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Adobe Acrobat allows to measure distances in a document, which is helpful and saves making test printouts when trying to get a certain layout right point-perfect.

Is there a free (as in beer) PDF viewer that allows the same? Or can a PDF viewer actually be relied on to reproduce distances closely enough on-screen, to the point where one could measure distances directly on the screen?

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I don't know about point-perfect, but for the purposes of theses and dissertations I've assisted with, I always zoomed whatever PDF viewer I used to make an on-screen page the same width as a real page, and stuck a ruler up to the screen. – Mike Renfro Sep 23 '11 at 19:18
Is the PDf you are trying measure produced by LaTeX? If so, you add a grid to see where things are exactly on a page. Otherwise with the use of pfdpages this will help you obtain the same result. – Peter Grill Sep 23 '11 at 19:21
I know that you are asking for a PDF viewer with such feature, but have you thought about using a screen ruler? It might not be the best thing since sliced bread, but I think it's an alternative. There are some free programs available for Windows, like Ruler or A Ruler for Windows. There's also ScreenRuler for Linux. Disclaimer: I have no idea how to use them. :-) – Paulo Cereda Sep 23 '11 at 19:39
Any one know of a Max OSX option? – Bryan P Oct 7 '12 at 23:05
up vote 21 down vote accepted

Free as in beer, but not as in speech, PDF XChange Viewer has a fairly comprehensive set of measurement tools that I find quite useful. It is, however, Windoze-only, I think.

Here's a sample:

enter image description here

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Windows only, but works quite nicely under Wine. – DevSolar Sep 23 '11 at 21:32
Great description: "free as in beer, but not as in speech". :-) – Paulo Cereda Sep 24 '11 at 0:23
That's great, but how did you manage to choose the measurement units for each distance measure? For me it always measures in inches, even though I changed the default measurement units to cm in the preferences (I'm using version 2.5 of PDF-XChange viewer). – Joe Nov 15 '14 at 15:30
Click and hold the Measurement Tool Icon -> Show Comments styles palette, where you can change colour, etc, and scaling, and create multiple different measuring profiles if you do this very often – Brent.Longborough Nov 16 '14 at 9:35

(from my comment to this answer)

Another suggestion is to use a screen ruler on top of your .pdf document. For Linux, I strongly suggest ScreenRuler:

ScreenRuler is a small GNOME based utility that allows you to measure objects on your desktop. It can be used to take both horizontal and vertical measurement in 6 different metrics: pixels, centimeters, inches, picas, points, and as a percentage of the ruler's length.

In Fedora, I know it's easily available through yum install screenruler. In Ubuntu is probably the same.

Consider the following example:


\usepackage[top=1cm, left=3cm, right=2cm]{geometry}


After compiling it, I opened the resulting .pdf file and ran screenruler:


As DevSolar mentioned in the comments, if you zoom your file, you need to manually set the dpi resolution. :-)

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In Debian / Ubuntu / Mint it is apt-get install screenruler. I actually found this to be more comfortable than the measuring features of the XChange Viewer, and filed a feature request for the one shortcoming I found (ruler resolution not increasing at high DPI settings - the lines on the ruler always measure 6pt at once). Sometimes workarounds are better than what the OP requested. ;-) – DevSolar Sep 24 '11 at 6:38
Very nice! thanks very much for this suggestion. I have been looking for this exact feature on linux. – Ariel Apr 11 '12 at 14:33

For Mac OSX users here are two options:

In Preview,

  1. Select a rectangular area to measure. Either with the toolbar button or by selecting "Rectangular Selection" under the tool menu.
  2. open the Inspector (Command-I)
  3. Select the Crop and Rotate tab, whose icon looks like a small ruler. Change the units as required
  4. Now use the select area tool and the corresponding (printed) dimensions will be shown in the Inspector.


Download Free Ruler, which displays a nice ruler on screen, though requires care in both setting the ruler DPI and ensuring that the PDF is viewed at 100% size.

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Other answers have solved the problem so just for completeness' sake, inkscape is a free vector editing program that can import PDF, it has extensive support for dimensions, rulers and measurements. I frequently make use of it to measure layouts, match fonts and similar work.

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What about ghostscript?

Looks old fashioned but works in current linux distros. For example in Fedora:

yum install gv
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And that allows be to measure distances in the displayed PDF... how? (This was not about "viewing PDF" in general, but about e.g. "measuring the number of pt between this object and that object".) – DevSolar May 7 '14 at 10:43
Well, eehhh... not fully! It merely displays the cursor position as x,y coordinates in pt. If you anyway process the pdfs with some kind of scripting this is sufficient to compute the size of any rectangle or any distance by typing four values. – TNT May 7 '14 at 12:13

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