Just over a year ago I reviewed Able2Extract 8. Since that time the product has received two major updates and a lot has changed in this little bit of time. Developed by Investintech.com Inc, Able2Extract converts PDF documents into a wide range of formats. This includes Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), images, html, and AutoCAD DWG. Since version 8 they have expanded the feature set to include tools for building and editing PDF.
“Join the over 250,000 licensed users of Able2Extract, in 135 countries, that rely on Able2Extract to convert their PDF documents to usable formats”
Here’s a quick summary of the new features in versions 9 & 10…
New in version 9
- PDF Creation (yep, prior to 9 the product was for converting from PDF, not to PDF)
- PDF Security (adding passwords and/or restrictions on what others can do with the PDF)
- “Minor” PDF Editing (document information, meta data, page adjustments)
- Print Dispatcher
- Improved PDF to Excel conversion
- Advanced PDF rendering (aka better readability)
New in version 10
- Convert Printable Formats to Excel (meaning any printable format – MS Word, PowerPoint, Open Office, etc can now be transferred into Excel)
- Export Directly to CSV
- Improved Custom PDF To Excel Conversion
- Merging And Splitting PDF Documents
- PDF Text Editing (meaning you can now edit PDF text directly)
- PDF Page Resizing
- Updated OCR (providing more “faithful” to the original content)
The product is available in two “flavours“; Able2Extract PDF Converter and Able2Extract PDF Professional. The major difference is the inclusion of OCR (Optical Character Recognition) in the Professional edition.
Converting PDF Documents
The one thing that hasn’t changed is the user interface, and this is a good thing. The UI is clean, modern, and simple to understand. The ribbon is laid out in the order of operation… open the PDF, select the objects to convert, set the output type, and you create your document. Pop-up bubbles aid in selecting the right step, great for first-time users. These bubbles are easy to dismiss and simple to disable once you become more comfortable with the software. As a regular Adobe product user, I really miss the shortcuts for pan / scroll (Middle Mouse Button) and zoom (Ctrl + wheel ). In Able2Extract you have to use the toolbars, which is a pain.
Although overall it is very easy to use, I did find the help is a bit lacking… mostly due to it not having a search. With no search, I struggled to find specific information on a couple features that I wanted to learn more about.
The conversion from PDF to another format is not an exact science. We have to try and remind ourselves that the process of creating PDFs takes (semi)intelligent information and “dumbs” in down into raster and/or vector-based information. The goal of PDF is ease of collaboration, not converting from one format to another. With Able2Extract, I got varied results, both good and bad, and some surprising results.
PDF to Word
From past usage of the product, I knew that it could handle basic documents, the ones that contained mostly text. So I figured this time why not see what it really can do? So I downloaded the Toyota Corolla brochure from the Toyota website… for no other reason than I know that it’s glossy and full of text AND images. The results? Much better than expected.
Yes, the above image is the PDF brochure converted to a Word Doc. What was the most impressive is that the text and images are in the exact position as in the brochure. It also did a phenomenal job of matching the font and paragraph settings. This brochure also converted to PowerPoint seamlessly, in fact, it could be used as a slide presentation straight-up with no additional work required.
PDF to Excel
Upon selecting convert, you are prompted to use the Automatic or Custom option. The Automatic would typically be used with simple spreadsheets, ones with little formatting. Here’s how the help explains it…
“The default conversion option into Excel is recommended for most conversions into Excel. Under this conversion option, the software algorithm automatically determines the positioning of the Excel columns. In most cases, this will result in perfect alignment within Excel.”
Here’s the original (which was generated from MS Excel)
Here is the result using the Automatic option…
As you can see, the Automatic option strips most of the formatting, which depending on the scenario is ok. I found that the Automatic does a really good job of recognizing columns but seems to struggle with rows and cells. Typically anytime text wraps to the next line of a cell, it recognizes it as a new row.
When you want to get into the “meat and potatoes” of the conversion use the custom option. I got better results with row detection by adjusting the row settings. Enabling Use Document Horizontal Lines got me way closer to the desired results and I could use Erase Row Line to remove the remaining unwanted row breaks.
My only complaint about converting to Excel is with the limits of the help I had to do a lot more “playing” with the options that I would have liked.
Taking vector based PDF to AutoCAD drawings is very quick, actually almost instant even with bigger drawings. This 133kb PDF resulted in a 176kb drawing, which to me is very acceptable.
Here are the settings I used
I got an interesting result when using the RGB (AutoCAD 2004) option in that it created a solid filled white hatch with black objects laid over top. How this relates to an AutoCAD 2004 option I’m not sure, so for me I will always be using the Standard settings
Like with all PDF to DWG converters I have used, there is no recognition of text, dimensions, or hatch (except for solid hatch). Objects of these types are converted as individual polyline objects. It does do a very good job of merging connected objects into polylines.
When attempting to convert a PDF generated from an AutoCAD Paper Space layout there was no recognition, which at first caught me off guard. After further thought, this makes sense…. Its like there is a piece of glass in front of the drawing, just like its explained in every AutoCAD beginners class! As I wasn’t using the Professional version, I wasn’t able to try out the OCR.
Building a PDF
When you install Able2Extract it also installs the Able2Extract Printer. With this you can print documents to PDF, thus converting just about any document to a PDF. This comes in handy when you are creating PDFs as you can insert Word, Excel, PowerPoint directly into the product and it converts these to PDF on the fly using the printer. This means you can pull together documents of varying sources, and use the embedded tools to move, rotate, and delete unwanted pages.
Able2Extract contains basic tools for creating and working with existing text. The help says it should be as easy as clicking and creating / editing, but I didn’t find it quite that easy. I had situations where I couldn’t edit nor create text and I’m not sure why.
- Clean, modern, easy-to-use user interface (UI)
- Conversions are quick and efficient
- Works with a wide variety of formats
- Help is lacking
- no text, hatch, or dimension recognition on PDF to DWG conversion
- some manual interaction required with PDF to Excel conversions
- Only basic text editing tools
At $99.95 ($129.95 for the Pro), Able2Extract provides good value, especially when you consider it both extracts data and contains tools for creating and editing PDF. The user interface is easy to navigate and guides you through the process (which is good as the help is limited). Although the amount of “smart” conversion is limited, the product works with a variety of formats and conversion process is typically very quick and produces clean data.
Feature Image “Daria Nepriakhina” by Daria / epicantus