How to prep PDF files for tiny tablets

A dull and functional blog post today. I’m thinking about getting a small 7 inch tablet (cheap one, not the iPaidloads) but most of them seem to be rubbish at zooming while scrolling PDF files i.e. you have to zoom, then un-zoom to change page. This is a problem, as I would largely be using it to read PDFs. I guess most of the developers don’t care about functions that keep you off the internet, they’d rather have you reading books on their on-line libraries and earning more advertising revenue by surfing the web cynicism cynicism money is bad.

So I’ve wasted an hour seeing if I could prep my files for a small screen, before I decide whether or not to part with the AHRC’s cash. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Firstly, you will all have PDF journal articles. Depending on how these are formatted they may already be OK to read on a smaller 7 inch screen without zooming. If not, and they have massive white borders, you can crop them with this handy free bit of software (and it doesn’t add watermarks or anything).;2

This kind of cropping is fairly straightforward. You just select ‘all pages’ and then guess at the number of inches you need to shave off (might take a couple of guesses as the margin boxes aren’t hugely intuitive, I played around with it for a couple of minutes and soon figured it out.)

However, what if you’ve scanned a book chapter (I’ve heard some people scan entire books!) and are left with a wide PDF displaying two printed pages at once? Cropping won’t help, you look doomed to spend your time zooming, swiping, un-zooming and scrolling. Here’s what to do, it takes a couple of steps, but once you know how, you can have such a file ready to read on a small screen in five minutes tops (no matter how many pages are involved).

First, use the above bit of software to crop out the left half of the PDF file – this will leave you with all the left hand pages – and save the subsequent new PDF file as ‘Left’ or whatever you want. Then do the same but for the other side, and save that as ‘Right’. Within thirty seconds you now have two tablet sized files. Unfortunately, you have all the odd numbered pages in one file, and all the even numbered pages in the other.

Next step: use the same PDFill software above to explode the PDF file pages apart (it’s the less dramatically named ‘split’ function). I found it best to save the split apart ‘Left’ pages to a new folder, and again another new folder for the pages of ‘Right’.

You now need to have each of these individual files numbered in such a way, that when you have them merged together the PDFill software will order them correctly (i.e. you need it to interleave them).

If you know how, you might think all you need to do is number all the files for ‘Left’ in ascending numerical order, using only odd numbers, and number all the files in ‘Right’ using only even numbers. Unfortunately, the PDFill software recognises file names digitally, so you’ll end up with file 1, then file 10, 11, 111 (you can imagine how happy I was finding this out, having typed in all the odd numbers).

This is where Batch Rename.EXE comes in. It’s another free bit of software, which is very easy to use and lets you mess around with hundreds of file names in just a few clicks.;3

Now, if you want, you can play around with it yourself and try to figure it out. However if you want to save time here are the rules you need to type into the ‘Replace With’ box. (In the ‘Find’ box just choose Name, which will come up as <Name>.

For all the left hand pages (which you will select from your ‘Left’ folder) you need your files to start at the number 1 and then increase by 2 each time.

<SerialNumber(StartAt:=1, IncreaseBy:=2).PadNumber(4)>

Then for all the right hand pages you need to start at number 2 and increase by 2 each time.

<SerialNumber(StartAt:=2, IncreaseBy:=2).PadNumber(4)>

Now in your ‘Left’ folder you will have a series of PDFs named 0001, 0003, 0005 and so on, and in your ‘Right’ 0002, 0004, 0006 and so on. Move the whole lot into one big folder, and you’ll have a series of files now ordered 0001, 0002, 0003 etc. Use the PDFill merge function, which will now recognise these files in the order you want, hit merge and bingo! You’ve got a file ready for the teeniest of tiny screens.

Hope some of you find this useful. More and more often I find myself wanting to read my articles and scanned materials without having to fire up a computer. I’ve been trying to live with the Kindle, but it’s far from ideal.

p.s. if anyone mentions first world problems I’ll cut them.


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