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July 25, 2008 /How-To's /

Acrobat/Reader 9 and Geospatial

The world has long known about PDF and now PDF knows about the world. In Adobe Acrobat 9 and Adobe Reader 9 a new geospatial feature set was introduced. I wanted to write today about what makes up this new feature set both in PDF and in Acrobat/Reader and why we are excited to introduce this feature.  More after the break…


Location, Location, Location

With version 9 of Acrobat or Reader if a PDF file is geospatially aware you can consume the coordinates using the Geospatial Location Tool via the Analysis toolbar (Tools > Analysis).

  1. Use the tool to view coordinates in Decimal and DMS format (degree minutes seconds), using signed or named settings. View the coordinates in a pop-up widget in the lower right hand corner of the screen (see screen shot below).
  2. Find a location in a map and mark it with a comment by right-clicking. The comment will capture the coordinate location in the text of the comment and the FDF information.
  3. Measure places on a map using real-world units, such as miles, kilometers, feet, etc. Zoom your view mode in and the scale is adjusted so that you can continue to measure accurately. No need to manually readjust your scale.

Click on image to see it larger.

The Geospatial Location Tool and Measure Tool are available in Acrobat Standard (Windows), Acrobat Pro (Macintosh and Windows) and Acrobat Pro Extended (Windows).  Adobe Reader contains the Geospatial Location Tool and PDF authors can Reader-Enable a PDF file to turn on the Measuring and Commenting tools.

PDF Map Authoring

In Acrobat Pro Extended for Windows you can actually author PDF Map files. You can do this in a few ways.

  1. Open a Tiff or Jpeg 2000 file that contains geospatial information in Acrobat Pro Extended. The resulting PDF file that is saved will retain this information.
  2. From a Map image file (scanned or already in PDF/image format) if you know the map projection and some coordinate information you can use Acrobat’s Geospatial Registration tool to add coordinate information to the PDF.
  3. Add Shape (SHP) files to a PDF file using the Import Layer functionality. This allows the PDF document author a way to create viewable layers on a map that can be turned on and off in the Layers Panel.

Third-Party applications will soon begin to produce PDF Map files. ESRI’s AcrGiS 9.3 already does this. Read about it in this ESRI press release here.

PDF Geospatial information

The new geospatial information in PDF will be proposed to the ISO Standards group. Leonard Rosenthol owns this work for Adobe Systems. ISO 32000-1 is PDF 1.7 and has already been ratified by the ISO. The geospatial information will be submitted as Adobe Extension Level 3 for PDF 1.7 (or 1.7-ADBE-3 for short). So if you create a PDF with Acrobat Pro Extended 9 and it contains geospatial information it will show up in the Document Info dialog with that designation.

What does this all mean for you?

So we put coordinate information into PDF and allowed you a way to view and consume this information. Why is this important? By allowing PDF to now work with geospatial information Adobe has provided a document platform for GIS customers to use. No special tools and no special extensions to PDF are needed. Suddenly all the Acrobat document features are now available to customers working with geospatial documents.

Many industries interact with geospatial information; Architectural, Engineering, CAD users, Mining, real-estate, government and military industries. These are large industries with many potential customers. Now their traditional document work flows that could only include flat image maps now can include fully functioning PDF Maps.

Traditionally the pain points have been:

  1. Geospatial digital files were too large to pass around and combine into one document.
  2. Special application viewers were needed, often times only PCs could be used.
  3. Info-rich files outputted by a GIS application are eventually flattened and less interactive as they are used.

Now PDF files and PDF Portfolios can contain geospatial information which makes document presentations more valuable. Anyone with Adobe Reader 9 can view the file.

More information:

For more on the Geospatial feature set in Acrobat & Reader, and more about other new features in version 9 please check out the following on  Under 1: What’s New?, select 1.5: View and interact with Maps.

Please share any comments you may have. I’m happy to have the feedback. I hope that you are enjoying version 9 of Acrobat and/or Adobe Reader.


Jeff Moran, Acrobat Product Manager

Latitude 47 38′ 52.54″ Longitude -122 20′ 54.34″


Categories: How-To's


  • By Brian Fisher - 7:58 AM on July 25, 2008   Reply

    “Geospatial digital files were too large to pass around and combine into one document.”
    So if you import a 10MB tiff into Acrobat, is it compressing the image? Or do you have a 10MB+ PDF file?

    [The short answer is that the file size is compressed. This does not mean the quality of the image is affected though. When you open any image file in Acrobat and save it to PDF the resulting file size will be much smaller than the original, even with the geospatial information retained. The geospatial overhead in the PDF is not noticeable. I have a real world example where I imported a 5.3KB geotiff of Anchorage, AK. The PDF file I saved was half the size at 2.2KB – Jeff]

  • By Adam Estrada - 11:08 AM on July 25, 2008   Reply

    The files have to be extended in the Adobe Pro Extended environment to be able to mark them up and use the advanced analysis tools in Reader. As for compression and file size…its exactly what you would expect from a PDF. I have commented before about compressing a 6 gig NAIP scene down to 400 megs. That is pretty good if you ask me!!! Good quality too… I would definitely update Reader to 9.0 for better performance with a file this size.

  • By Martin Schaefer - 12:17 AM on July 28, 2008   Reply

    Is it possible to obtain the 1.7-ADBE-3 specification document? If yes, where and how?

  • By Leonard Rosenthol - 12:21 PM on July 28, 2008   Reply

    The details of Adobe’s Extension to ISO 32000 (not just GIS, but all of them) will be published as part of the Acrobat 9 SDK. We hope to have it available shortly.
    Leonard Rosenthol
    Adobe Systems

  • By Weymo - 9:49 AM on September 6, 2008   Reply

    I would like a sample GIS-embedded PDF to work with. Specifically, I’m looking to use the SDK with Reader to extract some user-selected point on the map, returning a tag.
    The ability to make GIS exports available to the masses will dramatically improve aggregation. Thank you Mr. Rosenthol!

  • By shahid khurshid - 2:49 AM on September 9, 2008   Reply


  • By BT - 11:54 AM on February 4, 2009   Reply

    “Add Shape (SHP) files to a PDF file using the Import Layer functionality. This allows the PDF document author a way to create viewable layers on a map that can be turned on and off in the Layers Panel.”
    Well, this function doesn’t seem to work as stated. I have tried importing a layer (.SHP) into an exported PDF map (Adobe Acrobat 9.0 PRO EXTENDED) and all you get is an error message: ‘Points.shp cannot be converted to PDF. Please select another source file.’
    All ESRI shapefiles I have tried pops up with this message.

    [Ling – In general, we’ve tested adding SHP files and it’s worked. There is a known issue that when the SHP file is too complex for us to handle, an error results. This may be what you’re encountering. I’d recommend opening a
    bug and letting us take a look. Thanks! – Dave]

  • By Linda Pranger - 11:44 AM on March 4, 2009   Reply

    I’m having the same problem as outlined above. Regardless of which shp file I try to import I get the error message “XX.shp could not be converted to a pdf file. Please select another source file.” Any ideas?

    [Linda – If you’ve tried importing the SHP file as a layer and are getting the error each time, it could be the same problem Ling described. The best thing you can do is file a bug as Dave described. – Chris]

  • By Jim Hatchitt - 10:51 AM on June 4, 2009   Reply

    Will the data associated with the shp file come over in the conversion process? Can I use a query option in Reader to Id and entity from the shp file and view the data associated for it from the original dbf file?

    [Jim – The information in the SHP file is retained within the PDF file. However, there is no access to the information in Acrobat or Reader. Third-party partners may consider building solutions that utilize it in the future. – Jeff]

  • By kris - 8:53 AM on June 10, 2009   Reply

    Can you pl. let me know whether Adobe geospatial feature support me in putting GIS content on website wherein I should restrict downloading the content.

    [Kris – Nothing within the implementation of geospatial information within the PDF file specification will help you with this directly. – Jeff]

  • By Jerry Washington - 8:50 AM on October 22, 2009   Reply

    It appears that the problem with importing a shapefile has been going on for well over a year without a published solution. I would like Mr. Jeff Moran to contact me directly with a solution to this bug in the system.
    As a matter of interest not all shapefiles have a .dbf file and if this is an absolute Adobe requirement for an “Import as Layer” process this may be the glich.

  • By Chris Smith - 7:00 AM on November 4, 2009   Reply

    I have tried importing shapefiles that contain just a few simple features and it fails when the data has a projected coordinate system. IF I REPROJECT these shapefiles(I used ArcGIS) to WGS1984 they actually do import. Not sure if this is the complete answer, but it seems to be working for me now.
    Jerry, the DBF file is a shapefile requirement. The DBF contains all of the attribute information and without it the shapefile will not load using ESRI products.

  • By Berthold K.P. Horn - 8:12 AM on November 24, 2009   Reply

    Please make sure to note in all possible places that making a “geospatial” PDF requires Acrobat 9.0 Pro *EXTENDED*. This is not clear enough. Foolishly I upgraded from 8.0 to 9.0 Pro only to find this feature was *not* available (amongst other things, I thought that “Pro” was as high end as it comes — but then I should have thought of the names for the range of sizes of lattee at Starbucks…).
    Also, only by reading these comments here did I get any clue that it is possible to import curves and organize them in layers as in some better known map making product. You may want to advertize this more, since the simple process of turning a scanned map into a “geospatial” PDF is certainly not on its own worth the high cost. IMHO.

  • By Jeff - 12:01 AM on March 16, 2010   Reply

    I have created a pdf map in Acrobat 9 Pro Extended and copied it on to a CD. It will open as a geospatial pdf in one computer, but on another I get the following message:
    “Projection engine required to use the geospatial location tool is not available”
    Both computers have Adobe Reader v9 and I am using the same file from the same CD on each one. Comment rights for Reader were enabled when the file was created.
    What would the cause be and what are the possable solutions?

  • By John - 12:56 AM on May 12, 2010   Reply

    I enabled the comments in Adobe 9 pro extended, but got the same error message “Projection engine required to use the geospatial location tool is not available” as above. What can I do; this is surely a bug isn’t it?

    [John – Please open a bug here. Thank you. – Dave]

  • By Jason - 3:09 PM on June 8, 2010   Reply

    The “Projection engine required…” error is happening in my PDF exports from ArcMap 9.3.1 even with the ‘Export Map Georeference Information’ option turned on under the Advanced tab. Does anyone have a link to a remedy for this?

  • By Tattoo - 12:35 PM on August 29, 2010   Reply

    There are certainly a lot of details like that to take into consideration. That is a great point to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as general inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you bring up where the most important thing will be working in honest good faith. I don?t know if best practices have emerged around things like that, but I am sure that your job is clearly identified as a fair game.

  • By Gurdypedia - 11:52 AM on December 27, 2011   Reply

    I’m just learning about this geospatial stuff and this looks like an excellent tool to add to my toolbox. Nice article.

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