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Modifying PDF Documents

by Alan German

Many programs these days have the capability of saving original documents as PDF files but few applications are able to edit the contents of a PDF file. However, there are some programs that can modify an existing PDF file. One such piece of software is PDFTK Builder, which will let you re-arrange pages in a single PDF file, append pages from a second PDF file, split pages out of a PDF file, add background images to pages, rotate pages, and password protect a PDF file. Not a comprehensive content editor it's true, but still an impressive list of features by which an existing PDF file can be modified.

PDFTK Builder is essentially a Windows version of PDFTK (, a command-line program from Sid Steward of PDF Labs. Angus Johnson, the developer of PDFTK Builder, has built a graphical front end onto the original utility to produce an easy-to-use Windows version of the software.

It will probably be useful to consult the help file in order to determine how the various options work. For example, to remove pages from a document, you open the file, specify which pages you wish to retain, and then use Save As to save a copy of the desired pages from the original file. This process removes any pages that were not specified from the document - a slightly strange way of doing things - but effective nonetheless.

Another way to extract certain pages from various documents and combine these into a single file is to use both the Split and Collate functions.

For example, the club's financial report (the balance sheet and income statement) were published on pages 3-4 of the February newsletter, while the reviewer's report was published on page 3 of the June issue. We can use PDFTK Builder to extract these three pages from the two PDF newsletter files, and then combine them into a new PDF file. Firstly, we use the Split tab and open the February newsletter (stored as NEWS1202.pdf) as the source PDF file. Pressing the Save button creates a series of PDF files, each containing a single page of the newsletter. The two pages of interest are therefore NEWS1202_003.pdf and NEWS1202_004.pdf, these being pages 3 and 4 respectively of the newsletter. Processing the June issue in a similar fashion provides access to the reviewer's report in the file NEWS1206_003.pdf.

Now, we can open the Collate tab, press the Add button, and select the above-noted three files as our input data. Pressing Save As and specifying the new file financial_report_2011.pdf results in the three desired pages being stored in the new file (see image of dialogue box).

PDFTK Builder is a little quirky in terms of its operations, and is limited in terms of its functionality for modifying PDF file, but it does have some useful features should you need to do simple modifications on an existing PDF file.

Bottom Line:

PDFTK Builder (Open-source)
Version 3.6
Angus Johnson

Originally published: September, 2012

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