When someone sends me an artwork file and I need to see if certain elements are vector or raster, I currently just quickly zoom in all the way to see if the artwork pixelates or not.

I'm looking for a PDF viewer that has a function similar to Illustrators View → Outline render mode, or any solution that would quickly allow me to differentiate between raster and vector elements in a PDF without having it open it up in Illustrator. Are there any viewers that can help accomplish that?

  • That's not possible with PDF. – Martin Schröder Mar 5 '13 at 18:51
  • @MartinSchröder, I can believe that such a tool does not exist, but could you elaborate why it is not possible with PDF? That seems rather definitive. To me it doesn't make sense why I would be able to open a PDF in Illustrator and view the outlines but not do so with lightweight PDF viewer. Am I missing something about why it is not possible? – JohnB Mar 5 '13 at 19:52
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    Is that a PDF produced by Illustrator? PDF per se has no concept of an "outline", but applications can add arbitrary data. – Martin Schröder Mar 5 '13 at 20:05
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    @MartinSchröder it could be but doesn't have to be. An "outline" as I understand is just any vector line. When viewing outlines in Illustrator, I believe it just ignores any styling (strokes, fills) and merely shows the vector lines (and typefaces). PDFs store loads of vector data, I still don't see the technical roadblock for why this wouldn't be possible. I'm stuck on the "If Illustrator can do it, then a PDF viewer/program should be able to do it as well" mindset – JohnB Mar 5 '13 at 20:56
  • Open it in Illustrator and turn on 'outline' mode? – DA01 Feb 2 '15 at 21:16

I don't believe any such animal exists.

Any online tool would have to decompile the the PDF structure, not simply read it. I've never seen any browser-oriented tool which can alter or even display internal PDF data. Not even the simple internal data such as dimensions, colorspace, etc.

Even things such as Kodak's print production PDF processor doesn't display enough data to know what is vector and what is raster.

To answer the comment above.

There are actually multiple layers to any PDF in my understanding.

There's an underlying construction layer which contains as much native application data as possible. There's an object appearance layer which contains location and raster appearance of all objects. And then there's the master rendering layer which contains a preview the entire page as a raster image (resolution dependent upon PDF job options.) Whether or not these layers exist depends greatly on the PDF job options and the generating application, as well as any "maintain application editing ability" checkbox.

When you open a PDF with Illustrator, Illustrator reads any native application construction data it can, then constructs objects. If no native application data can be used, Illustrator reads the object appearance data and displays that (a raster image). And as a fallback, if neither of the two previous items are present, Illustrator displays the entire page as a raster image.

Any online viewer is merely reading the master rendering data and displaying that. Online viewers don't customarily even bother looking any deeper. They are focused on displaying entire pages without any need to alter, view, or examine the individual elements within those pages.

Online viewers are similar to how Photoshop reads PDFs. Photoshop reads the master rendering data by default. Which is why every PDF opened in Photoshop will rasterize the entire image. The only caveat with Photoshop being the fact that if Photoshop sees Photoshop construction data it will use that data first.

This is merely my understanding of the PDF architecture. I could be incorrect.

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    Thanks for the added info on PDF architecture. You mentioned an online viewer a couple of times, and while that would be fine, I'd be just as happy with a non-online solution. I'm reluctant to mark this as the correct answer because I was hoping something was out there, but I agree that this probably doesn't exist. – JohnB Mar 5 '13 at 20:58
  • For a desktop app Acrobat standard or Pro would work as well as Illustrator. But unfortunately nothing is much quicker or easier than opening the PDF in Illustrator. Leave it unanswered for a while. Maybe someone will have more input. – Scott Mar 5 '13 at 21:00
  • These "layers" you talk about don't have to exist - there's nothing about them in the PDF spec. – Martin Schröder Mar 5 '13 at 21:22
  • They aren't layers in the traditional sense of layers. I was using a familiar term to explain rather than focusing on absolute technical terminology. They are sections of code base which can be seen if present. For example, save a PDF from Illustrator with the "Maintain Illustrator Editing Capabilities" checked and the PDF is generated containing PDF code base in addition to Illustrator code base. So essentially it's 2 file formats in one container. And, as posted, this is my general understanding of PDF structure. I haven't read the "spec sheet" on PDFs. – Scott Mar 5 '13 at 21:31

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