The Lumber Room

"Consign them to dust and damp by way of preserving them"

Converting old PS files (generated with LaTeX) to searchable PDFs

with 8 comments


A common (or at least, more common than it should be) scenario: you find a PostScript file of some paper, clearly written in (La)TeX, but which looks blurry on screen and you cannot copy any text. Converting to PDF with, say, ps2pdf does not help either. You curse the .ps format, and put up with the blurriness or print it out (where it looks fine) to read it.

Turns out it doesn’t have to be this way. The problem is that the PS file is using bitmap fonts, but assuming you have the scalable (Type 1) versions of those same fonts on your system, you can convert the fonts! There’s a script called pkfix, distributed with TeX Live, which will take a ps file that uses bitmap fonts and try to convert it to use scalable fonts. Just run it as


This should produce a PS which isn’t blurry and is searchable, but if you prefer PDF, the usual way will work


or on Mac OS X if you don’t have ps2pdf for some reason, o -a macps2pdf where macps2pdf comes with MacGhostView.

If the file is very old (generated with dvips from before 1996) and pkfix doesn’t work, there’s a further script called pkfix-helper that may make the file appropriate for pkfix.

BTW, if it’s your own files that are coming out blurry, something is wrong with your setup. Just install the package cm-super from CTAN—sudo tlmgr install cm-super or whatever—and no other change is needed. Or you can use the lmodern fonts with \usepackage{lmodern}, but that shouldn’t be necessary.


Written by S

Thu, 2011-05-05 at 11:42:30

Posted in compknow

Tagged with , ,

8 Responses

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  1. Thank you so much!
    Incredibly helpful when I read those old papers on my LCD.


    Mon, 2011-07-18 at 16:44:48

    • You’re welcome.. This ought to be better known!


      Mon, 2011-07-18 at 22:52:00

  2. Thank you very much, this worked flawlessly.

    Thanks a lot to the authors of pkfix-helper and pkfix as well.


    Tue, 2012-12-04 at 20:40:37

  3. Dude this is amazing!!!! Thanks a lot!


    Mon, 2014-01-20 at 20:20:48

    • Glad you found it useful. Please spread the word; you may save someone else from blurry files.


      Mon, 2014-01-20 at 22:56:20

  4. Fantastic … most importantly to me I can scroll the big file now fast and I can search it.

    Alexander Kurz

    Fri, 2016-01-01 at 08:08:16

  5. Thank you! I just converted a very old research paper with pkfix-helper and pkfix, and now the PDF is perfect. No equivalent version exists on the web… wonderful.


    Sun, 2017-03-12 at 03:22:22

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