How to Extract Data From PDFs

Claire Murdough
May 16, 2017
minute read
How to Extract Data From PDFs
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Have you ever needed to extract data from a PDF only to run up against what feels like a locked vault? You’re not alone. The inflexible nature of PDFs makes it incredibly difficult to interact with data. It’s no wonder you eventually end up Googling things like “How to Extract Data from PDFs”!

Luckily you have options.

In this post, we’ll share a few “old-fashioned” ways to extract data from a PDF. These methods work in a pinch.

Then we’ll show you an easier, faster, and all around better way to unlock your PDFs and keep your data fluid so it can move quickly where it needs to go. (Feel free to skip to the end of the post if that last bit sounds more interesting to you.)


Passable Options for Extracting Data From PDF

1. Copy and Paste Text from a PDF to a Word Document

One way to extract data is to highlight and copy text from a PDF and paste it into a Word document, Google Document, or spreadsheet. Consider this a “scrappy but unsustainable” way of collecting data from a PDF. You’ll gain access to your data, but it’s more like a workaround than an actual solution.

Also keep in mind that the original formatting of the PDF won’t hold (see below).

Here’s the original PDF:

Here’s what the text looks like after being copied and pasted into Word:

2. Use a PDF Converter Tool

There are many services that were were designed specifically to convert PDFs into editable formats. These services are a dime a dozen, and range from the reputable to the spam-y and scam-y.

Most work by asking you to upload a document to their website, either from your desktop or from a cloud storage service. Once uploaded, the PDF will run through their software which will convert it to a new file format of your choosing. The new format will usually be made available for download and possibly emailed to you as well.

This method requires several steps and reliance on sometimes questionable security and privacy, making it a less than ideal method for companies that handle high volumes PDF documents.

3. Extract Data Manually

The least palatable option of the bunch is to manually extract data from your PDFs. This is accomplished by reviewing the PDF and then entering desired information into a spreadsheet or document by hand.

It’s obviously a tedious route, and one rife with the potential for human error. It’s not recommended for maximum efficiency.

An Optimal Way to Capture and Use Data

If none of the options above float your boat, you’re in luck (and on the right track)! There are faster and easier ways to extract information from PDFs. The best of the best being Dropbox Forms.

Dropbox Forms frees you from having to rely on PDFs by keeping all data fluid and flexible. Instead of collecting information via uneditable PDFs, users are initially guided through a series of independent data fields.

Here’s What it Looks Like:

Information that’s entered into these field is automatically funneled into a secure database. This essentially eliminates the problem of having to extract data to begin with.

Here’s a closer look at how it works:

Dropbox Forms also adapts to infinite workflows. So whether you’re an HR professional trying to extract data from onboarding documents or a leasing manager looking to collect and store renter information tidily in one spot, Dropbox Forms works.


  • Collect and store important data upfront, rather than locking it into a PDF. This keeps data fluid and eliminates the issue of extraction entirely.
  • Create PDFs as needed by auto-filling data into pre-formatted documents. While it’s nice to escape the limitations of PDFs, there’s no denying they’re still a popular format for dispersing documents. Dropbox Forms can be used to automatically insert data into documents that are then saved as PDFs. It’s the best of both worlds.

Suggested Reading: “What is Dropbox Forms?” shares even more information and examples.

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