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PDF Data and Table Scraping to Excel

Posted by: admin March 7, 2020 Leave a comment


I’m trying to figure out a good way to increase the productivity of my data entry job.

What I am looking to do is come up with a way to scrape data from a PDF and input it into Excel.

More specifically the data I am working with is from grocery store flyers. As it stands now we have to manually enter every deal in the flyer into a database. A sample of a flyer is http://weeklyspecials.safeway.com/customer_Frame.jsp?drpStoreID=1551

What I am hoping to do is have columns for products, price, and predefined options (Loyalty Cards, Coupons, Select Variety… that sort of thing).

Any help would be appreciated, and if I need to be more specific let me know.

How to&Answers:

After looking at the specific PDF linked to by the OP, I have to say that this is not quite displaying a typical table format.

It contains many images inside the “cells”, but the cells are not all strictly vertically or horizontally aligned:

Page 6 from the PDF linked in the OP

So this isn’t even a ‘nice’ table, but an extremely ugly and awkward one to work with…

Having said that, I’ll have to add:

Extracting even ‘nice’ tables from PDFs in general is extremely difficult…

Standard PDFs do not provide any hints about the semantics of what they draw on a page:
the only distinction that the syntax provides is the distinctions between vector elements (lines, fills,…), images and text.

Whether any character is part of a table or part of a line or just a lonely, single character within an otherwise empty area is not easy to recognize programmatically by parsing the PDF source code.

For a background about why the PDF file format should never, ever be thought of as suitable for hosting extractable, structured data, see this article:

Why Updating Dollars for Docs Was So Difficult (ProPublica-Website)

…but doing so with TabulaPDF works very well!

Having said the above now let me add this:

Tabula-Extractor is written in Ruby.
In the background it makes use of PDFBox (which is written in Java) and a few other third-party libs.
To run, Tabula-Extractor requires JRuby-1.7 installed.

Installing Tabula-Extractor

I’m using the ‘bleeding-edge’ version of Tabula-Extractor directly from its GitHub source code repository.
Getting it to work was extremely easy, since on my system JRuby-1.7.4_0 is already present:

mkdir ~/svn-stuff
cd ~/svn-stuff
git clone https://github.com/tabulapdf/tabula-extractor.git git.tabula-extractor

Included in this Git clone will already be the required libraries, so no need to install PDFBox.
The command line tool is in the /bin/ subdirectory.

Exploring the command line options:

~/svn-stuff/git.tabula-extractor/bin/tabula -h

Tabula helps you extract tables from PDFs

       tabula [options] <pdf_file>
where [options] are:
         --pages, -p <s>:   Comma separated list of ranges, or all. Examples:
                            --pages 1-3,5-7, --pages 3 or --pages all. Default
                            is --pages 1 (default: 1)
          --area, -a <s>:   Portion of the page to analyze
                            (top,left,bottom,right). Example: --area
                            269.875,12.75,790.5,561. Default is entire page
       --columns, -c <s>:   X coordinates of column boundaries. Example
                            --columns 10.1,20.2,30.3
      --password, -s <s>:   Password to decrypt document. Default is empty
                            (default: )
             --guess, -g:   Guess the portion of the page to analyze per page.
             --debug, -d:   Print detected table areas instead of processing.
        --format, -f <s>:   Output format (CSV,TSV,HTML,JSON) (default: CSV)
       --outfile, -o <s>:   Write output to <file> instead of STDOUT (default:
       --spreadsheet, -r:   Force PDF to be extracted using spreadsheet-style
                            extraction (if there are ruling lines separating
                            each cell, as in a PDF of an Excel spreadsheet)
    --no-spreadsheet, -n:   Force PDF not to be extracted using
                            spreadsheet-style extraction (if there are ruling
                            lines separating each cell, as in a PDF of an Excel
            --silent, -i:   Suppress all stderr output.
  --use-line-returns, -u:   Use embedded line returns in cells. (Only in
                            spreadsheet mode.)
           --version, -v:   Print version and exit
              --help, -h:   Show this message

Extracting the table which the OP wants

I’m not even trying to extract this ugly table from the OP’s monster PDF. I’ll leave it as an excercise to these readers who are feeling adventurous enough…

Instead, I’ll demo how to extract a ‘nice’ table. I’ll take pages 651-653 from the official PDF-1.7 specification, here represented with screenshots:

Pages 651-653 of the official PDF-1.7 specification

I used this command:

 ~/svn-stuff/git.tabula-extractor/bin/tabula \
   -p 651,652,653 -g -n -u -f CSV            \

After importing the generated CSV into LibreOffice Calc, the spreadsheet looks like this:

Screenshot from LibreOffice after importing the CSV

To me this looks like the perfect extraction of a table which did spread over 3 different PDF pages. (Even the newlines used within table cells made it into the spreadsheet.)


Here is an ASCiinema screencast (which you also can download and re-play locally in your Linux/MacOSX/Unix terminal with the help of the asciinema command line tool), starring tabula-extractor: