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Can we change PDF color?

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Changing the color of a PDF document is possible, but it depends on the type of PDF you’re working with. There are a few different methods that can be used to modify PDF colors.

Scanned PDFs vs Searchable PDFs

The first thing to understand is the difference between a scanned PDF and a searchable PDF.

A scanned PDF is an image of a document that has been scanned and saved as a PDF file. The text in a scanned PDF is not actual text, but just a picture of text. This means a scanned PDF does not contain any editable or selectable text.

A searchable PDF on the other hand contains actual text that has been encoded into the PDF file. The text can be highlighted, copied and pasted just like a Word document. Searchable PDFs are created either by exporting a file to PDF from an application like Word, or by using OCR (optical character recognition) to analyze a scanned document and identify the text.

Changing Colors in a Scanned PDF

Because a scanned PDF only contains images and no real text, the options for editing it are limited. The colors in a scanned PDF can only be changed by editing the actual images within the PDF. This requires advanced image editing software.

Here are the basic steps to change colors in a scanned PDF:

1. Open the scanned PDF in Adobe Acrobat
2. Click on the Edit PDF tool
3. Select the Open button next to Images
4. This will open the individual images in the PDF in Photoshop (or another image editor)
5. In the image editor you can make color adjustments to the image
6. Save the edited images, which will update the PDF

This process can be extremely tedious for long PDF documents, as you have to edit one image at a time. There are no shortcuts for batch editing images within PDFs.

Some advanced paid software like Abbyy FineReader can attempt to recognize text in scanned PDFs and convert them into searchable PDFs. This OCR process is not always 100% accurate however.

Changing Colors in Searchable PDFs

For searchable PDF documents that already contain editable text, the process of changing colors is much easier. Here are some ways to modify text color in searchable PDFs:

Use the Text Edit Tools in Adobe Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat provides various text formatting options under the Edit PDF tool, including text color. You can select any text with the cursor and change the color with a few clicks. This works for changing small sections of text.

Use the Comments and Markup Tools

Acrobat also contains Text Markup tools that allow you to highlight or strikethrough text in different colors. This can be used to color code sections of text without permanently modifying it. The marked up text can be removed later if needed.

Copy-Paste Text Into a Word Processor

Another option is to copy and paste sections of text from the PDF into a Word document or Google Doc. The text can then be changed to any color desired. The colored text can then be copied and pasted back into the original PDF. The drawback to this method is it can be time consuming.

Use PDF Editing Software

There are various PDF editor tools, both free and paid, that allow you to modify PDF text more like a Word document. Options like PDFescape, Sejda PDF Editor, and Foxit PhantomPDF enable you to change text color and font formatting within the PDF editor interface. No copy-pasting into other applications is required.

Automatically Change PDF Text Colors

Manually changing text colors in a long PDF document can take a very long time. Some solutions exist to automatically or batch modify PDF text color without editing one section at a time:

Batch Process Multiple PDFs

PDF editing software like Adobe Acrobat Pro, PitStop Pro, and Enfocus PitStop Server can automate certain actions like color changes across multiple PDF files at once using hot folders, scripts, or preflight profiles. They work best when applying the same color change to standardized PDFs.

Use PDF Parser Tools

Certain parsing tools like Datalogics PDF Java Toolkit, Snowtide PDF TextStream, and PDFIO can extract and analyze text in PDF documents. Developers can use these tools’ APIs to programmatically detect and modify text colors in PDFs. This requires writing custom code.

Leverage OCR Data

When PDFs are processed through OCR, the text and layout data can be extracted and saved separately from the document images. This OCR text layer can be modified and remerged with the original PDF. Online services like Abbyy Cloud OCR SDK provide an API for analyzing and editing colors in the OCR text layer.

Limitations When Changing PDF Colors

While the methods listed above allow you to modify text colors in a PDF document, there are some limitations to be aware of:

– Scanned PDFs can only be changed by editing images, which is extremely cumbersome for long docs. OCR conversion is not always reliable.

– Any changes made directly within an open PDF are not permanent. The original PDF file must be exported or saved as a copy to retain color changes.

– Manually changing colors in PDF editors can be time consuming for large documents. Automated batch solutions require advanced software skills.

– Changing too many colors throughout a PDF can reduce readability by diminishing contrast between text and background.

– Modifying text in a PDF can introduce problems with downstream usage. It may impact accessibility, infringe usage rights, or break digital signatures.


In summary, there are a variety of methods to modify the colors of text within a PDF file. The options range from manual editing to advanced automation based on the specific use case. When assessing the best approach, it’s important to weigh factors like PDF type, number of documents, required accuracy, total editing time, intended usage, and more. With the proper tools and workflows, changing PDF colors is within reach, but still has its challenges compared to plain text documents.

PDF Type Editing Options Use Cases
Scanned PDF
  • Edit individual images in Photoshop or GIMP
  • Try OCR conversion to searchable PDF
  • Change colors in short scanned docs
  • Not ideal for long PDFs
Searchable PDF
  • Use Adobe Acrobat text edit tools
  • Markup text with Comments
  • Copy-paste into Word and back
  • Use PDF parsing API or editor
  • Change colors in any searchable PDF
  • Automate color changes across multipledocs

Tips for Editing PDF Colors

Here are some best practices when modifying text colors in PDF documents:

– Minimize color changes for readability and downstream usage
– Be aware of any copyright issues from excessive editing
– For scan-based PDFs, request the original source document if possible
– Compare results across different OCR tools like Abbyy, Adobe, and Google Drive
– Use lossless saved formats like PDF/A to prevent degradation
– Take advantage of PDF editor capabilities for batch actions
– Consult a developer if automating complex color change workflows
– Always export edited PDFs as new files rather than overwriting originals

By understanding the PDF editing options and taking the right approach, you can successfully change text colors to create more visually appealing documents. With a bit of work, you can adapt PDF content for your specific needs while avoiding common pitfalls.