Generate searchable PDFs with Azure Form Recognizer
Published Oct 17 2022 05:00 AM 3,208 Views

PDF documents are widely used in business processes. Digitally created PDFs are very convenient to use. Text can be searched, highlighted, and annotated. Unfortunately, a lot of PDFs are created by scanning or converting images to PDFs. There is no digital text in these PDFs, so they cannot be searched. In this blog post, we demonstrate how to convert such PDFs into searchable PDFs with a simple and easy to use code and Azure Form Recognizer. The code will generate a searchable PDF file that will allow you to store the document anywhere, search within the document and copy and paste. Blog content:


Azure Form Recognizer overview

Azure Form Recognizer is a cloud-based Azure Applied AI Service that uses deep machine-learning models to extract text, key-value pairs, tables, and form fields from your documents. In this blog post we will use text extracted by Form Recognizer to add it into PDF to make it searchable.


Searchable vs non-searchable PDFs

If PDF contains text information, user can select, copy/paste, annotate text in the PDF. In searchable PDF (example), text can be searched and selected, see text highlighting below:

PDF with digital textPDF with digital text

If PDF is image-based (example), text cannot be searched or selected. Image compression artifacts are typically seen around text by zooming in:

Image based PDFImage based PDF


How to generate a searchable PDF

PDFs contain different types of elements: text, images, others. Image-based PDFs contain only image elements. The goal of this blog is to add invisible text elements into PDF, so users can search and select these elements. They are invisible to make sure that produced searchable PDF looks identical to original PDF. In example below word “Transition” is now selectable using invisible text layer:

Invisible text layerInvisible text layer


Pre-requirement installation

Please install the following packages before running searchable pdf script:

  1. Python packages: 
    pip install azure-ai-formrecognizer pypdf2 reportlab pillow pdf2image​​
  1. Package pdf2image requires Poppler installation. Please follow instruction based on your platform or use Conda install: 
    conda install -c conda-forge poppler


How to run searchable PDF script

  1. Create a Python file using the code below and save it on local machine as
  2. Update the key and endpoint variables with values from your Azure portal Form Recognizer instance (see Quickstart: Form Recognizer SDKs for more details).
  3. Execute script and pass input file (pdf or image) as parameter:
    python <input.pdf/jpg>

    Sample script output is below:

    (base) C:\temp>python input.jpg
    Loading input file input.jpg
    Starting Azure Form Recognizer OCR process...
    Azure Form Recognizer finished OCR text for 1 pages.
    Generating searchable PDF...
    Searchable PDF is created: input.jpg.ocr.pdf
  4. Script generates searchable PDF file with suffix .ocr.pdf.


Searchable PDF Python script

Copy code below and create a Python script on your local machine. The script takes scanned PDF or image as input and generates a corresponding searchable PDF document using Form Recognizer which adds a searchable layer to the PDF and enables you to search, copy, paste and access the text within the PDF.


# Script to create searchable PDF from scan PDF or images using Azure Form Recognizer
# Required packages
# pip install azure-ai-formrecognizer pypdf2 reportlab pillow pdf2image
import sys
import io
import math
import argparse
from pdf2image import convert_from_path
from reportlab.pdfgen import canvas
from reportlab.lib import pagesizes
from reportlab import rl_config
from PIL import Image, ImageSequence
from PyPDF2 import PdfFileWriter, PdfFileReader
from azure.core.credentials import AzureKeyCredential
from import DocumentAnalysisClient

# Please provide your Azure Form Recognizer endpoint and key

def dist(p1, p2):
    return math.sqrt((p1.x - p2.x)*(p1.x - p2.x) + (p1.y - p2.y) * (p1.y - p2.y))

if __name__ == '__main__':
    parser = argparse.ArgumentParser()
    parser.add_argument('input_file', type=str, help="Input PDF or image (jpg, jpeg, tif, tiff, bmp, png) file name")
    parser.add_argument('-o', '--output', type=str, required=False, default="", help="Output PDF file name. Default: input_file + .ocr.pdf")
    args = parser.parse_args()

    input_file = args.input_file
    if args.output:
        output_file = args.output
        output_file = input_file + ".ocr.pdf"

    # Loading input file
    print(f"Loading input file {input_file}")
    if input_file.lower().endswith('.pdf'):
        # read existing PDF as images
        image_pages = convert_from_path(input_file)
    elif input_file.lower().endswith(('.tif', '.tiff', '.jpg', '.jpeg', '.png', '.bmp')):
        # read input image (potential multi page Tiff)
        image_pages = ImageSequence.Iterator(
        sys.exit(f"Error: Unsupported input file extension {input_file}. Supported extensions: PDF, TIF, TIFF, JPG, JPEG, PNG, BMP.")

    # Running OCR using Azure Form Recognizer Read API 
    print(f"Starting Azure Form Recognizer OCR process...")
    document_analysis_client = DocumentAnalysisClient(endpoint=endpoint, credential=AzureKeyCredential(key), headers={"x-ms-useragent": "searchable-pdf-blog/1.0.0"})

    with open(input_file, "rb") as f:
        poller = document_analysis_client.begin_analyze_document("prebuilt-read", document = f)

    ocr_results = poller.result()
    print(f"Azure Form Recognizer finished OCR text for {len(ocr_results.pages)} pages.")

    # Generate OCR overlay layer
    print(f"Generating searchable PDF...")
    output = PdfFileWriter()
    default_font = "Times-Roman"
    for page_id, page in enumerate(ocr_results.pages):
        ocr_overlay = io.BytesIO()

        # Calculate overlay PDF page size
        if image_pages[page_id].height > image_pages[page_id].width:
            page_scale = float(image_pages[page_id].height) / pagesizes.letter[1]
            page_scale = float(image_pages[page_id].width) / pagesizes.letter[1]

        page_width = float(image_pages[page_id].width) / page_scale
        page_height = float(image_pages[page_id].height) / page_scale

        scale = (page_width / page.width + page_height / page.height) / 2.0
        pdf_canvas = canvas.Canvas(ocr_overlay, pagesize=(page_width, page_height))

        # Add image into PDF page
        pdf_canvas.drawInlineImage(image_pages[page_id], 0, 0, width=page_width, height=page_height, preserveAspectRatio=True)

        text = pdf_canvas.beginText()
        # Set text rendering mode to invisible
        for word in page.words:
            # Calculate optimal font size
            desired_text_width = max(dist(word.polygon[0], word.polygon[1]), dist(word.polygon[3], word.polygon[2])) * scale
            desired_text_height = max(dist(word.polygon[1], word.polygon[2]), dist(word.polygon[0], word.polygon[3])) * scale
            font_size = desired_text_height
            actual_text_width = pdf_canvas.stringWidth(word.content, default_font, font_size)
            # Calculate text rotation angle
            text_angle = math.atan2((word.polygon[1].y - word.polygon[0].y + word.polygon[2].y - word.polygon[3].y) / 2.0, 
                                    (word.polygon[1].x - word.polygon[0].x + word.polygon[2].x - word.polygon[3].x) / 2.0)
            text.setFont(default_font, font_size)
            text.setTextTransform(math.cos(text_angle), -math.sin(text_angle), math.sin(text_angle), math.cos(text_angle), word.polygon[3].x * scale, page_height - word.polygon[3].y * scale)
            text.setHorizScale(desired_text_width / actual_text_width * 100)
            text.textOut(word.content + " ")


        # Move to the beginning of the buffer

        # Create a new PDF page
        new_pdf_page = PdfFileReader(ocr_overlay)

    # Save output searchable PDF file
    with open(output_file, "wb") as outputStream:

    print(f"Searchable PDF is created: {output_file}")


Version history
Last update:
‎Oct 24 2022 05:50 PM
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