Python and PDF: A Review of Existing Tools

By Johannes Filter
Published Apr 11, 2020 (last updated: Feb 18, 2022)

The Portable Document Format (PDF) was invented in the early 1990s and it’s still thriving. But PDFs are mainly for humans – not machines. So it’s often hard to automatically extract information out of PDFs. Besides, more and more functionalities were put into PDF. The complexity of the format makes it hard to get started. But there are existing, well-established software tools. Some have been around for decades. In this blog post, I review some existing tools with the focus on Python. Python is the default language for data processing right now.

PDF Utilities / System Libraries

There are some PDF libraries that power PDF Viewers but can also be used to work on PDFs from the command line. There are general purpose tools that can be used for several tasks.

  • ghostscript: PDF started with ghostscript so this is the mother of all PDF tools.
  • poppler: Used for the vast majority of Linux-based PDF viewers, Libre Office, etc. ‘poppler-utils’ is a collection of tools built upon poppler, e.g. ‘pdftotext’.
  • mutool: Another alternative, lightweight PDF library (there is also a PDF viewer).
  • qpdf: Not a fully-fledged PDF library, mainly to manipulate PDFs.

PDF Toolkits / Python Bindings

  • pymupdf: wrapper around ‘mutool’ (but also extends it in some cases (e.g. PDF EmbeddedFiles)). General purpose tool with a lot of example scripts.
  • pikepdf (recommended): wrapper around ‘qpdf’.
  • pdflib: wrapper around ‘poppler’. This library replaces the need for the specialized packages pdftotext and pdf2image that also use ‘poppler’ underneath. However, it’s hard to setup.
  • pdftk: PDF manipulation. (unmaintained, a maintained Java re-implementation)
  • pypdfium2: bindings for Google’s PDFium similar to pymupdf, but not licensed under GPL

Creating & Reading PDFs

Getting Information out of PDFs

  • parsr (recommended): tries to transform PDF into structured data, internally uses ‘pdfminer.six’, ‘camelot’ and more.
  • pdfminer.six: a maintained fork of pdfminer
  • pdfplumber (recommended): works best on digital PDFs, built upon ‘pdfminer.six’
  • py-pdf-parser: another tool built upon ‘pdfminer.six’, includes a simple tool to visualize elements of an PDF document
  • pdfreader: pure Python
  • pdf-to-markdown: using pdf.js to turn PDFs to Markdown
  • pd3f: PDF text extraction pipeline based on parsr, ocrmypdf and other tools (I’m the author)



  • invoice2data: extract content from invoices with with help of pre-defined templates

General Text Extraction of Files


Preprocessing Scans

Document Management Systems


  • mat2: metadata removal
  • DangerZone: GUI to create safe PDFs, 1. transform PDF into images, 2. transform images into a PDF, 3. OCR (& compress) PDF
  • pdfc: compression
  • pdf-redactor: redaction
  • OpenRedact: app and other tools for redaction
  • pdf-scripts: a collection of scripts (Bash / Python) to work on PDFs (I’m the author)
  • archive-pdf-tools: fast PDF generation and compression by the Internet Archive
  • k2pdfopt
  • borb

Machine Learning based Document Layout Analysis

Further Resources

Please write me an email if you think a tool is missing.