Adobe ExportPDF: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

A few months ago Adobe released a new online service called ExportPDF, which converts PDFs to Word documents while retaining the formatting. For $19.99 per year (automatically renewing) one can convert unlimited PDFs to Word documents. It seemed interesting and potentially useful, so I signed up.


As with any service, there are advantages and disadvantages not only to using Adobe ExportPDF, but the mere existence of the service. On the upside, for instance, you now have a simple method for turning PDF forms into editable documents. No more re-typing examples, or copying-and-pasting without the formatting. Here is part of a basic will form as a PDF, and here is the converted, editable document. As you can see, the formatting is retained amazingly well. And the whole conversion for this 3-page example took less than 10 seconds.

On the downside, however, there are some limitations in what the converter can handle. Here is the output of a notarized affidavit with some handwriting and two signatures on it. Although ExportPDF claims that it uses OCR to make scanned text editable, there are clearly some limitations on that technology, given the affidavit above.

Also notable are two limitations I have discovered while testing it. First, the output files are in the .docx format, which was introduced with the release of Microsoft Word 2007. Although older versions of Word can download .docx viewers, and OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice can open them, there is a known problem with opening ExportPDF .docx files in LibreOffice. Every converted document I tried to open in LibreOffice opened as a single blank page. Regular followers of Lawyerist will recognize our fondness for open-source office software, so for users of LibreOffice (and presumably for OpenOffice.org as well) ExportPDF is not all that useful.

The second limitation I found is with at least some PDFs created with CutePDF (a free PDF creator), the conversion from PDF to editable document either missed some of the formatting, or produced a completely empty document. The will example earlier in this post started as a 10-page PDF. I was having some read-write problems with deleting pages, so I opted to just print the first 3 pages through CutePDF, which looks to work the same as an Acrobat-produced PDF. But post-conversion I had a blank 3-page .docx file. With another CutePDF-created PDF, I kept the headers, footers, and text, but boldface, underlining, and italics were all eliminated. So it seems that ExportPDF plays well with Adobe and Microsoft software, but is not yet universal.

Finally, since it is now so easy to convert back and forth between PDFs and editable documents, we may need to pay closer attention to PDF documents sent back and forth between parties. In the past I generally felt that sending a document to review in PDF form limited the ability of the recipient to make any changes to the document, and that I could be reasonably certain that the document (especially a document that has been sent to be executed) was the same as the document I sent. ExportPDF, however, makes editing and re-converting documents to PDFs so easy that PDFs don’t have that same level of inherent security. I would never suggest that someone could forego reviewing an important document that has been executed by one party; this new service just makes review of documents all that much more important.

In all, I think that ExportPDF is a great deal, and is well worth your $20 if you ever want to save some time by being able to edit old PDFs for new purposes, or if you want to lift some language from a PDF to insert in a different document. It is ludicrously fast, and so simple that it’s nearly impossible to have any problems executing the conversion. There are some limitations, though, and for people like me who don’t want to shell out for Microsoft’s Office Suite, it is not yet useful.

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  • http://thebestcabinetsite.com/ Craig Parker

    Adobe and pdfs aside, it was refreshing to hear that you’re using open source (libreoffice) on at least some kind of regular basis. I keep thinking I’m stranded on an opensource island after dealing with the building supply industry and all of the jalopy software it runs.

    As far as making forms, I’ve had some success using a pdf page as a background image in a Calc document. Cabinet order forms is where I do this mostly. Like you, I’m not getting Office anytime soon (my last copy was ’97) so this might not work so well for me.

    Have you run across anyone who can use pdftk in a script that gives you what you want?

  • William Chuang

    There’s also the security issues involved with sending potentially confidential client information to a service that has an unknown security stance.

  • http://www.martinlegalservices.com Graham Martin

    Hi, Craig. Open source is the name of the game with Lawyerist contributors and followers (generally), and it gets a lot of air time and promotion. I had been using OpenOffice.org until I found out they had stopped development and it had been picked up by others in the form of LibreOffice.

    I haven’t had any experience with PDF ToolKit, but it looks great and I’ll definitely need to try it out in conjunction with ExportPDF. And thanks for the tip for using Calc (or Excel for the Microsoft adherents). That may prove helpful for Lawyerist readers.

    @William: I’m aware of the potential concerns with sending confidential information to services, but it’s my understanding that services like ExportPDF are much like other cloud applications AND email, in that it’s going through servers, but not to any people. I’m sure there is still room to debate this, especially since not all states have proposed rules on cloud services. Regardless, it is something every attorney should consider for him- or herself when using a cloud service.

  • Judson Jennings

    Question: Where do the footnotes wind up? I tried using a commercial pdf converter for law review articles, but with footnotes at the bottom of the page the result was a mess. Thanks for highlighting this product.

  • https://launchpad.net/~sd-imi sdaau

    Hi there Graham,

    I just wanted to say thanks a million for your post!

    I have to do mostly with coding and I am also an open-source proponent… And so I came to a situation where my fancy Latex-generated PDF paper was not acceptable to a publisher — they wanted MS Word instead (?!). Then I spent about a week to get htlatex/oolatex -> OOO -> word doc pipeline working; takes a LOT of work, and *still* I couldn’t get all formatting to be preserved!

    Now, since I use Linux with `evince` document viewer, I haven’t been exposed to Adobe Reader for a while… So I tried to fire up Adobe Reader X on a Windows machine at work to see how my PDFs print there – and there I saw a commercial for exportPDF, and I thought – well, this may just as well work for me… But then again, I was still suspicious – because even if there is such a service, without me using MS Word, there is still the question of how do I double-check the results of the online conversion: if I just open it in OpenOffice, and OOO doesn’t import the .docx/.doc right, no way for me to verify that the conversion made is good enough for the publisher…

    Which is to say – that is why I’m so thankful for your post: I tried opening your Adobe-ExportPDF-Form-Example.docx in both LibreOffice 3.3.4 (crashes without any error output), and OpenOffice.org 3.1 (it opens the .docx, but there are like two extra pages with text placed in two-column mode? ergo, formatting corrupt) … which is to say, that for me, your post’s closing sentence more than applies.

    Thanks again for putting my expectations in perspective :)
    Cheers!

  • Jennifer

    Hello. I am looking into purchasing a pdf convertor and came across your review. I’d be interested to know after almost a year if you are still pleased with the product and if you had to do it over again would you purchase the the Adobe ExportPDF? Any feedback would be great. Thanks!

  • Alex

    When you type adobe exportpdf reviews this is the first page to pop up! So I wanted to add my 2-cents since I’ve purchased the product…

    Since a patch/update/bug-fix back in October, the functionality of the product has been sporadic at best, with many, including myself, completely out of luck. Essentially, the product doesn’t do what it is supposed to anymore (i.e. turn pdf into doc). It has nearly been two months and there has been no clear solution for myself or any other users. If you aren’t sure about my own assessment of the situation, review the number of open and unanswered tickets in Adobe’s discussion forums regarding the same issue.

    $20 may not seem like much, but I wouldn’t throw it away on this product (at least not until now).

    • Graham

      Thanks for the heads-up, Alex. I haven’t been using it much lately, so I didn’t realize that there was such a problem with the program. It was helpful when it was working, so I hope they fix the problems.

  • Maxine

    I tried to convert an online PDF document to MS Word, and it can’t be done. I spent almost an hour with their Chat connection and it was no help at all.

  • Joe Dixon

    Thank you for your review Robert. I was just about to make a purchase when I decided to search for some reviews. The PDF’s I want to convert are all flyers and poster type files and I think you saved me a lot of time.

  • peter

    How well are pdfs typed with latex handled?