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PDF Basics and Essential Tools

By Char

Converting a file to PDFAt least three times this week, the topic of converting a document to a PDF file has come up. The general web population has become pretty comfortable with downloading and viewing PDF documents, thanks to the free Adobe PDF Reader application, however, more users are finding the benefits of creating PDFs from their documents and they aren’t sure how to do it.


Created by Adobe Systems in 1993, a PDF, or Portable Document Format, allows you to share any document, created in any software with anyone, on any platform. Basically, it means if I create a document in PageMaker and you want to see it, you can – and you don’t need to have PageMaker to do it.

When the PDF application was first released, the only way you could read or create a PDF file was by using Adobe’s software, which is not always affordable for the average user. Adobe released a free version of Adobe Reader, which made it much more feasible for the general public to receive the PDF files.

So reading one is easy, but how do you create one?


If you need to create a PDF file quickly and just don’t have the time to research the best PDF creators, download software, or learn something new, Adobe offers a FREE trial of their online PDF creator. With the Adobe online PDF creator, you can convert your first 5 PDFs for free. If you think this is a service you want to use a lot more, you can get a subscription for it.

Other online options:


If you think you will need to create PDF files frequently, it is definitely worth downloading a PDF creator application, or if you need your PDF files to be high-end print quality, you might just need to fork out the bucks for the real thing. A lot of design software comes with PDF capabilities built in. If you are using any of them (like Dreamweaver came with Macromedia Flash Paper, a great PDF creator that I use daily), you may want to recheck your installation disks. You may have something already.

When using a desktop PDF creator, it is often as easy as sending a document to a printer. Instead of the end product being a piece of paper coming out of your printer, you will “print” the document to a PDF file that you can then email, upload or share with others electronically.

Other PDF creators give you a one-click conversion option as well. It is just a matter of reading the documentation and playing around with the software.

Adobe Acrobat Professional 8.0 is about $400, however, there are plenty of more affordable options (all under $100):

Free is good, too:

This was merely an introduction to PDF files and what they are. Depending on your needs or your end user needs, there are endless applications, add ons, additional capabilities and such you can get into. If you are sending files to a print publication, dealing with secure documents, multi authors, user interactivity and other challenges, it is well worth the investment into learning advanced PDF techniques.

And for all my readers who are already very adept with PDF conversion, I know there are other tools that are easy to use, powerful, and affordable. What do you use?  

Categories : Technology Tips



Char, That’s another thing I like about my recent switch to Mac. There is a “Save to PDF” built into the print dialog.

I use it all the time to print receipts for internet purchases that I can stash away on my hard drive and often skip the paper copy all together.


Chris – thanks for reminding me of that! Since I work on both platforms I often forget about the features that each of them have over the other.


Our scanner can automatically convert the scan to pdf.

Also, can create PDFs out of all of the documents/spreadsheets/etc. that you create with it.


Howdy, Char! I’ve been using CutePDF for years now with absolutely no complaints at all. One thing I liked is that it installs with no need for administrative privileges, which makes it handy when you’re behind an office firewall.


Mike – Thanks for those additions.

Robert – I have been a big fan of the “Cute” products for a long time – I used CuteFTP back in the day when I first started doing web design.


I use PrimoPDF ( It is free and work well. You have some other good ones which I plan to try soon! Didn’t know about the Firefox Add-on…. thanks!


I use PDFCreator ( Installs as a printer and so you can convert any document to PDF by “printing” it. It’s free.


Thanks for letting me know about all these options. I have Adobe Pagemaker and can create PDF’s by choosing to print to Adobe Distiller. Now I can share these resources with my friends and they too can create PDF’s!


Sometimes I use but these days for text documents I just use Microsoft’s free .doc to PDF/XPS plug-in inside Office 2007. Anything else on my screen that I need as a PDF I capture with Snag-it and use the save as feature to export my capture as PDF.

There are so many options these days that I decided to try and simplify my life by ignoring most of them :P


Great post. I make and use PDFs everyday, using Distiller to make them, or exporting direct from InDesign. But I never knew about the free options out there. That’s a great resource to tell my clients about.
When I’m creating a PDF for use on screen I like to make the page landscape so it fills the screen.


I use Open Office, a free program for making everything from word docs, spreadsheets, slide show, and more. Want to create a PDF from one of your files? Just click on file and save as PDF and you are done. Open Office also reads other file types like (.doc, etc.) and is much safer than MS Word.


I use Primo PDF as well and have found no issues with it so far. Great list of other resources Char.


Just stumbled to another list of desktop PDF reader application

It seems Doocu also runs an online PDF sharing service. Converts uploaded docs into PDF format automatically

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