An example page taken from each document in a document database is processed by a page processor to yield an iconic representation for the example page. To form the iconic representation, the example page is segmented into text regions, line art regions, photograph regions, etc., and each region is reduced in a manner appropriate for that image type. Text is replaced with a block font and reduced, while graphics are reduced in level and/or spatial resolution. The reduced regions of the example page are then reassembled into the icon. When multiple icons are printed on a guide page, a user can visually identify the icon for an example page of a target document and supply the icon, or a label for the icon, to a document retrieval system, which selects candidate matching documents from the document database. For simplified processing, characters can be blocked and words formed into solid line segments with lengths proportional to word lengths.