3 Ways to Remove Hard-to-Select Objects in PDFs

Your PDF document looks great except for that stubborn line that refuses to go away. You’ve tried selecting it and deleting it with no luck.

We know how frustrating that can be. We’ve all been there, trying to remove an unwanted element from a PDF document only to realize that, for some mysterious reason, it’s completely unselectable. Often, we’ll just accept defeat and send the document as-is. There are only so many hours in a day, and most of us can’t afford to spend even one of them trying to fix formatting issues. 

Next time you’re in this situation, here are simple fixes you can try:

1. “Unlock All”

Text and images in PDFs can be “locked” so you can’t move or edit them. When faced with an unmovable object, try Unlock All. To access this feature, Go to Arrange > Unlock All.

2. Use the Precision Edit Tool

If that doesn’t work, try Precision Edit, PDFpen’s special tool for dealing with difficult objects. It lives within the Edit Tool: you access it by clicking the Edit Tool twice.

The precision Edit Tool in action
The precision Edit Tool in action

Here’s how to use the Precision Edit Tool:

a. In the Editing Bar, double-click the Edit Tool. Alternatively, choose Tools > Precision Edit Tool. This selects the Precision Edit Tool and your pointer changes to the precision pointer, as shown below:

The pointer changes to a precision pointer when you select the Precision Edit Tool.
The pointer changes to a precision pointer when you select the Precision Edit Tool.

b. Click the object you want to select, edit, or resize. You’ll see a bounding box with control handles at the corners of text or graphic element, as shown below:

Selection of a native text object (left) and a graphic object (right) with the Precision Edit Tool. Source: Take Control of PDFpen.
Selection of a native text object (left) and a graphic object (right) with the Precision Edit Tool. Source: Take Control of PDFpen.

c. Do one of the following:

  • Place your pointer over the object. Your pointer will turn into a little hand, also known as a move pointer. Drag to move the object.
  • Place your pointer over one of the object’s control handles. Your pointer will turn into a double-headed arrow, also known as a resize pointer. Drag to resize the object.
  • Press Delete to remove the object from the PDF.

Note: The Precision Edit Tool works for many things, but it doesn’t work for selecting imprints or objects you drew using PDFpen’s drawing tools; for those, you’ll want to use the regular Edit Tool.

3. Use AppleScript > Remove All Imprints

As we explained in a previous blog post, PDFpen offers a selection of AppleScripts you can use to automate PDF tasks, even if you don’t know how to code. One of the scripts is “Remove All Imprints”. You can use it to remove comments, images, and objects in a PDF.

To access PDFpen’s AppleScripts, click the scripts icon in the menu bar. You’ll find “Remove All Imprints” towards the bottom, right after Split PDF.

PDFpen’s scripts menu
PDFpen’s scripts menu

Note: In versions of PDFpen running on Lion, Mountain Lion, Yosemite, or later, under Apple rules, you have to populate the script menu yourself. Get step-by-step instructions.

Your turn: try these on hard-to-select objects

Some PDF documents have text and graphic elements that don’t go easily away. To make them selectable, moveable, and editable, try these tools and/or features:

  1. “Unlock All”
  2. Precision Edit
  3. “Remove All Imprints

If none of these work, try exporting your PDF to Word and making edits to your newly created .docx file on Pages.

What kinds of documents do you encounter with hard-to-select objects? Let us know on Twitter or on Facebook.