PDF Made Simple

Marcel BrownWhen we send documents to others, ideally we would like the other user to be able to see and print the document exactly as we see it on our computer. However, unless the user we are sending the document to has exactly the same version of software and all the same fonts we have, we can’t be sure they will see our document correctly. Fortunately, there is an easy way to accomplish sending documents that will print and display exactly as intended on any computer.

The technology behind our solution is called PDF, which stands for Portable Document Format. PDF files are often referred to as “acrobat files”. This is in reference to the software which first popularized the use of PDF files, Adobe Acrobat. Acrobat Reader is now simply called “Adobe Reader”, and so many people are now calling PDF files “adobe files”. This can be confusing because Adobe makes a lot of other software like Photoshop and Illustrator. So it would be best to refer to PDF files as “PDF files”, but just be aware that some people use the terms “acrobat” and “adobe”.

Most computers have the ability to read PDF files. Mac OS X comes with a program called “Preview” that opens PDF files. Adobe Reader is also available for free for Mac OS X. Most Windows PCs come with the free Adobe Reader pre-installed, and if not, it is often installed as part of other software or directly by the users themselves. Another good PDF reader for Windows that is very small and runs quickly is Foxit Reader. Foxit Reader is good for older computers since it runs quickly and needs less memory. There are even readers available for UNIX operating systems. So it is safe to assume that most people can read PDF files or they can easily get the necessary software. Since almost everyone can open PDF files, the real question is how do we create PDF files?

If you have a Mac, the operating system has built-in support for creating PDF files from any software. Simply choose to print a document, and instead of hitting the “print” button, look for an option to create a PDF. In Mac OS 10.4, there is a PDF button in the print dialog box to make this very simple. Basically, you save a PDF file instead of printing to the printer. You can then attach the PDF file to an e-mail, copy the file to a flash drive, or do whatever you want with it.

If you have Windows, there are many programs available to create PDF files. Many are free or very inexpensive. The one I recommend is PDFCreator. It is a free and open-source software that basically makes creating PDF files nearly as simple as it is on the Mac. Once the software is downloaded and installed, it creates a virtual printer that you can use to create PDF files. Instead of printing to your printer, choose the PDFCreator printer and a PDF file will be saved. Again, you can then attach, copy, or do whatever you want with the PDF file.

If you have any other questions regarding document sharing, especially when it comes to cross-platform sharing, Marcel should be your first call!