Creating and Modifying PDF Files in Python

Create and Modify PDF Files in Python

by David Amos May 25, 2020 intermediate python

It’s really useful to know how to create and modify PDF files in Python. The PDF, or Portable Document Format, is one of the most common formats for sharing documents over the Internet. PDFs can contain text, images, tables, forms, and rich media like videos and animations, all in a single file.

This abundance of content types can make working with PDFs difficult. There are a lot of different kinds of data to decode when opening a PDF file! Fortunately, the Python ecosystem has some great packages for reading, manipulating, and creating PDF files.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to:

  • Read text from a PDF
  • Split a PDF into multiple files
  • Concatenate and merge PDF files
  • Rotate and crop pages in a PDF file
  • Encrypt and decrypt PDF files with passwords
  • Create a PDF file from scratch

Along the way, you’ll have several opportunities to deepen your understanding by following along with the examples. You can download the materials used in the examples by clicking on the link below:

Extracting Text From a PDF

In this section, you’ll learn how to read a PDF file and extract the text using the PyPDF2 package. Before you can do that, though, you need to install it with pip:

$ python3 -m pip install PyPDF2

Verify the installation by running the following command in your terminal:

$ python3 -m pip show PyPDF2
Name: PyPDF2
Version: 1.26.0
Summary: PDF toolkit
Home-page: http://mstamy2.github.com/PyPDF2
Author: Mathieu Fenniak
Author-email: biziqe@mathieu.fenniak.net
License: UNKNOWN
Location: c:\\users\\david\\python38-32\\lib\\site-packages
Requires:
Required-by:

Pay particular attention to the version information. At the time of writing, the latest version of PyPDF2 was 1.26.0. If you have IDLE open, then you’ll need to restart it before you can use the PyPDF2 package.

Opening a PDF File

Let’s get started by opening a PDF and reading some information about it. You’ll use the Pride_and_Prejudice.pdf file located in the practice_files/ folder in the companion repository.

Open IDLE’s interactive window and import the PdfFileReader class from the PyPDF2 package:

>>>
>>> from PyPDF2 import PdfFileReader

To create a new instance of the PdfFileReader class, you’ll need the path to the PDF file that you want to open. Let’s get that now using the pathlib module:

>>>
>>> from pathlib import Path
>>> pdf_path = (
...     Path.home()
...     / "creating-and-modifying-pdfs"
...     / "practice_files"
...     / "Pride_and_Prejudice.pdf"
... )

The pdf_path variable now contains the path to a PDF version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Now create the PdfFileReader instance:

>>>
>>> pdf = PdfFileReader(str(pdf_path))

You convert pdf_path to a string because PdfFileReader doesn’t know how to read from a pathlib.Path object.

Recall from chapter 12, “File Input and Output,” that all open files should be closed before a program terminates. The PdfFileReader object does all of this for you, so you don’t need to worry about opening or closing the PDF file!

Now that you’ve created a PdfFileReader instance, you can use it to gather information about the PDF. For example, .getNumPages() returns the number of pages contained in the PDF file:

>>>
>>> pdf.getNumPages()
234

Notice that .getNumPages() is written in mixedCase, not lower_case_with_underscores as recommended in PEP 8. Remember, PEP 8 is a set of guidelines, not rules. As far as Python is concerned, mixedCase is perfectly acceptable.

You can also access some document information using the .documentInfo attribute:

>>>
>>> pdf.documentInfo
{'/Title': 'Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen', '/Author': 'Chuck',
'/Creator': 'Microsoft® Office Word 2007',
'/CreationDate': 'D:20110812174208', '/ModDate': 'D:20110812174208',
'/Producer': 'Microsoft® Office Word 2007'}

The object returned by .documentInfo looks like a dictionary, but it’s not really the same thing. You can access each item in .documentInfo as an attribute.

For example, to get the title, use the .title attribute:

>>>
>>> pdf.documentInfo.title
'Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen'

The .documentInfo object contains the PDF metadata, which is set when a PDF is created.

The PdfFileReader class provides all the necessary methods and attributes that you need to access data in a PDF file. Let’s explore what you can do with a PDF file and how you can do it!

Extracting Text From a Page

PDF pages are represented in PyPDF2 with the PageObject class. You use PageObject instances to interact with pages in a PDF file. You don’t need to create your own PageObject instances directly. Instead, you can access them through the PdfFileReader object’s .getPage() method.

There are two steps to extracting text from a single PDF page:

  1. Get a PageObject with PdfFileReader.getPage().
  2. Extract the text as a string with the PageObject instance’s .extractText() method.

Pride_and_Prejudice.pdf has 234 pages. Each page has an index between 0 and 233. You can get the PageObject representing a specific page by passing the page’s index to PdfFileReader.getPage():

>>>
>>> first_page = pdf.getPage(0)

.getPage() returns a PageObject:

>>>
>>> type(first_page)
<class 'PyPDF2.pdf.PageObject'>

You can extract the page’s text with PageObject.extractText():

>>>
>>> first_page.extractText()
'\\n \\nThe Project Gutenberg EBook of Pride and Prejudice, by Jane
Austen\\n \\n\\nThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost
and with\\n \\nalmost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it,
give it away or\\n \\nre\\n-\\nuse it under the terms of the Project
Gutenberg License included\\n \\nwith this eBook or online at
www.gutenberg.org\\n \\n \\n \\nTitle: Pride and Prejudice\\n \\n
\\nAuthor: Jane Austen\\n \\n \\nRelease Date: August 26, 2008
[EBook #1342]\\n\\n[Last updated: August 11, 2011]\\n \\n \\nLanguage:
Eng\\nlish\\n \\n \\nCharacter set encoding: ASCII\\n \\n \\n***
START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK PRIDE AND PREJUDICE ***\\n \\n
\\n \\n \\n \\nProduced by Anonymous Volunteers, and David Widger\\n
\\n \\n \\n \\n \\n \\n \\nPRIDE AND PREJUDICE \\n \\n \\nBy Jane
Austen \\n \\n\\n \\n \\nContents\\n \\n'

Note that the output displayed here has been formatted to fit better on this page. The output you see on your computer may be formatted differently.

Every PdfFileReader object has a .pages attribute that you can use to iterate over all of the pages in the PDF in order.

For example, the following for loop prints the text from every page in the Pride and Prejudice PDF:

>>>
>>> for page in pdf.pages:
...     print(page.extractText())
...

Let’s combine everything you’ve learned and write a program that extracts all of the text from the Pride_and_Prejudice.pdf file and saves it to a .txt file.

Putting It All Together

Open a new editor window in IDLE and type in the following code:

from pathlib import Path
from PyPDF2 import PdfFileReader

# Change the path below to the correct path for your computer.
pdf_path = (
    Path.home()
    / "creating-and-modifying-pdfs"
    / "practice-files"
    / "Pride_and_Prejudice.pdf"
)

# 1
pdf_reader = PdfFileReader(str(pdf_path))
output_file_path = Path.home() / "Pride_and_Prejudice.txt"

# 2
with output_file_path.open(mode="w") as output_file:
    # 3
    title = pdf_reader.documentInfo.title
    num_pages = pdf_reader.getNumPages()
    output_file.write(f"{title}\\nNumber of pages: {num_pages}\\n\\n")

    # 4
    for page in pdf_reader.pages:
        text = page.extractText()
        output_file.write(text)

Let’s break that down:

  1. First, you assign a new PdfFileReader instance to the pdf_reader variable. You also create a new Path object that points to the file Pride_and_Prejudice.txt in your home directory and assign it to the output_file_path variable.

  2. Next, you open output_file_path in write mode and assign the file object returned by .open() to the variable output_file. The with statement, which you learned about in chapter 12, “File Input and Output,” ensures that the file is closed when the with block exits.

  3. Then, inside the with block, you write the PDF title and number of pages to the text file using output_file.write().

  4. Finally, you use a for loop to iterate over all the pages in the PDF. At each step in the loop, the next PageObject is assigned to the page variable. The text from each page is extracted with page.extractText() and is written to the output_file.

When you save and run the program, it will create a new file in your home directory called Pride_and_Prejudice.txt containing the full text of the Pride_and_Prejudice.pdf document. Open it up and check it out!

Check Your Understanding

Expand the block below to check your understanding:

In the practice_files/ folder in the companion repository for this article, there is a file called zen.pdf. Create a PdfFileReader instance that reads the PDF and use it to print the text from the first page.

You can expand the block below to see a solution:

Set up the path to the PDF file:

# First, import the needed classes and libraries
from pathlib import Path
from PyPDF2 import PdfFileReader

# Then create a `Path` object to the PDF file.
# You might need to change this to match the path
# on your computer.
pdf_path = (
    Path.home()
    / "creating-and-modifying-pdfs"
    / "practice_files"
    / "zen.pdf"
)

Now you can create the PdfFileReader instance:

pdf_reader = PdfFileReader(str(pdf_path))

Remember that PdfFileReader objects can only be instantiated with path strings, not Path objects!

Now use .getPage() to get the first page:

first_page = pdf_reader.getPage(0)

Remember, pages are indexed starting with 0!

Then use .extractText() to extract the text:

text = first_page.extractText()

Finally, print the text:

print(text)

When you’re ready, you can move on to the next section.

Extracting Pages From a PDF

In the previous section, you learned how to extract all of the text from a PDF file and save it to a .txt file. Now you’ll learn how to extract a page or range of pages from an existing PDF and save them to a new PDF.

You can use the PdfFileWriter to create a new PDF file. Let’s explore this class and learn the steps needed to create a PDF using PyPDF2.

Using the PdfFileWriter Class

The PdfFileWriter class creates new PDF files. In IDLE’s interactive window, import the PdfFileWriter class and create a new instance called pdf_writer:

>>>
>>> from PyPDF2 import PdfFileWriter
>>> pdf_writer = PdfFileWriter()

PdfFileWriter objects are like blank PDF files. You need to add some pages to them before you can save them to a file.

Go ahead and add a blank page to pdf_writer:

>>>
>>> page = pdf_writer.addBlankPage(width=72, height=72)

The width and height parameters are required and determine the dimensions of the page in units called points. One point equals 1/72 of an inch, so the above code adds a one-inch-square blank page to pdf_writer.

.addBlankPage() returns a new PageObject instance representing the page that you added to the PdfFileWriter:

>>>
>>> type(page)
<class 'PyPDF2.pdf.PageObject'>

In this example, you’ve assigned the PageObject instance returned by .addBlankPage() to the page variable, but in practice you don’t usually need to do this. That is, you usually call .addBlankPage() without assigning the return value to anything:

>>>
>>> pdf_writer.addBlankPage(width=72, height=72)

To write the contents of pdf_writer to a PDF file, pass a file object in binary write mode to pdf_writer.write():

>>>
>>> from pathlib import Path
>>> with Path("blank.pdf").open(mode="wb") as output_file:
...     pdf_writer.write(output_file)
...

This creates a new file in your current working directory called blank.pdf. If you open the file with a PDF reader, such as Adobe Acrobat, then you’ll see a document with a single blank one-inch-square page.

PdfFileWriter objects can write to new PDF files, but they can’t create new content from scratch other than blank pages.

This might seem like a big problem, but in many situations, you don’t need to create new content. Often, you’ll work with pages extracted from PDF files that you’ve opened with a PdfFileReader instance.

In the example you saw above, there were three steps to create a new PDF file using PyPDF2:

  1. Create a PdfFileWriter instance.
  2. Add one or more pages to the PdfFileWriter instance.
  3. Write to a file using PdfFileWriter.write().

You’ll see this pattern over and over as you learn various ways to add pages to a PdfFileWriter instance.

Extracting a Single Page From a PDF

Let’s revisit the Pride and Prejudice PDF that you worked with in the previous section. You’ll open the PDF, extract the first page, and create a new PDF file containing just the single extracted page.

Open IDLE’s interactive window and import PdfFileReader and PdfFileWriter from PyPDF2 as well as the Path class from the pathlib module:

>>>
>>> from pathlib import Path
>>> from PyPDF2 import PdfFileReader, PdfFileWriter

Now open the Pride_and_Prejudice.pdf file with a PdfFileReader instance:

>>>
>>> # Change the path to work on your computer if necessary
>>> pdf_path = (
...     Path.home()
...     / "creating-and-modifying-pdfs"
...     / "practice_files"
...     / "Pride_and_Prejudice.pdf"
... )
>>> input_pdf = PdfFileReader(str(pdf_path))

Pass the index 0 to .getPage() to get a PageObject representing the first page of the PDF:

>>>
>>> first_page = input_pdf.getPage(0)

Now create a new PdfFileWriter instance and add first_page to it with .addPage():

>>>
>>> pdf_writer = PdfFileWriter()
>>> pdf_writer.addPage(first_page)

The .addPage() method adds a page to the set of pages in the pdf_writer object, just like .addBlankPage(). The difference is that it requires an existing PageObject.

Now write the contents of pdf_writer to a new file:

>>>
>>> with Path("first_page.pdf").open(mode="wb") as output_file:
...     pdf_writer.write(output_file)
...

You now have a new PDF file saved in your current working directory called first_page.pdf, which contains the cover page of the Pride_and_Prejudice.pdf file. Pretty neat!

Extracting Multiple Pages From a PDF

Let’s extract the first chapter from Pride_and_Prejudice.pdf and save it to a new PDF.

If you open Pride_and_Prejudice.pdf with a PDF viewer, then you can see that the first chapter is on the second, third, and fourth pages of the PDF. Since pages are indexed starting with 0, you’ll need to extract the pages at the indices 1, 2, and 3.

You can set everything up by importing the classes you need and opening the PDF file:

>>>
>>> from PyPDF2 import PdfFileReader, PdfFileWriter
>>> from pathlib import Path
>>> pdf_path = (
...     Path.home()
...     / "creating-and-modifying-pdfs"
...     / "practice_files"
...     / "Pride_and_Prejudice.pdf"
... )
>>> input_pdf = PdfFileReader(str(pdf_path))

Your goal is to extract the pages at indices 1, 2, and 3, add these to a new PdfFileWriter instance, and then write them to a new PDF file.

One way to do this is to loop over the range of numbers starting at 1 and ending at 3, extracting the page at each step of the loop and adding it to the PdfFileWriter instance:

>>>
>>> pdf_writer = PdfFileWriter()
>>> for n in range(1, 4):
...     page = input_pdf.getPage(n)
...     pdf_writer.addPage(page)
...

The loop iterates over the numbers 1, 2, and 3 since range(1, 4) doesn’t include the right-hand endpoint. At each step in the loop, the page at the current index is extracted with .getPage() and added to the pdf_writer using .addPage().

Now pdf_writer has three pages, which you can check with .getNumPages():

>>>
>>> pdf_writer.getNumPages()
3

Finally, you can write the extracted pages to a new PDF file:

>>>
>>> with Path("chapter1.pdf").open(mode="wb") as output_file:
...     pdf_writer.write(output_file)
...

Now you can open the chapter1.pdf file in your current working directory to read just the first chapter of Pride and Prejudice.

Another way to extract multiple pages from a PDF is to take advantage of the fact that PdfFileReader.pages supports slice notation. Let’s redo the previous example using .pages instead of looping over a range object.

Start by initializing a new PdfFileWriter object:

>>>
>>> pdf_writer = PdfFileWriter()

Now loop over a slice of .pages from indices starting at 1 and ending at 4:

>>>
>>> for page in input_pdf.pages[1:4]:
...    pdf_writer.addPage(page)
...

Remember that the values in a slice range from the item at the first index in the slice up to, but not including, the item at the second index in the slice. So .pages[1:4] returns an iterable containing the pages with indices 1, 2, and 3.

Finally, write the contents of pdf_writer to the output file:

>>>
>>> with Path("chapter1_slice.pdf").open(mode="wb") as output_file:
...     pdf_writer.write(output_file)
...

Now open the chapter1_slice.pdf file in your current working directory and compare it to the chapter1.pdf file you made by looping over the range object. They contain the same pages!

Sometimes you need to extract every page from a PDF. You can use the methods illustrated above to do this, but PyPDF2 provides a shortcut. PdfFileWriter instances have an .appendPagesFromReader() method that you can use to append pages from a PdfFileReader instance.

To use .appendPagesFromReader(), pass a PdfFileReader instance to the method’s reader parameter. For example, the following code copies every page from the Pride and Prejudice PDF to a PdfFileWriter instance:

>>>
>>> pdf_writer = PdfFileWriter()
>>> pdf_writer.appendPagesFromReader(pdf_reader)

pdf_writer now contains every page in pdf_reader!

Check Your Understanding

Expand the block below to check your understanding:

Extract the last page from the Pride_and_Prejudice.pdf file and save it to a new file called last_page.pdf in your home directory.

You can expand the block below to see a solution:

Set up the path to the Pride_and_Prejudice.pdf file:

# First, import the needed classes and libraries
from pathlib import Path
from PyPDF2 import PdfFileReader, PdfFileWriter

# Then create a `Path` object to the PDF file.
# You might need to change this to match the path
# on your computer.
pdf_path = (
    Path.home()
    / "creating-and-modifying-pdfs"
    / "practice_files"
    / "Pride_and_Prejudice.pdf"
)

Now you can create the PdfFileReader instance:

pdf_reader = PdfFileReader(str(pdf_path))

Remember that PdfFileReader objects can only be instantiated with path strings, not Path objects!

Use the .pages attribute to get an iterable over all pages in the PDF. The last page can be accessed with the index -1:

last_page = pdf_reader.pages[-1]

Now you can create a PdfFileWriter instance and add the last page to it:

pdf_writer = PdfFileWriter()
pdf_writer.addPage(last_page)

Finally, write the contents of pdf_writer to the file last_page.pdf in your home directory:

output_path = Path.home() / "last_page.pdf"
with output_path.open(mode="wb") as output_file:
    pdf_writer.write(output_file)

When you’re ready, you can move on to the next section.

Concatenating and Merging PDFs

Two common tasks when working with PDF files are concatenating and merging several PDFs into a single file.

When you concatenate two or more PDFs, you join the files one after another into a single document. For example, a company may concatenate several daily reports into one monthly report at the end of a month.

Merging two PDFs also joins the PDFs into a single file. But instead of joining the second PDF to the end of the first, merging allows you to insert it after a specific page in the first PDF. Then it pushes all of the first PDF’s pages after the insertion point to the end of the second PDF.

In this section, you’ll learn how to concatenate and merge PDFs using the PyPDF2 package’s PdfFileMerger.

Using the PdfFileMerger Class

The PdfFileMerger class is a lot like the PdfFileWriter class that you learned about in the previous section. You can use both classes to write PDF files. In both cases, you add pages to instances of the class and then write them to a file.

The main difference between the two is that PdfFileWriter can only append, or concatenate, pages to the end of the list of pages already contained in the writer, whereas PdfFileMerger can insert, or merge, pages at any location.

Go ahead and create your first PdfFileMerger instance. In IDLE’s interactive window, type the following code to import the PdfFileMerger class and create a new instance:

>>>
>>> from PyPDF2 import PdfFileMerger
>>> pdf_merger = PdfFileMerger()

PdfFileMerger objects are empty when they’re first instantiated. You’ll need to add some pages to your object before you can do anything with it.

There are a couple of ways to add pages to the pdf_merger object, and which one you use depends on what you need to accomplish:

  • .append() concatenates every page in an existing PDF document to the end of the pages currently in the PdfFileMerger.
  • .merge() inserts all of the pages in an existing PDF document after a specific page in the PdfFileMerger.

You’ll look at both methods in this section, starting with .append().

Concatenating PDFs With .append()

The practice_files/ folder has a subdirectory called expense_reports that contains three expense reports for an employee named Peter Python.

Peter needs to concatenate these three PDFs and submit them to his employer as a single PDF file so that he can get reimbursed for some work-related expenses.

You can start by using the pathlib module to get a list of Path objects for each of the three expense reports in the expense_reports/ folder:

>>>
>>> from pathlib import Path
>>> reports_dir = (
...     Path.home()
...     / "creating-and-modifying-pdfs"
...     / "practice_files"
...     / "expense_reports"
... )

After you import the Path class, you need to build the path to the expense_reports/ directory. Note that you may need to alter the code above to get the correct path on your computer.

Once you have the path to the expense_reports/ directory assigned to the reports_dir variable, you can use .glob() to get an iterable of paths to PDF files in the directory.

Take a look at what’s in the directory:

>>>
>>> for path in reports_dir.glob("*.pdf"):
...     print(path.name)
...
Expense report 1.pdf
Expense report 3.pdf
Expense report 2.pdf

The names of the three files are listed, but they aren’t in order. Furthermore, the order of the files you see in the output on your computer may not match the output shown here.

In general, the order of paths returned by .glob() is not guaranteed, so you’ll need to order them yourself. You can do this by creating a list containing the three file paths and then calling .sort() on that list:

>>>
>>> expense_reports = list(reports_dir.glob("*.pdf"))
>>> expense_reports.sort()

Remember that .sort() sorts a list in place, so you don’t need to assign the return value to a variable. The expense_reports list will be sorted alphabetically by filename after .list() is called.

To confirm that the sorting worked, loop over expense_reports again and print out the filenames:

>>>
>>> for path in expense_reports:
...     print(path.name)
...
Expense report 1.pdf
Expense report 2.pdf
Expense report 3.pdf

That looks good!

Now you can concatenate the three PDFs. To do that, you’ll use PdfFileMerger.append(), which requires a single string argument representing the path to a PDF file. When you call .append(), all of the pages in the PDF file are appended to the set of pages in the PdfFileMerger object.

Let’s see this in action. First, import the PdfFileMerger class and create a new instance:

>>>
>>> from PyPDF2 import PdfFileMerger
>>> pdf_merger = PdfFileMerger()

Now loop over the paths in the sorted expense_reports list and append them to pdf_merger:

>>>
>>> for path in expense_reports:
...     pdf_merger.append(str(path))
...

Notice that each Path object in expense_reports/ is converted to a string with str() before being passed to pdf_merger.append().

With all of the PDF files in the expense_reports/ directory concatenated in the pdf_merger object, the last thing you need to do is write everything to an output PDF file. PdfFileMerger instances have a .write() method that works just like the PdfFileWriter.write().

Open a new file in binary write mode, then pass the file object to the pdf_merge.write() method:

>>>
>>> with Path("expense_reports.pdf").open(mode="wb") as output_file:
...     pdf_merger.write(output_file)
...

You now have a PDF file in your current working directory called expense_reports.pdf. Open it up with a PDF reader and you’ll find all three expense reports together in the same PDF file.

Merging PDFs With .merge()

To merge two or more PDFs, use PdfFileMerger.merge(). This method is similar to .append(), except that you must specify where in the output PDF to insert all of the content from the PDF you are merging.

Take a look at an example. Goggle, Inc. prepared a quarterly report but forgot to include a table of contents. Peter Python noticed the mistake and quickly created a PDF with the missing table of contents. Now he needs to merge that PDF into the original report.

Both the report PDF and the table of contents PDF can be found in the quarterly_report/ subfolder of the practice_files folder. The report is in a file called report.pdf, and the table of contents is in a file called toc.pdf.

In IDLE’s interactive window, import the PdfFileMerger class and create the Path objects for the report.pdf and toc.pdf files:

>>>
>>> from pathlib import Path
>>> from PyPDF2 import PdfFileMerger
>>> report_dir = (
...     Path.home()
...     / "creating-and-modifying-pdfs"
...     / "practice_files"
...     / "quarterly_report"
... )
>>> report_path = report_dir / "report.pdf"
>>> toc_path = report_dir / "toc.pdf"

The first thing you’ll do is append the report PDF to a new PdfFileMerger instance using .append():

>>>
>>> pdf_merger = PdfFileMerger()
>>> pdf_merger.append(str(report_path))

Now that pdf_merger has some pages in it, you can merge the table of contents PDF into it at the correct location. If you open the report.pdf file with a PDF reader, then you’ll see that the first page of the report is a title page. The second is an introduction, and the remaining pages contain different report sections.

You want to insert the table of contents after the title page and just before the introduction section. Since PDF page indices start with 0 in PyPDF2, you need to insert the table of contents after the page at index 0 and before the page at index 1.

To do that, call pdf_merger.merge() with two arguments:

  1. The integer 1, indicating the index of the page at which the table of contents should be inserted
  2. A string containing the path of the PDF file for the table of contents

Here’s what that looks like:

>>>
>>> pdf_merger.merge(1, str(toc_path))

Every page in the table of contents PDF is inserted before the page at index 1. Since the table of contents PDF is only one page, it gets inserted at index 1. The page currently at index 1 then gets shifted to index 2. The page currently at index 2 gets shifted to index 3, and so on.

Now write the merged PDF to an output file:

>>>
>>> with Path("full_report.pdf").open(mode="wb") as output_file:
...     pdf_merger.write(output_file)
...

You now have a full_report.pdf file in your current working directory. Open it up with a PDF reader and check that the table of contents was inserted at the correct spot.

Concatenating and merging PDFs are common operations. While the examples in this section are admittedly somewhat contrived, you can imagine how useful a program would be for merging thousands of PDFs or for automating routine tasks that would otherwise take a human lots of time to complete.

Check Your Understanding

Expand the block below to check your understanding:

In the practice_files/ folder in the companion repository for this article, there are two files called merge1.pdf and merge2.pdf.

Using a PdfFileMerge instance, concatenate the two files using .append(). Save the concatenated PDFs to a new file called concatenated.pdf if your computer’s home directory.

You can expand the block below to see a solution:

Set up the path to the PDF file:

# First, import the needed classes and libraries
from pathlib import Path
from PyPDF2 import PdfFileMerger

# Then create a `Path` objects to the PDF files.
# You might need to change this to match the path
# on your computer.
BASE_PATH = (
    Path.home()
    / "creating-and-modifying-pdfs"
    / "practice_files"
)

pdf_paths = [BASE_PATH / "merge1.pdf", BASE_PATH / "merge2.pdf"]

Now you can create the PdfFileMerger instance:

pdf_merger = PdfFileMerger()

Now loop over the paths in pdf_paths and .append() each file to pdf_merger:

for path in pdf_paths:
    pdf_merger.append(str(path))

Finally, write the contents of pdf_merger to a file called concatenated.pdf in your home directory:

output_path = Path.home() / "concatenated.pdf"
with output_path.open(mode="wb") as output_file:
    pdf_merger.write(output_file)

When you’re ready, you can move on to the next section.

Rotating and Cropping PDF Pages

So far, you’ve learned how to extract text and pages from PDFs and how to and concatenate and merge two or more PDF files. These are all common operations with PDFs, but PyPDF2 has many other useful features.

In this section, you’ll learn how to rotate and crop pages in a PDF file.

Rotating Pages

You’ll start by learning how to rotate pages. For this example, you’ll use the ugly.pdf file in the practice_files folder. The ugly.pdf file contains a lovely version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling, except that every odd-numbered page is rotated counterclockwise by ninety degrees.

Let’s fix that. In a new IDLE interactive window, start by importing the PdfFileReader and PdfFileWriter classes from PyPDF2, as well as the Path class from the pathlib module:

>>>
>>> from pathlib import Path
>>> from PyPDF2 import PdfFileReader, PdfFileWriter

Now create a Path object for the ugly.pdf file:

>>>
>>> pdf_path = (
...     Path.home()
...     / "creating-and-modifying-pdfs"
...     / "practice_files"
...     / "ugly.pdf"
... )

Finally, create new PdfFileReader and PdfFileWriter instances:

>>>
>>> pdf_reader = PdfFileReader(str(pdf_path))
>>> pdf_writer = PdfFileWriter()

Your goal is to use pdf_writer to create a new PDF file in which all of the pages have the correct orientation. The even-numbered pages in the PDF are already properly oriented, but the odd-numbered pages are rotated counterclockwise by ninety degrees.

To correct the problem, you’ll use PageObject.rotateClockwise(). This method takes an integer argument, in degrees, and rotates a page clockwise by that many degrees. For example, .rotateClockwise(90) rotates a PDF page clockwise by ninety degrees.

There are several ways you can go about rotating pages in the PDF. We’ll discuss two different ways of doing it. Both of them rely on .rotateClockwise(), but they take different approaches to determine which pages get rotated.

The first technique is to loop over the indices of the pages in the PDF and check if each index corresponds to a page that needs to be rotated. If so, then you’ll call .rotateClockwise() to rotate the page and then add the page to pdf_writer.

Here’s what that looks like:

>>>
>>> for n in range(pdf_reader.getNumPages()):
...     page = pdf_reader.getPage(n)
...     if n % 2 == 0:
...         page.rotateClockwise(90)
...     pdf_writer.addPage(page)
...

Notice that the page gets rotated if the index is even. That might seem strange since the odd-numbered pages in the PDF are the ones that are rotated incorrectly. However, the page numbers in the PDF start with 1, whereas the page indices start with 0. That means odd-numbered PDF pages have even indices.

If that makes your head spin, don’t worry! Even after years of dealing with stuff like this, professional programmers still get tripped up by these sorts of things!

Now that you’ve rotated all the pages in the PDF, you can write the content of pdf_writer to a new file and check that everything worked:

>>>
>>> with Path("ugly_rotated.pdf").open(mode="wb") as output_file:
...     pdf_writer.write(output_file)
...

You should now have a file in your current working directory called ugly_rotated.pdf, with the pages from the ugly.pdf file all rotated correctly.

The problem with the approach you just used to rotate the pages in the ugly.pdf file is that it depends on knowing ahead of time which pages need to be rotated. In a real-world scenario, it isn’t practical to go through an entire PDF taking note of which pages to rotate.

In fact, you can determine which pages need to be rotated without prior knowledge. Well, sometimes you can.

Let’s see how, starting with a new PdfFileReader instance:

>>>
>>> pdf_reader = PdfFileReader(str(pdf_path))

You need to do this because you altered the pages in the old PdfFileReader instance by rotating them. So, by creating a new instance, you’re starting fresh.

PageObject instances maintain a dictionary of values containing information about the page:

>>>
>>> pdf_reader.getPage(0)
{'/Contents': [IndirectObject(11, 0), IndirectObject(12, 0),
IndirectObject(13, 0), IndirectObject(14, 0), IndirectObject(15, 0),
IndirectObject(16, 0), IndirectObject(17, 0), IndirectObject(18, 0)],
'/Rotate': -90, '/Resources': {'/ColorSpace': {'/CS1':
IndirectObject(19, 0), '/CS0': IndirectObject(19, 0)}, '/XObject':
{'/Im0': IndirectObject(21, 0)}, '/Font': {'/TT1':
IndirectObject(23, 0), '/TT0': IndirectObject(25, 0)}, '/ExtGState':
{'/GS0': IndirectObject(27, 0)}}, '/CropBox': [0, 0, 612, 792],
'/Parent': IndirectObject(1, 0), '/MediaBox': [0, 0, 612, 792],
'/Type': '/Page', '/StructParents': 0}

Yikes! Mixed in with all that nonsensical-looking stuff is a key called /Rotate, which you can see on the fourth line of output above. The value of this key is -90.

You can access the /Rotate key on a PageObject using subscript notation, just like you can on a Python dict object:

>>>
>>> page = pdf_reader.getPage(0)
>>> page["/Rotate"]
-90

If you look at the /Rotate key for the second page in pdf_reader, you’ll see that it has a value of 0:

>>>
>>> page = pdf_reader.getPage(1)
>>> page["/Rotate"]
0

What all this means is that the page at index 0 has a rotation value of -90 degrees. In other words, it’s been rotated counterclockwise by ninety degrees. The page at index 1 has a rotation value of 0, so it has not been rotated at all.

If you rotate the first page using .rotateClockwise(), then the value of /Rotate changes from -90 to 0:

>>>
>>> page = pdf_reader.getPage(0)
>>> page["/Rotate"]
-90
>>> page.rotateClockwise(90)
>>> page["/Rotate"]
0

Now that you know how to inspect the /Rotate key, you can use it to rotate the pages in the ugly.pdf file.

The first thing you need to do is reinitialize your pdf_reader and pdf_writer objects so that you get a fresh start:

>>>
>>> pdf_reader = PdfFileReader(str(pdf_path))
>>> pdf_writer = PdfFileWriter()

Now write a loop that loops over the pages in the pdf_reader.pages iterable, checks the value of /Rotate, and rotates the page if that value is -90:

>>>
>>> for page in pdf_reader.pages:
...     if page["/Rotate"] == -90:
...         page.rotateClockwise(90)
...     pdf_writer.addPage(page)
...

Not only is this loop slightly shorter than the loop in the first solution, but it doesn’t rely on any prior knowledge of which pages need to be rotated. You could use a loop like this to rotate pages in any PDF without ever having to open it up and look at it.

To finish out the solution, write the contents of pdf_writer to a new file:

>>>
>>> with Path("ugly_rotated2.pdf").open(mode="wb") as output_file:
...     pdf_writer.write(output_file)
...

Now you can open the ugly_rotated2.pdf file in your current working directory and compare it to the ugly_rotated.pdf file you generated earlier. They should look identical.

The value of /Rotate may not always be what you expect. For example, if you scan a paper document with the page rotated ninety degrees counterclockwise, then the contents of the PDF will appear rotated. However, the /Rotate key may have the value 0.

This is one of many quirks that can make working with PDF files frustrating. Sometimes you’ll just need to open a PDF in a PDF reader program and manually figure things out.

Cropping Pages

Another common operation with PDFs is cropping pages. You might need to do this to split a single page into multiple pages or to extract just a small portion of a page, such as a signature or a figure.

For example, the practice_files folder includes a file called half_and_half.pdf. This PDF contains a portion of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.

Each page in this PDF has two columns. Let’s split each page into two pages, one for each column.

To get started, import the PdfFileReader and PdfFileWriter classes from PyPDF2 and the Path class from the pathlib module:

>>>
>>> from pathlib import Path
>>> from PyPDF2 import PdfFileReader, PdfFileWriter

Now create a Path object for the half_and_half.pdf file:

>>>
>>> pdf_path = (
...     Path.home()
...     / "creating-and-modifying-pdfs"
...     / "practice_files"
...     / "half_and_half.pdf"
... )

Next, create a new PdfFileReader object and get the first page of the PDF:

>>>
>>> pdf_reader = PdfFileReader(str(pdf_path))
>>> first_page = pdf_reader.getPage(0)

To crop the page, you first need to know a little bit more about how pages are structured. PageObject instances like first_page have a .mediaBox attribute that represents a rectangular area defining the boundaries of the page.

You can use IDLE’s interactive window to explore the .mediaBox before using it crop the page:

>>>
>>> first_page.mediaBox
RectangleObject([0, 0, 792, 612])

The .mediaBox attribute returns a RectangleObject. This object is defined in the PyPDF2 package and represents a rectangular area on the page.

The list [0, 0, 792, 612] in the output defines the rectangular area. The first two numbers are the x- and y-coordinates of the lower-left corner of the rectangle. The third and fourth numbers represent the width and height of the rectangle, respectively. The units of all of the values are points, which are equal to 1/72 of an inch.

RectangleObject([0, 0, 792, 612]) represents a rectangular region with the lower-left corner at the origin, a width of 792 points, or 11 inches, and a height of 612 points, or 8.5 inches. Those are the dimensions of a standard letter-sized page in landscape orientation, which is used for the example PDF of The Little Mermaid. A letter-sized PDF page in portrait orientation would return the output RectangleObject([0, 0, 612, 792]).

A RectangleObject has four attributes that return the coordinates of the rectangle’s corners: .lowerLeft, .lowerRight, .upperLeft, and .upperRight. Just like the width and height values, these coordinates are given in points.

You can use these four properties to get the coordinates of each corner of the RectangleObject:

>>>
>>> first_page.mediaBox.lowerLeft
(0, 0)
>>> first_page.mediaBox.lowerRight
(792, 0)
>>> first_page.mediaBox.upperLeft
(0, 612)
>>> first_page.mediaBox.upperRight
(792, 612)

Each property returns a tuple containing the coordinates of the specified corner. You can access individual coordinates with square brackets just like you would any other Python tuple:

>>>
>>> first_page.mediaBox.upperRight[0]
792
>>> first_page.mediaBox.upperRight[1]
612

You can alter the coordinates of a mediaBox by assigning a new tuple to one of its properties:

>>>
>>> first_page.mediaBox.upperLeft = (0, 480)
>>> first_page.mediaBox.upperLeft
(0, 480)

When you change the .upperLeft coordinates, the .upperRight attribute automatically adjusts to preserve a rectangular shape:

>>>
>>> first_page.mediaBox.upperRight
(792, 480)

When you alter the coordinates of the RectangleObject returned by .mediaBox, you effectively crop the page. The first_page object now contains only the information present within the boundaries of the new RectangleObject.

Go ahead and write the cropped page to a new PDF file:

>>>
>>> pdf_writer = PdfFileWriter()
>>> pdf_writer.addPage(first_page)
>>> with Path("cropped_page.pdf").open(mode="wb") as output_file:
...     pdf_writer.write(output_file)
...

If you open the cropped_page.pdf file in your current working directory, then you’ll see that the top portion of the page has been removed.

How would you crop the page so that just the text on the left side of the page is visible? You would need to cut the horizontal dimensions of the page in half. You can achieve this by altering the .upperRight coordinates of the .mediaBox object. Let’s see how that works.

First, you need to get new PdfFileReader and PdfFileWriter objects since you’ve just altered the first page in pdf_reader and added it to pdf_writer:

>>>
>>> pdf_reader = PdfFileReader(str(pdf_path))
>>> pdf_writer = PdfFileWriter()

Now get the first page of the PDF:

>>>
>>> first_page = pdf_reader.getPage(0)

This time, let’s work with a copy of the first page so that the page you just extracted stays intact. You can do that by importing the copy module from Python’s standard library and using deepcopy() to make a copy of the page:

>>>
>>> import copy
>>> left_side = copy.deepcopy(first_page)

Now you can alter left_side without changing the properties of first_page. That way, you can use first_page later to extract the text on the right side of the page.

Now you need to do a little bit of math. You already worked out that you need to move the upper right-hand corner of the .mediaBox to the top center of the page. To do that, you’ll create a new tuple with the first component equal to half the original value and assign it to the .upperRight property.

First, get the current coordinates of the upper-right corner of the .mediaBox.

>>>
>>> current_coords = left_side.mediaBox.upperRight

Then create a new tuple whose first coordinate is half the value of the current coordinate and second coordinate is the same as the original:

>>>
>>> new_coords = (current_coords[0] / 2, current_coords[1])

Finally, assign the new coordinates to the .upperRight property:

>>>
>>> left_side.mediaBox.upperRight = new_coords

You’ve now cropped the original page to contain only the text on the left side! Let’s extract the right side of the page next.

First get a new copy of first_page:

>>>
>>> right_side = copy.deepcopy(first_page)

Move the .upperLeft corner instead of the .upperRight corner:

>>>
>>> right_side.mediaBox.upperLeft = new_coords

This sets the upper-left corner to the same coordinates that you moved the upper-right corner to when extracting the left side of the page. So, right_side.mediaBox is now a rectangle whose upper-left corner is at the top center of the page and whose upper-right corner is at the top right of the page.

Finally, add the left_side and right_side pages to pdf_writer and write them to a new PDF file:

>>>
>>> pdf_writer.addPage(left_side)
>>> pdf_writer.addPage(right_side)
>>> with Path("cropped_pages.pdf").open(mode="wb") as output_file:
...     pdf_writer.write(output_file)
...

Now open the cropped_pages.pdf file with a PDF reader. You should see a file with two pages, the first containing the text from the left-hand side of the original first page, and the second containing the text from the original right-hand side.

Check Your Understanding

Expand the block below to check your understanding:

In the practice_files/ folder in the companion repository for this article, there is a file called split_and_rotate.pdf.

Create a new file called rotated.pdf in your computer’s home directory that contains all of the pages from split_and_rotate.pdf, but each one is rotated counterclockwise by 90 degrees.

You can expand the block below to see a solution:

Set up the path to the PDF file:

# First, import the needed classes and libraries
from pathlib import Path
from PyPDF2 import PdfFileReader

# Then create a `Path` object to the PDF file.
# You might need to change this to match the path
# on your computer.
pdf_path = (
    Path.home()
    / "creating-and-modifying-pdfs"
    / "practice_files"
    / "split_and_rotate.pdf"
)

Now you can create PdfFileReader and PdfFileWriter instances:

pdf_reader = PdfFileReader(str(pdf_path))
pdf_writer = PdfFileWriter()

Loop over the pages in pdf_reader, rotate all of them by 90 degress using .rotateCounterClockwise(), and add them to pdf_writer:

for page in pdf_reader.pages:
    rotated_page = page.rotateCounterClockwise(90)
    pdf_writer.addPage(rotated_page)

Finally, write the contents of pdf_writer to a file called rotated.pdf in your computer’s home directory:

output_path = Path.home() / "rotated.pdf"
with output_path.open(mode="wb") as output_file:
    pdf_writer.write(output_file)

Encrypting and Decrypting PDFs

Sometimes PDF files are password protected. With the PyPDF2 package, you can work with encrypted PDF files as well as add password protection to existing PDFs.

Encrypting PDFs

You can add password protection to a PDF file using the .encrypt() method of a PdfFileWriter() instance. It has two main parameters:

  1. user_pwd sets the user password. This allows for opening and reading the PDF file.
  2. owner_pwd sets the owner password. This allows for opening the PDF without any restrictions, including editing.

Let’s use .encrypt() to add a password to a PDF file. First, open the newsletter.pdf file in the practice_files directory:

>>>
>>> from pathlib import Path
>>> from PyPDF2 import PdfFileReader, PdfFileWriter
>>> pdf_path = (
...     Path.home()
...     / "creating-and-modifying-pdfs"
...     / "practice_files"
...     / "newsletter.pdf"
... )
>>> pdf_reader = PdfFileReader(str(pdf_path))

Now create a new PdfFileWriter instance and add the pages from pdf_reader to it:

>>>
>>> pdf_writer = PdfFileWriter()
>>> pdf_writer.appendPagesFromReader(pdf_reader)

Next, add the password "SuperSecret" with pdf_writer.encrypt():

>>>
>>> pdf_writer.encrypt(user_pwd="SuperSecret")

When you set only user_pwd, the owner_pwd argument defaults to the same string. So, the above line of code sets both the user and owner passwords.

Finally, write the encrypted PDF to an output file in your home directory called newsletter_protected.pdf:

>>>
>>> output_path = Path.home() / "newsletter_protected.pdf"
>>> with output_path.open(mode="wb") as output_file:
...     pdf_writer.write(output_file)

When you open the PDF with a PDF reader, you’ll be prompted to enter a password. Enter "SuperSecret" to open the PDF.

If you need to set a separate owner password for the PDF, then pass a second string to the owner_pwd parameter:

>>>
>>> user_pwd = "SuperSecret"
>>> owner_pwd = "ReallySuperSecret"
>>> pdf_writer.encrypt(user_pwd=user_pwd, owner_pwd=owner_pwd)

In this example, the user password is "SuperSecret" and the owner password is "ReallySuperSecret".

When you encrypt a PDF file with a password and attempt to open it, you must provide the password before you can view its contents. This protection extends to reading from the PDF in a Python program. Next, let’s see how to decrypt PDF files with PyPDF2.

Decrypting PDFs

To decrypt an encrypted PDF file, use the .decrypt() method of a PdfFileReader instance.

.decrypt() has a single parameter called password that you can use to provide the password for decryption. The privileges you have when opening the PDF depend on the argument you passed to the password parameter.

Let’s open the encrypted newsletter_protected.pdf file that you created in the previous section and use PyPDF2 to decrypt it.

First, create a new PdfFileReader instance with the path to the protected PDF:

>>>
>>> from pathlib import Path
>>> from PyPDF2 import PdfFileReader, PdfFileWriter
>>> pdf_path = Path.home() / "newsletter_protected.pdf"
>>> pdf_reader = PdfFileReader(str(pdf_path))

Before you decrypt the PDF, check out what happens if you try to get the first page:

>>>
>>> pdf_reader.getPage(0)
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "/Users/damos/github/realpython/python-basics-exercises/venv/
  lib/python38-32/site-packages/PyPDF2/pdf.py", line 1617, in getObject
    raise utils.PdfReadError("file has not been decrypted")
PyPDF2.utils.PdfReadError: file has not been decrypted

A PdfReadError exception is raised, informing you that the PDF file has not been decrypted.

Go ahead and decrypt the file now:

>>>
>>> pdf_reader.decrypt(password="SuperSecret")
1

.decrypt() returns an integer representing the success of the decryption:

  • 0 indicates that the password is incorrect.
  • 1 indicates that the user password was matched.
  • 2 indicates that the owner password was matched.

Once you’ve decrypted the file, you can access the contents of the PDF:

>>>
>>> pdf_reader.getPage(0)
{'/Contents': IndirectObject(7, 0), '/CropBox': [0, 0, 612, 792],
'/MediaBox': [0, 0, 612, 792], '/Parent': IndirectObject(1, 0),
'/Resources': IndirectObject(8, 0), '/Rotate': 0, '/Type': '/Page'}

Now you can extract text and crop or rotate pages to your heart’s content!

Check Your Understanding

Expand the block below to check your understanding:

In the practice_files/ folder in the companion repository for this article, there is a file called top_secret.pdf.

Using PdfFileWriter.encrypt(), encrypt the file with the user password Unguessable. Save the encrypted file as top_secret_encrypted.pdf in your computer’s home directory.

You can expand the block below to see a solution:

Set up the path to the PDF file:

# First, import the needed classes and libraries
from pathlib import Path
from PyPDF2 import PdfFileReader

# Then create a `Path` object to the PDF file.
# You might need to change this to match the path
# on your computer.
pdf_path = (
    Path.home()
    / "creating-and-modifying-pdfs"
    / "practice_files"
    / "top_secret.pdf"
)

Now create PdfFileReader and PdfFileWriter instances:

pdf_reader = PdfFileReader(str(pdf_path))
pdf_writer = PdfFileWriter()

You can append all of the pages from pdf_reader to pdf_writer using .appendPagesFromReader():

pdf_writer.appendPagesFromReader(pdf_reader)

Now use encrypt() to set the user passwrod to "Unguessable":

pdf_writer.encrypt(user_pwd="Unguessable")

Finally, write the contents of pdf_writer to a file called top_secret_encrypted.pdf in your computer’s home directory:

output_path = Path.home() / "top_secret_encrypted.pdf"
with output_path.open(mode="wb") as output_file:
    pdf_writer.write(output_file)

Creating a PDF File From Scratch

The PyPDF2 package is great for reading and modifying existing PDF files, but it has a major limitation: you can’t use it to create a new PDF file. In this section, you’ll use the ReportLab Toolkit to generate PDF files from scratch.

ReportLab is a full-featured solution for creating PDFs. There is a commercial version that costs money to use, but a limited-feature open source version is also available.

Installing reportlab

To get started, you need to install reportlab with pip:

$ python3 -m pip install reportlab

You can verify the installation with pip show:

$ python3 -m pip show reportlab
Name: reportlab
Version: 3.5.34
Summary: The Reportlab Toolkit
Home-page: http://www.reportlab.com/
Author: Andy Robinson, Robin Becker, the ReportLab team
        and the community
Author-email: reportlab-users@lists2.reportlab.com
License: BSD license (see license.txt for details),
         Copyright (c) 2000-2018, ReportLab Inc.
Location: c:\users\davea\venv\lib\site-packages
Requires: pillow
Required-by:

At the time of writing, the latest version of reportlab was 3.5.34. If you have IDLE open, then you’ll need to restart it before you can use the reportlab package.

Using the Canvas Class

The main interface for creating PDFs with reportlab is the Canvas class, which is located in the reportlab.pdfgen.canvas module.

Open a new IDLE interactive window and type the following to import the Canvas class:

>>>
>>> from reportlab.pdfgen.canvas import Canvas

When you make a new Canvas instance, you need to provide a string with the filename of the PDF you’re creating. Go ahead and create a new Canvas instance for the file hello.pdf:

>>>
>>> canvas = Canvas("hello.pdf")

You now have a Canvas instance that you’ve assigned to the variable name canvas and that is associated with a file in your current working directory called hello.pdf. The file hello.pdf does not exist yet, though.

Let’s add some text to the PDF. To do that, you use .drawString():

>>>
>>> canvas.drawString(72, 72, "Hello, World")

The first two arguments passed to .drawString() determine the location on the canvas where the text is written. The first specifies the distance from the left edge of the canvas, and the second specifies the distance from the bottom edge.

The values passed to .drawString() are measured in points. Since a point equals 1/72 of an inch, .drawString(72, 72, "Hello, World") draws the string "Hello, World" one inch from the left and one inch from the bottom of the page.

To save the PDF to a file, use .save():

>>>
>>> canvas.save()

You now have a PDF file in your current working directory called hello.pdf. You can open it with a PDF reader and see the text Hello, World at the bottom of the page!

There are a few things to notice about the PDF you just created:

  1. The default page size is A4, which is not the same as the standard US letter page size.
  2. The font defaults to Helvetica with a font size of 12 points.

You’re not stuck with these settings.

Setting the Page Size

When you instantiate a Canvas object, you can change the page size with the optional pagesize parameter. This parameter accepts a tuple of floating-point values representing the width and height of the page in points.

For example, to set the page size to 8.5 inches wide by 11 inches tall, you would create the following Canvas:

canvas = Canvas("hello.pdf", pagesize=(612.0, 792.0))

(612, 792) represents a letter-sized paper because 8.5 times 72 is 612, and 11 times 72 is 792.

If doing the math to convert points to inches or centimeters isn’t your cup of tea, then you can use the reportlab.lib.units module to help you with the conversions. The .units module contains several helper objects, such as inch and cm, that simplify your conversions.

Go ahead and import the inch and cm objects from the reportlab.lib.units module:

>>>
>>> from reportlab.lib.units import inch, cm

Now you can inspect each object to see what they are:

>>>
>>> cm
28.346456692913385
>>> inch
72.0

Both cm and inch are floating-point values. They represent the number of points contained in each unit. inch is 72.0 points and cm is 28.346456692913385 points.

To use the units, multiply the unit name by the number of units that you want to convert to points. For example, here’s how to use inch to set the page size to 8.5 inches wide by 11 inches tall:

>>>
>>> canvas = Canvas("hello.pdf", pagesize=(8.5 * inch, 11 * inch))

By passing a tuple to pagesize, you can create any size of page that you want. However, the reportlab package has some standard built-in page sizes that are easier to work with.

The page sizes are located in the reportlab.lib.pagesizes module. For example, to set the page size to letter, you can import the LETTER object from the pagesizes module and pass it to the pagesize parameter when instantiating your Canvas:

>>>
>>> from reportlab.lib.pagesizes import LETTER
>>> canvas = Canvas("hello.pdf", pagesize=LETTER)

If you inspect the LETTER object, then you’ll see that it’s a tuple of floats:

>>>
>>> LETTER
(612.0, 792.0)

The reportlab.lib.pagesize module contains many standard page sizes. Here are a few with their dimensions:

Page Size Dimensions
A4 210 mm x 297 mm
LETTER 8.5 in x 11 in
LEGAL 8.5 in x 14 in
TABLOID 11 in x 17 in

In addition to these, the module contains definitions for all of the ISO 216 standard paper sizes.

Setting Font Properties

You can also change the font, font size, and font color when you write text to the Canvas.

To change the font and font size, you can use .setFont(). First, create a new Canvas instance with the filename font-example.pdf and a letter page size:

>>>
>>> canvas = Canvas("font-example.pdf", pagesize=LETTER)

Then set the font to Times New Roman with a size of 18 points:

>>>
>>> canvas.setFont("Times-Roman", 18)

Finally, write the string "Times New Roman (18 pt)" to the canvas and save it:

>>>
>>> canvas.drawString(1 * inch, 10 * inch, "Times New Roman (18 pt)")
>>> canvas.save()

With these settings, the text will be written one inch from the left side of the page and ten inches from the bottom. Open up the font-example.pdf file in your current working directory and check it out!

There are three fonts available by default:

  1. "Courier"
  2. "Helvetica"
  3. "Times-Roman"

Each font has bolded and italicized variants. Here’s a list of all the font variations available in reportlab:

  • "Courier"
  • "Courier-Bold
  • "Courier-BoldOblique"
  • "Courier-Oblique"
  • "Helvetica"
  • "Helvetica-Bold"
  • "Helvetica-BoldOblique"
  • "Helvetica-Oblique"
  • "Times-Bold"
  • "Times-BoldItalic
  • "Times-Italic"
  • "Times-Roman"

You can also set the font color using .setFillColor(). In the following example, you create a PDF file with blue text named font-colors.pdf:

from reportlab.lib.colors import blue
from reportlab.lib.pagesizes import LETTER
from reportlab.lib.units import inch
from reportlab.pdfgen.canvas import Canvas

canvas = Canvas("font-colors.pdf", pagesize=LETTER)

# Set font to Times New Roman with 12-point size
canvas.setFont("Times-Roman", 12)

# Draw blue text one inch from the left and ten
# inches from the bottom
canvas.setFillColor(blue)
canvas.drawString(1 * inch, 10 * inch, "Blue text")

# Save the PDF file
canvas.save()

blue is an object imported from the reportlab.lib.colors module. This module contains several common colors. A full list of colors can be found in the reportlab source code.

The examples in this section highlight the basics of working with the Canvas object. But you’ve only scratched the surface. With reportlab, you can create tables, forms, and even high-quality graphics from scratch!

The ReportLab User Guide contains a plethora of examples of how to generate PDF documents from scratch. It’s a great place to start if you’re interested in learning more about creating PDFs with Python.

Check Your Understanding

Expand the block below to check your understanding:

Create a PDF in your computer’s home directory called realpython.pdf with letter-sized pages that contain the text "Hello, Real Python!" placed two inches from the left edge and eight inches from the bottom edge of the page.

You can expand the block below to see a solution:

Set up the Canvas instance with letter-sized pages:

from reportlab.lib.pagesizes import LETTER
from reportlab.lib.units import inch
from reportlab.pdfgen.canvas import Canvas

canvas = Canvas("font-colors.pdf", pagesize=LETTER)

Now draw the string "Hello, Real Python!" two inches from the left and eight inches from the bottom:

canvas.drawString(2 * inch, 8 * inch, "Hello, Real Python!")

Finally, save the canvas to write the PDF file:

canvas.save()

When you’re ready, you can move on to the next section.

Conclusion: Create and Modify PDF Files in Python

In this tutorial, you learned how to create and modify PDF files with the PyPDF2 and reportlab packages. If you want to follow along with the examples you just saw, then be sure to download the materials by clicking the link below:

With PyPDF2, you learned how to:

  • Read PDF files and extract text using the PdfFileReader class
  • Write new PDF files using the PdfFileWriter class
  • Concatenate and merge PDF files using the PdfFileMerger class
  • Rotate and crop PDF pages
  • Encrypt and decrypt PDF files with passwords

You also had an introduction to creating PDF files from scratch with the reportlab package. You learned how to:

  • Use the Canvas class
  • Write text to a Canvas with .drawString()
  • Set the font and font size with .setFont()
  • Change the font color with .setFillColor()

reportlab is a powerful PDF creation tool, and you only scratched the surface of what’s possible. If you enjoyed what you learned in this sample from Python Basics: A Practical Introduction to Python 3, then be sure to check out the rest of the book.

Happy coding!

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About David Amos

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David is a mathematician by training, a data scientist/Python developer by profession, and a coffee junkie by choice.

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