Category Archives: Data Mining

Data Mining PDFs – The simple cases

Extracting data from PDFs can be a laborious task. When you only want to extract all text from a PDF and don’t care about which text is a headline or a paragraph or how text boxes relate to each other, you won’t have much headaches with PDFs, because this is quite straight forward to achieve. But if you want to extract structured information (especially tabular data) it really gets cumbersome, because unlike many other document formats, PDFs usually don’t carry any information about row-column-relationships, even if it looks like you have a table in front of you when you open a PDF document. From a technical point of view, the only information we usually have in PDFs is in forms of text boxes, which have some attributes like:

  • position in relation to the page
  • width and height
  • font attributes (font family, size, etc.)
  • the actual content (text) of the text box

So there’s no information in the document like “this text is in row 3, column 5” of a table. All we have is the above attributes from which we might infer a cell position in a table. In a short series of blog posts I want to explain how this can be done. In this first post I will focus on the “simple cases” of data extraction from PDFs, which means cases where we can extract tabular information without the need to calculate the table cells from the individual text box positions. In the upcoming posts I will explain how to handle the harder cases of PDFs: So called “sandwich” documents, i.e. PDFs that contain the scanned pages from some document together with “hidden” text from optical character recognition (OCR) of the scanned pages.

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