Extract Data From PDF: How to Convert PDF Files Into Structured Data

Extract Data From PDF: How to Convert PDF Files Into Structured Data

The PDF (Portable Document Format) is here to stay. In today’s work environment, the PDF became ubiquitous as a digital replacement for paper and holds a variety of important business data.

But what are the options if you want to extract data from PDF documents? Manually rekeying PDF data is often the first reflex but fails most of the time for various reasons. In this article, we talk about PDF data extraction solutions (
PDF Parser) and how to eliminate manual data entry from your workflow.

Extract Data From PDF Documents

Automate menial data entry tasks with Docparser.


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How to extract data from a PDF

Extract data from PDF with Docparser

Manually re-keying data from a handful of PDF documents

Let’s be honest. If you only have a couple of PDF documents, the fastest route to success can be manual copy & paste. The process is simple: Open every document, select the text you want to extract, copy & paste to where you need the data.

Even when you want to extract table data, selecting the table with your mouse pointer and pasting the data into Excel will give you decent results in many cases. You can also use Tabula’s free tool to extract table data from PDF files. Tabula will return a spreadsheet file which you probably need to post-process manually. Tabula does not include OCR engines, but it’s a good starting point if you deal with native PDF files (not scans).

Outsourcing manual data entry

Outsourcing data entry is a huge business. There are thousands of data entry providers out there you can hire. To offer fast and cheap services, those companies employ armies of data entry clerks in low-income countries that do the heavy lifting. Data entry providers also use advanced technology to speed up the process; the overall workflow is, however, basically the same as the one described above: opening every single document, selecting the right text area, and putting the data inside a database or a spreadsheet.

Outsourcing manual data entry comes with a lot of overhead. Finding the right provider, agreeing on terms, and explaining your specific use-case only makes economic sense if you need to process high volumes of documents. And still, it’s likely much more efficient to let our automated scan to database software do the job we do with our email parser or PDF Docparser.

How do I automate PDF data extraction?

Automated PDF data extraction solutions come in different flavors, ranging from simple OCR tools to enterprise-ready document processing and workflow automation platforms. Most systems share, however, a similar workflow:

  1. Assemble batches of samples documents which acts as training data
  2. Train the system for each type of document you want to process
  3. Set up a process to automatically fetch documents, process them and dispatch the data

Most advanced solutions use different techniques to train the data extraction system. A simple method is, for example, Zonal OCR where the user simply defines specific locations inside the document with a point & click system. More advanced techniques are based on regular expressions and pattern recognition.

Extract Data from PDF with Zone OCR Technology

After the initial training period, document data extraction systems offer a fast, reliable, and secure solution to convert PDF documents into structured data automatically. Especially when dealing with many documents of the same type (Invoices, Purchase Orders, Shipping Notes, …), using a PDF Parser is a viable solution.

The case for extracting data from PDF documents

extract data from documents

Since the PDF was first introduced in the early 1990s, the Portable Document Format (PDF) saw tremendous adoption rates and become omnipresent in today’s workplaces. PDF files are the go-to solution for exchanging business data internally and with trading partners. Some popular use-cases for PDF documents in fields like supply chain, procurement, and business administration are:

  • Invoices
  • Purchase Orders
  • Shipping Notes
  • Reports
  • Presentations
  • Price & Product Lists
  • HR Forms
  • And more.

All document types mentioned above have one thing in common: They all are used to transfer essential business data from point A to point B.

So far, so good. However, there’s a catch–PDF is just a replacement for paper.

In other words, data stored in PDF documents is nearly as accessible as data written on a piece of paper. However, this becomes a problem whenever you need to access the data conveniently stored inside your documents. Which raises, for example, the question of how to extract data from PDF to Excel files?

The default reflex is to manually rekey data from PDF files or perform a copy & paste. However, manual data entry is a tedious, error-prone, and costly method and should be avoided. Below, we present different approaches to extracting data from a PDF file. But first, let’s dive into why PDF data extraction can be a challenging tasks.

Why is it challenging to extract data from PDF files?

There are several reasons why extracting data from PDF can be challenging, ranging from technical issues to practical workflow obstacles.

For starters, a lot of PDF files are scanned images. While those documents are easily readable for humans, computers cannot understand the scanned image text without first applying a method called Optical Character Recognition (OCR).

Once your documents containing text data (not just images) go through an OCR PDF Scanner, it’s possible to copy and paste parts of the text manually. This method is tedious, error-prone, and not scalable. Opening each PDF document individually, locating the text you need, and then selecting and copying it to another software takes way too much time.

Does my business need this data?

Data collection, extraction, and analysis are critical in a company. It can attract new customers, retain existing ones, and save your company time and resources. However, more important than the task of data extraction is the quality of the overall process. Data quickly and accurately automate mundane tasks, eliminate mistakes, and improve locating documents and managing extracted information.

That’s why it’s crucial to choose the right company to help you extract your data efficiently.

At Docparser, we offer a powerful yet easy-to-use set of tools to extract data from PDF files. Our solution was designed for the modern cloud stack, and you can automatically fetch documents from various sources, extract specific data fields, and dispatch the parsed data in real-time.

Look at our screencast below, which gives you a good idea of how Docparser works.

In the screencast, we introduce:

  • What is Docparser
  • Free trials
  • Document creations
  • How to upload samples
  • Generating parsing rules for each data field (Spoiler alert: our presets make this easy)

But let’s look more closely at the importance of data extraction and analysis.

What is data extraction?

Data extraction is the process of collecting or retrieving different data types from a variety of sources. Data extraction consolidates information, processes it, and refines the data to be stored in a centralized location.

“The best-run companies are data-driven, and this skill sets businesses apart from their competiton.” – Tomasz Tunguz

Why should I use a data extraction tool like Docparser?

Extracting data is inevitable in a company. At some point, you’re going to need to extract customer data from forms to upload it to a database. On the other hand, perhaps your company wants to consolidate a database or streamline internal processes by merging data sources from different departments. Either way, extracting data is important knowledge to have.

If done manually, extracting data is a tedious task. Most companies and organizations use an application like Docparser to take advantage of the tools to manage the process from start to finish. Docparser automates and breaks down the extraction process to use resources for other priorities. 

The benefits of using a data extraction tool include:

  • Control. Data extraction allows your company to extract and upload data to your database automatically. As a result, your data won’t fall prey to outdated applications or software. It’s your data, it’s protected, and it’s yours to use and organize.
  • Sharing. You can control who has access to your data. Extraction allows you to share data in a standard format and gives you permission to include or exclude whoever you want.
  • Agility. Growing pains, a common term used by any growing company. As companies grow, they need to adjust to working with different data types across separate systems. Data extraction consolidates the information into one centralized system to unify multiple data sets.
  • Accuracy. Manual processes performed by humans increase opportunities for easy errors, and require time to enter, edit, and review large volumes of data. Data extraction automates these tedious processes and helps to reduce time and errors.

why use docparser extract data pdfs

What are the types of data extraction?

We’ve reviewed the benefits of data extraction, but how is it typically applied? The first step to using data extraction to your advantage is identifying areas that benefit from the process. Next, these types of data are commonly extracted:

  • Bank statements. Bank statements are designed to be secure and challenging to identify or organize. The file names are usually random numbers so digitizing them consolidates them to one place. Also, bank statements contain important information, so you want document redundancy. Scanning and extracting data is vital to redundancy and protecting the data itself. 
  • Financial data. Along with bank statements, financial data can help you organize your business. From sales numbers, purchasing costs to competitor pricing, data helps companies track their performance, improve inefficiencies, and plan strategic plans to fix holes in their company.
  • Customer data. This data helps businesses analyze and understand their customers. This includes information like names, phone numbers, email addresses, id numbers, purchase history, social media activity, web searches, and more. You can extract all of this information and use it to build a database. 
  • Performance data. This data includes information related to tasks or operations within a company. For example, it’s any information related to your company’s logistics like customer feedback or shipping costs. 

After discovering your extraction needs, you’re ready to figure out how to extract the data and decide where you want or need to store it. Docparser allows you to automatically import documents from a specific folder to your cloud storage provider. Our app integrates seamlessly with BoxGoogle Drive, and Dropbox. If you’re familiar with cloud storage providers like OneDrive, then you’ll know how to use one of our integration platforms partners.

Integration platforms are great for copying and synchronizing data and documents between your chosen cloud application and automating tedious workflow tasks. Docparser can connect with:

All the platforms can import documents to Docparser and place the parsed data in any chosen location. So, importing documents from the cloud is easy if you have an account with one of the supported integration platforms.

A Simple PDF Data Extraction Tool

Automate menial data entry tasks with Docparser.


Try Docparser for free. No credit card required. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Does Docparser have page count limitations?

Probably our most asked question from our clients, our application was primarily designed for only 1-10 page long transactional documents like invoices, purchase orders, bank statements, etc. If your document has more than 30 pages, Docparser may not be the best fit for your business.

What is the file size limit?

Documents are limited to 20MB. Local upload speed affects how our fast server receives the file, but our recommendation for maximum file size is 8MB. Larger documents are likely to fail to import into our application otherwise.

Customers on our higher-tiered plans such as Business + and Enterprise have an increased upload size. 

Does Docparser extract data from emails?

No. Docparser doesn’t have email extraction capabilities. However, you can use emails to import PDF files into Docpaser. For example, if you receive PDF files like invoices by email, you can upload those documents to Docparser. 

We recommend our sister app, Mailparser.io. It’s an industry-approved leader in email parsing. 

We hope you better picture the different options for extracting data from PDF documents. Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or reach out to us by email.

Easily Extract Data from PDFs

Automate menial data entry tasks with Docparser.


Try Docparser for free. No credit card required. 

42 Responses

    1. Hi James, thanks for your great question! We do offer various ways of storing the parsed data in a SQL table and you can find more information on this topic in our PDF to Database article. Hope this helps!

  1. Hej guys, thanks for an awesome service – got a question for you: How can I parse a NUMBER from an invoice/line item from the BEGINNING of a line, usually on every second line of the invoice line items… I have tried to tag a LINEFEED/CR, but I cant figure out how ?? Other ideas ? My document have this tag: egsxtjlzbudx

    Thanks !

    1. Hi Lars! Thanks for reaching out! Would you mind sending your question to our support staff through the app? I’m certain they help you with this by adding a table row filter.

        1. Yes, an email to support [at] docparser.com/ would be the way to go. You can also use the “?” icon inside the Docparser web-app (bottom right) to contact support.

  2. Hello,

    I am looking to form a database in MS Excel from information contained in PDF files.

    These PDF files contain several different codes followed by specific information regarding a single subject.

    For example:
    [311] John Smith
    [834] 4245 Grass Rd.
    [756] 01/01/1990
    [110] *image*

    Now, these entries repeat over and over again in the PDF file, one after the other and arranged only in two columns.

    Can docparser extract this information and empty it into an excel file?

    And can docparser take an image contained in the PDF as well?

    1. Hi Daniel! Based on the description of your document I would say we should be able to extract the data you need. But to be sure, I would suggest you create a free trial account and upload a sample file.

  3. dear docparser’s,

    great looking features you have there. I have a question too. Any chance that I can use docparser to recognize different type of documents? I do have a library mixed with many kinds of document. Almost all scanned and OCR’d. I would like to parse these in bulk and based on number of criteria (visuals and textual content) differentiate invoice from company A and purchase order from company B. Or maybe simple ‘sent by company C’. In the end I would like to have some dedicated tags in each pdf meta-data to store type of document.

    Looking forward to your answer.

    Best regards, Pieter

    1. Hi Pieter! Thanks for the great question. We do indeed have a “layout model” feature which lets you classify documents based on keywords and then apply a matching set of data extraction rules. You can learn more about this feature here. Hope that answered your question!

  4. Is it possible to extract black text data that has been included under a black image. The text was not part of the image

    1. Hi Jeff, if the text is still stored in the PDF document (e.g. you can select it in your PDF viewer), we might be able to extract it. If this is however an image representation (scanned document), our OCR engine won’t be able to extract text which is not visible.

  5. Is it possible for the OCR to read human handwriting on an invoice, instead of computer generated text?

    The case for this would be if a user hand edited an invoice and changed the date, amount, number, etc.

    1. Hi Nick! Thanks for the great question. Handwriting OCR is not something we support at Docparser at this point in time. In our experience, the accuracy of handwriting detection is rather low and you should add a manual human validation and data cleaning step in your setup.

  6. Hello,
    I have an pdf file where i wanna extract data like name,id no,date,salary,funds etc where these all keywords are placed in different pages,and i have around 100 pdf files and i want to extract all these data from pdfs and place in an table format.Can u help me out solve this problem,,,,

    1. Hi Sai! What you describe does definitely sounds like something we can help you with. I would suggest that you create a free trial, upload a couple of documents and reach out to our support team if you have any questions regarding the setup.

  7. Would it be possible to generate simple count data from the data? Specifically: if a document just has a list of names and addresses, could DocParser both extract the names/addresses AND a count of how many names there are?

    1. Hi Becca, thanks a lot for reaching out and your interest in Docparser! We do have a filter which lets you populate a table column with the row number. So if your data can be parsed into a table, you can get the total number of table rows.

  8. I have a one-off requirement, to extract various example programs from a PDF containing a scan of the entire book “The SNOBOL4 programming language”, by Griswold, Poage, and Polonsky, published 1972. The scan from which the PDF was created appears to have been done with extreme precision. I have not so far been able to find any mis-scanned characters. However, the people who did the scan did not treat the example programs as tabular data. Instead, the scan has deposited little islands of program text into the PDF without regard for the vertical or horizontal whitespace separating them from one another. All my attempts to extract the program text from the PDF yield nothing but a confused mess that requires a lot of tedious error-prone manipulation before it is of any use to me. I am hoping that your product can help me automate the reformatting of the program text into coherent source files by looking at the X-Y coordinate information that accompanies each little island of text, so that the resulting source files are electronically equivalent to the beautifully formatted source text that I see on the screen when I view the PDF. Thanks in advance for your help.

    1. Hi Bruce! Thanks for the kind words and your question. I’m afraid Docparser is not a good fit for your use-case. Docparser is all about getting data from recurring documents with fixed layouts (e.g. Purchase Orders, Invoices, …). I’m sorry for the bad news and hope you’ll find a solution to your problem soon. Did you try for example pdftotext which comes with the Linux poppler-utils? This tool converts a PDF into plain text and comes with an option to preserve the layout (indentation).

      1. Thanks for the advice. As you suggest, I’ll be looking at pdftotext and similar offerings.

  9. Is it possible to extract the text in the JSON structured format, like description, case reports and reference as bold headings, below the headings we have text in multiple paragraphs make them as bold headings as keys and the values will be the list of paragraphs?

    1. Hi Srikanth! Docparser can convert PDF to JSON and you can extract certain elements from your PDF. However, Docparser is all about finding specific data points inside a document and does a less good job in extracting text blocks, headings, etc.

  10. I am looking for a system that will read our customers pdf orders and push them into our Sage X3 system, does your system offer this?

    Regards

    Simon

    1. Hi Simon, thanks a lot for reaching out and your interest in Docparser! We can definitely get your data extracted from PDF orders. Parsing purchase orders is actually a very popular use-case of Docparser. Regarding the Sage X3 integration, you can check if one of our integration partners (Zapier, Microsoft Flow, Workato, …) offers a connector which you can use. If not, you can also try to leverage our API to pull the data into Sage X3.

  11. Am I right, that this tool is used online in the browser? Can docparser be used in offline-/standalone mode?

    1. Hi Stefan, thanks a lot for reaching out and your interest in Docparser! You are absolutely right, Docparser is a cloud-based tool which runs in the browser and there is currently no way to install Docparser locally.

  12. Hey! I am looking to extract data from PDFs, save the PDF as a read-only file, and then upload the data and the PDF to a server automatically. Your program lets me accomplish the first task, but I am confused on how to automate the entire process. Does your program offer that functionality? If not, do you have any ideas on programs that I can use to accomplish this task?

    1. Hi Paul, thanks a lot for reaching! As you already mentioned, Docparser is a great for the first step on your workflow. However, we don’t offer a function which would let you set a PDF file to “read only” and I’m not aware of a solution which does all steps you are looking for.

  13. Hi,
    I would like to know if Parser can be used offline. I am in the maritime industry and we do not always have access to the internet. Hence we do not always have access to the cloud based server. Therefore, I would like to be able to use the program to extra data from fillable PDFs updated by a team of personnel, upload them to a central stand alone computer. Run the Parser program to extract the data to create a single report (preference would be in Word) then print and/or email the report.

    Is this possible using Parser? If so can you provide specific details so I can produce a business case for upper management.

    Thanks

    Mat

    1. Hi Mat, thanks a lot for reaching out and your interest in Docparser! Unfortunately we are a cloud-only application and you can’t use Docparser offline.

  14. Hi,
    I want to extract physical parameters from datasheet (spec) of a product.
    These parameters might be: physical dimensions, weight, power parameters, heat load, cables interfaces, etc…
    Of course, there is no “standard spec”, so the challenge is not trivial.
    Do you think your product may help?

    1. Hi Yoav, thanks for the great question. Docparser was primarily designed to extract data from documents with a more or less fixed layout. If each document looks entirely different, Docparser will probably not be a good match.

  15. I have a pdf document with 15 to 20 multi choice questions per page. Each question has 4 to 5 bulleted statements, each of which is an option. The correct option is formatted in bold text and it may be any one or more of the 4 to 5 bulleted options. We want to parse and save data to a table, and mark the option/s that is/are correct, and other options as incorrect.
    How can we do this?

    1. Hi Rajarshi,

      Thanks for reaching out! At this time our app does not have a way to discern the style of text in a document, i.e. bolded and italicized text.

      We may look at adding this functionality down the road, but we do not have a timetable for release.

      Sorry we can’t help here, if you have any questions in the meantime please let us know at support@docparser.com.

  16. Can the Docparser extract PDF properties into Excel or Sharepoint columns? Or, can it extract information from dynamic stamps?

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