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. Sep 23, 2011 at 19:18
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    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. Sep 23, 2011 at 19:21
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    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. :-) Sep 23, 2011 at 19:39
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    Any one know of a Max OSX option?
    – Bryan P
    Oct 7, 2012 at 23:05

6 Answers 6


PDF-XChange Editor (previously PDF XChange Viewer) has a fairly comprehensive set of measurement tools that I find quite useful. It is, however, Windows-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, 2011 at 21:32
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    Great description: "free as in beer, but not as in speech". :-) Sep 24, 2011 at 0:23
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    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, 2014 at 15:30
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    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 Nov 16, 2014 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, 2011 at 6:38
  • Very nice! thanks very much for this suggestion. I have been looking for this exact feature on linux.
    – Ariel
    Apr 11, 2012 at 14:33
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    Just a note to be careful with screenruler: on my Ubuntu 14.04, xdpyinfo reports 1366x768 pixels (361x203 millimeters), that turns out to be 96.1119 x 96.0945 ppi; screenruler by default is set to "System Settings" for the resolution, which reads 96 x 96 pi (no floats accepted). However, when I put an actual ruler next to screenruler, the screenruler has a smaller "cm". Then, if I use xrandr I get: "eDP1 connected 1366x768+0+0 (normal left inverted right x axis y axis) 293mm x 164mm"; which turns out to 118.418 x 118.946 ppi, and setting that for ppi for screenruler works.
    – sdaau
    Feb 25, 2018 at 9:15

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.


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.


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, 2014 at 10:43
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    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, 2014 at 12:13

PDF Studio Viewer (free version) has view options to display rulers and grid on the PDF page (units and spacing can be customized under File -> Preferences). PDF Studio Pro (paid version) can add measuring annotations (distance, area and perimeter).

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