I work in the printing industry where having vector artwork for a job is paramount when it comes to the best production output. Often times clients will send me a PDF file that contains a raster image rather than the vector format I need.

The first thing I do when I open an image file in Adobe Illustrator is I view it in Outline move to examine what is vector and what is not. You can see the difference below

View → Preview:

Preview viewing mode

View → Outline:

Outline viewing mode

Since you can see all the "lines" of the artwork, it's easy to confirm that this artwork is 100% vector.

I don't always have Illustrator available to me, so I'm looking for a PDF viewer (either browser based or stand-alone is fine) that can replicate this functionality. Is there any such software that can help with this workflow?

  • 5
    Quick'n dirty workaround: zoom in to that pdf and see if it pixelates.
    – Olli
    Feb 5, 2014 at 1:16
  • 1
    @Olli that is essentially what I do now, but the embedded image can sometimes be a high enough resolution that it does not pixelate, even at the maximum zoom level
    – JohnB
    Feb 5, 2014 at 23:08
  • @JohnB, what budget? $$$ or $$$$$?
    – Pacerier
    Apr 12, 2023 at 0:47
  • @Pacerier I no longer need this as part of my workflow, but don't let cost prevent you from providing an answer if you know of one!
    – JohnB
    May 31, 2023 at 0:11

2 Answers 2


It's not a PDF Viewer, but if you don't have Illustrator available, you might be able to use the same steps in the Inkscape vector graphics editor. Inkscape is free and open source. There's also a portable version that you could carry around on a flash drive.

There are several ways that you could reasonably do this in Inkscape:

  1. InkScape has the same Outline / Wire-frame mode that Illustrator has - find it in ViewDisplayModeOutline

  2. You can use the command line to export the PDF as SVG and look for embedded non-SVG images. From https://stackoverflow.com/questions/12084742/extracting-vector-graphics-from-pdf-with-inkscape:

    inkscape --without-gui --file=input.pdf --export-plain-svg=output.svg

An image in Inkscape

  • 2
    And it does support PDF? OP explicitly stated that's a requirement: clients will send me a PDF file [...] I'm looking for a PDF viewer – should be clear enough, no? Don't get me wrong, Inkscape is great. But it's not fitting the requirements here (or you missed to point out how it does).
    – Izzy
    Feb 13, 2014 at 13:01
  • 1
    @Izzy It looks like it does support PDF import. See inkscape.org/en/learn/faq/…
    – Moshe Katz
    Feb 16, 2014 at 18:33
  • @MosheKatz just checked: Yes, indeed – thanks! In that case, the second part of my "or condition" is met: missed to point out how it does. I rarely use Inkscape. The questioner might not even know it. So OK, it imports PDF; but how to tell what's vector and what not? How does it meet the requirements specified?
    – Izzy
    Feb 16, 2014 at 18:40

The simplest way to do this is probably just to export the images from the PDF and see what kind of images you get. I have used PDFMate PDF Converter (free; make sure to uncheck installation of adware in the installer though) for this in the past. All you need to do is to make sure that "Extract all images in PDF files" is selected in the "Advanced Options" window.

Alternatively, you could convert the PDF to an SVG (using Inkscape as mentioned in the other answer or using any other tool) and run this Python script to extract the images.

  • 2
    For *nix users, the equivalent is pdfimages, one of the Poppler utilities.
    – John1024
    Feb 22, 2014 at 8:27

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