDF of a 6 generation genealogy fan chart. PDFs use a combination of text and graphic elements and as we see in this PDF, it includes text and graphics (the fan).

Using the Select Tool on Adobe Reader (the program on the computer that opens PDFs), you would only be capable of copying and pasting the text elements of this chart into Word. You would not be able to capture the "fan".

Using the Snapshot Tool in Adobe Reader, we can copy and paste the entire fan and text into Word, but it is only capable of displaying the fan as an image and NOT as an interactive-type document. Again, not the desired result.

Even using a free trial of a product that converts PDF to Word, it still sent the fan as an image.

However, some PDFs DO ALLOW you to add text if you have an updated Adobe Reader. Here is a link to a 1040 form from the IRS. You should be able to add text to this form and even select checkboxes. So interactive PDFs do exist in this world (not many but just enough to add confusion).

We all know that certain customers that come across a NON-interactive PDF will be a bit confused (rightfully so) if they have added text to an interactive PDF before. Without a knowledgeable explanation from library staff, they may think that it is our fault that they could not add text and their library experience could be sabotaged. Given a knowledgeable explanation, the customer will leave satisfied, even though they could not get what they wanted (which was impossible to get anyway).

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