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Extracting Images From PDFs

In this post, we explain how you can extract an image from a PDF, so you can use it. We cover image extraction with a Windows computer and a Mac or Apple iOS.

Have you ever received a digital file and wished you could cut out a specific picture? With the PDF file format, you can. Separating a graph, image, table, or other element from a digital document is referred to as extracting. You have a few options for how you do this, depending on what operating system your computer uses, as well as what quality you need the extracted element to be.

In this article, we’ll be going through how you can extract images and any other element from a PDF. Before we do that, it’s worth taking note of copyright and image fair use laws. 

Copyrights and Image Extraction

Any images that you extract from a PDF not created by you is considered copyrighted by the original creator of the image. Copyright refers to the United States law that protects authors and original creators of creative works such as written text, music, and images. If you didn’t pay for the image or get permission from the original creator to use their image, there’s a fair chance it’s not your image to use. 

While you should be cautious about using images, your usage may fall under fair use. What is fair use?

Fair use refers to how you plan on using the image that you extract. You can actually use copyrighted works if they’re for “purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research,” according to Section 107 of the Copyright Act. To determine if your use is fair use and doesn’t fall under copyright laws, you’ll need to consider:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  • The nature of the copyrighted work;
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

For example, if you want to pull a nice photo of the countryside out of a PDF and use it for a Christmas card you plan to send to your family, you probably don’t need to worry about fair use laws. However, if you plan to pull that same photo out and use it for a Christmas card template you plan to sell online, you’ll probably run into copyright issues. 

Note that just because you give credit to the photographer or creator of the original image does not mean you can evade copyright law. Unless the photo is specifically for Creative Commons usage (you can use, copy, modify the images for free), you can’t use the image without permission. Even some Creative Commons images will require you to attribute or provide a link to the original creator. 

Be cautious with how you use the images you extract online! None of this should be considered legal advice. It’s always best to consult a legal professional.

Extracting Images from a PDF in Windows

If you have access to a PDF reader, those usually have tools to help you extract high quality images in a variety of formats. The method for extracting images depends on the reader you use, so we recommend searching “how to extract images using…” and then say your PDF reader.

But what if you don’t have a PDF reader?

On Windows, you can extract images using the Snipping tool. This tool is installed on every Windows device and lets you extract specific parts of your screen and copy/save them for future use. These images won’t be the highest quality, as they’re restricted by the resolution of your monitor, but you’ll be able to use any element from a PDF. 

First, open the PDF you want to extract an image from in a web browser or other PDF viewing program. Then, type Snipping into the Windows search bar on the bottom left of your screen. Open the snipping tool and select New

You will then be prompted to draw a box on your screen that will represent the boundaries of the image you want to extract. 

Once you draw this box, you’ll see the image you’ve selected separately extracted from the PDF in the snipping tool.

You can either select the floppy disk to Save the image, or select the two papers on top of one another to Copy the image to then paste somewhere else. You can also make minor alterations to the image, including writing on it. 

The snipping tool works with anything that’s currently on your screen, so try it out to understand how it works!

Extracting Images from a PDF on a Mac

Mac has a high-quality PDF reader installed on their systems by default that you can use. This PDF reader is called Preview and has a number of useful features for viewing and editing PDFs. 

If you want to extract a specific image from a PDF, you can use a similar method with the Mac Screenshot app. First, open the PDF in Preview. 

Then, using the zoom feature at the top of the screen, zoom in on the photo or image that you want to extract. This zoom may preserve the digital resolution, but it also may reveal that the original image wasn’t as high resolution as you thought. Try to resize the image in preview to the best of your ability so it’s still decent quality. 

Once you’ve done this, use shift + cmd + 5 to open the Screenshot app. Then, using your mouse or trackpad, you can position the selection to highlight the content you want to snip. You can also use the shift + cmd + 4 to click and drag to “lasso” content that you want to photograph; however, the shift + cmd + 5 options gives you more control.  

The extracted image can then be used in any way you see fit (keeping in mind any potential copyright)! 

Besides the snipping tool, you can make use of some free or paid PDF image extractors online, but always be aware of how you plan to use your images. Using an extracted image without explicit permission from the original creator will risk copyright infringement.