What to do when weird characters appear in PDF files

What to do when weird characters appear in PDF files

What’s the deal?

PDF files have been known to do bizarre things when it comes to displaying the wrong characters. Occasionally, you may open a PDF document and find that it displays strange symbols, weird letters, or unintelligible characters.

This could happen despite which PDF software or version you are using.

Here is some example text from a hypothetical PDF document.

From the original file are the words on the left and on the right is what we see when we open the document with our PDF reader:

Abstract    →   9%)A:*2A
e first one   →    !”# F(:)A $;#

Why is this happening?

In our example, the document is missing fonts embedded into the original document. Which means the PDF software will use its “default fonts” instead of the intended fonts.

This creates a pattern mix-up :

1) The lowercase letter “t” is replaced with “A
2) “#” is taking the place of “e”.

Not only did it make the document unreadable, but it also affected searching, too. If they wanted to search for “Abstract:”, they needed to type in “9%)A:*2A” to find it.

How can I fix this?

The most full proof way to resolve this is by having the original owner or author of the content, create a new PDF file with the original fonts embedded within it.

If that’s not possible or you are short on time, here are some things you can try.

Alternative solutions to recreate your PDFs format

  • Use the “Print As Image” feature—Sometimes, printing the document shows the correct characters even when they aren’t viewable on screen. Once printed out on paper, you may be able to read it. If it works, you can then OCR the digital file to create one that’s readable and searchable.
  • Convert to Word and back to PDF—Another possible fix is to use PDF Software to convert the PDF file into a Word document and then convert it back to a PDF file again. Here’s how to do it using Foxit PDF Editor:
    1. Go to File > Export > To MS Office > Word
    2. Under Settings, choose Image-based document
    3. Choose Set Languages
    4. In the pop-up box, select the source language and tap OK to set it
    5. Hit OK
    6. Convert the Word file back to PDF by going to convert > open file and selecting your word document.

      converting pdf to word

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