PDF Archiver put to the test: Keyword, organize and archive PDFs

Featured image PDF Archiver

A few months ago I got from the developer Julian Kahnert received an email in which he briefly told me his software “PDF archiver” and offered me a test. Unfortunately, I've only now gotten around to really testing the software, but I have to say: *Spoiler alert!* I should have done it earlier. :D

What exactly does PDF Archiver do?

In principle, this little software is programmed for a very special task: display metadata of PDFs, allow keywording via finder tags and then rename the PDF file and store it in a folder structure that works according to the year.

For this reason, this software is particularly useful for people who scan documents of all kinds and save them as PDFs. In principle, it does not matter how the process of capturing as PDF is carried out, since the software works with all PDFs and even converts photographs of receipts that are available as JPG into a PDF. So don't get it wrong: The PDF Archiver is not software for scanning, but for further processing the scans.

An more detailed description of the concept can be found on Julian's blog. But I wanted to keep it brief at this point, because the application in practice - which I describe in the next paragraph - is ultimately more practical and you then understand more quickly what the software actually does.

This is what my folder looks like, in which all the scans from my feeder scanner are loaded. Not very meaningful ...
This is what my folder looks like, in which all the scans from my feeder scanner are loaded. Not very meaningful ...

How do I use PDF Archiver in the office?

The best way to understand how the software can be used in the office is to briefly present my own “workflow”:

For several years now, I've been using the to scan all receipts, contracts and documents that I want to find again quickly Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 a. It's on the desk next to my monitor and can be activated by opening the cover. Then I put the corresponding document (can also be several pages) in the feeder and press a button. The scanner then pulls through the individual sheets at breakneck speed, scans the front and back at the same time, automatically hunts the result through text recognition and finally a searchable PDF ends up in my “ScanSnap” folder on the Mac, which even has the Spotlight search is found when I type in a company name or something similar that appeared in the text.

So far so good. So now I have a folder with well over 500 scans, but they all have cryptic names like “2014_02_02_22_02_00.pdf”. This is of course not very helpful. Everything is also in one folder, which becomes a bit confusing after a few years. And when I search for an invoice and enter “invoice” as a search term in the search in the Finder I get ejected all PDFs where the word “invoice” was found. I have significantly more documents than I actually have invoices. So also rather unsatisfactory.

The main screen of PDF Archiver shows at a glance the files on the left, the current document in the middle and the tag management and information such as the date and brief description of the PDF on the right.
The main screen of PDF Archiver shows at a glance the files on the left, the current document in the middle and the tag management and information such as the date and brief description of the PDF on the right.

PDF Archiver creates order in PDF chaos

With the PDF Archiver I have now started to organize my entire PDF archive. Since something can always go wrong, I first copied the folder with the scans (⌘ + D) – just to be on the safe side. After starting the software, the folder that contains all the unsorted PDF scans has now been specified. This is sort of the “inbox” that PDF Archiver constantly monitors. For this reason, the folder is also called “Watched Folder” in the software.

You can now see all PDFs in the folder in the left column. In the middle of the window you can see a view of the respective PDF that is currently selected and on the right you can find the overview of the keywording. The date is already assigned in the first line (wrong in the screenshot; bug will be fixed!) And at the bottom you can find all the suggested tags that the program already has in memory - a collection of all previously assigned tags. The list is currently empty in the screenshot because I entered a new day in the search. If you want to create a new tag, you type it into the search field and then press return. It is already assigned to the current document and will appear in the list of available tags in the future.

In principle, all this information is already saved, but there is also a save button whose function was not clear to me at first. If you press this button, however, the tags are written to the file and the file is moved to the "Archive folder" and provided with a tick in the left view. If you have not yet defined this, the “PDF Archiver” program will point out that you still have to do this in the settings. Once done, the file disappears from what I like to call the “Inbox Folder” (“Watched Folder” in Preferences) and is moved to the “ScanSnap Archive” (“Archive Folder”) folder, as I like it called him to me.

Here is an example of how PDF Archiver files are stored in the folder structure and with new file names.
Here is an example of how PDF Archiver files are stored in the folder structure and with new file names.

The software automatically creates subfolders for the respective years in the archive folder, resulting in a rough structure. In addition, the files are renamed so that the new file name consists of the date, the content of the text field "Description of the document" and the selected tags.

In my case, “2014-04-21-08-32-09.pdf” then became “2014-04-21–termin-steuerpruefung__finanzamt_steuerpruefung.pdf”. That helps a lot - even if I somehow don't like appointments for tax audits. ;-)

Various options can be set in the settings of the program. However, it is particularly important to define the two folders "Archive Path" and "Monitored Folder".
In the settings of the program you can set various options. However, it is particularly important to specify the two folders “Archive Path” and “Watched Folder”.

Small issues with my test

When I sorted and tagged my PDFs, I noticed a few things that weren't working as they should:

  • the date was not taken correctly from my file name and the current date was always used as the date
  • right at the start the view of the available tags showed strange entries like “01”, “22” or “33”.

I reported these bugs to Julian and he wrote me that he could recreate them and fix them in the next version. So it may well be that you no longer have such problems. If you notice something that should be different, or you have an idea for a new feature, Julian sends a short email. He goes to great lengths to make the users of his software happy.

Setting options of the software

If you look in the settings of PDF Archiver, you will find some options that I would like to explain in more detail here. The screenshot above shows you the options page.

The two paths where the unedited PDFs are located and where the edited PDFs are to be moved are defined above. Checking the "Description" box ensures that the new file names are as compatible as possible with other operating systems. This means spaces and special characters are converted.

The "Tags" option is of interest for the tag suggestions when assigning in the PDF Archiver. If you have not activated this option, the software only scans the last two years of the archive folder for used tags. If you check Tags here, all existing archive folders will be scanned for tags. With large archives, however, this can bring the software to its knees. And it is also questionable whether one needs a catchphrase in the proposals that has not been used for over two years. For this reason, the best option is to leave the box unchecked.

And the Images option is intended for people who often take photos of receipts with their iPhone and then want to have them converted into a PDF. I only work with PDFs and that's why I turned it off.

The advantage: more precise search for keywords is possible

The big advantage that I see when assigning keywords with the PDF Archiver is the more precise search option that you have in the Finder. For example, I can now directly display documents that contain a specific tag. “Invoice”, “health insurance”, etc. These tags are also displayed in the search function in the Finder, allowing you to quickly display certain types of documents.

When searching, I narrow it down to the "ScanSnap Archive" folder and then enter the beginning of a keyword. Suggestions for existing tags appear below, which can be selected by clicking.
When searching, I narrow it down to the “ScanSnap Archive” folder and then start typing in a keyword. Suggestions for existing tags appear below, which you can select with a click.

Faster processing through keyboard shortcuts

Anyone who, like me, has to work through several hundred PDFs will be happy that the software can also be operated using keyboard shortcuts. After a short period of getting used to it, the work is much faster. Incidentally, the use of keyboard shortcuts is also an idea from a user, which Julian then implemented.

Here is a list of keyboard shortcuts that make working with PDF Archiver even easier.
Here is a list of keyboard shortcuts that make working with PDF Archiver even easier.

What's next? Features for upcoming versions

At this point I would like to let Julian speak. He's sure to have a list of features to look forward to in the coming versions. I asked him about it and he gave me the following information:

User feedback has been very important to me since the beginning of the project. This is how many of the changes were based (https://pdf-archiver.io/changelog) based on user suggestions and requests. In this course, for example, zooming via keyboard shortcuts (⌘ + and ⌘ -), deleting PDFs via keyboard shortcuts (⌘ ⌫) and using a “watched folder” after requests have been implemented. PDF documents from the monitored folder are automatically read when the app is started, so that tagging can start directly. All of these extensions aim to optimize the workflow.
This is exactly the direction in which the features of the upcoming versions should go. Specifically, there is an optimization for the macOS Mojave, which will be released in autumn, and a dark mode. In addition, a freely selectable file name structure is also conceivable in later versions.

After starting PDF Archiver you have to choose a subscription option. However, the amount will only be calculated after the test phase of one month.
After starting PDF Archiver you have to choose a subscription option. However, the amount will only be calculated after the test phase of one month.

A word about the payment model

As you will surely notice when looking at the AppStore, Julian has provided the option of a monthly or annual payment as payment. The software was recently available for the one-time price of EUR 3,49 and a donation model, but unfortunately it is not enough for him to finance the project. In order to get paid at least a fraction of his work, he had to switch to the subscription model. Even if many users dislike this, I would like to break a lance for the developer's point of view. If you want to continuously improve and develop software, you have to invest a lot of free time in such a project. And even if the 3,49 EUR a year neither make me poor nor Julian rich, it is a constant support for Julian, which ultimately shows a little appreciation for his work.

Since I will be using the PDF Archiver regularly, I have opted for the annual subscription model. I wish Julian that even more users support his project financially and that he can implement more features. In any case, his support is world-class: During my test, I sent him three reports of small software problems by email. He responded within minutes and says he wants the bugs fixed in the next version, which will probably be out of the "Apple mine" in three days. This is a service you only have when dealing with individual developers. You have to wait months or years for solutions to errors in Adobe or Apple software. ;-)

So if you also have an extensive PDF collection that needs to be spruced up in terms of keywords and file names, then I can only recommend the PDF Archiver to you:

[appbox app store id1352719750]


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4 Responses to "PDF Archiver in the test: tagging, arranging and archiving PDFs"

  1. Hello and thanks for the article. The described bugs have been fixed with version 1.3.2 of the app. It can now be downloaded from the Mac App Store. ????

  2. Hello, I've been scanning everything with a ScanSnap10M for 1500 years. The long file names given by the software are shortened to YYY-MM-DD, followed by plain text. I can use it to search too. I create annual folders. After coming across your blog today, I'm always on the lookout, I immediately downloaded the archiver and tried it out. After several attempts, the description did not help me much, I came to a solution. I have to say that it is not worthwhile to work with the keywording. I have to call up every document and allocate a day. In the end I have countless tags, e.g. doctor, sport, Rewe, prescription, Apple, invoice, appointment, vacation, etc. etc. and behind each day there are several or even many documents. Perhaps I did not understand the principle either, if that is the case, I would be very grateful for an explanation.

    1. Hello! I think that's the way it is. I go into PDF Archiver every few days and tag the unedited documents. But I only assign 1-2 tags per document. This is usually enough for me so that I can later find everything from the health insurance company or another insurance company, for example. If there are any tips from other readers on how to handle this better, I look forward to your feedback. :)

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