There are a number of problems that may occur when documents created on one computer are viewed on another. Two different computers may not share the same application in which a document was created, so the computer without the application will not be able to view the document. A document will not open on a computer with an operating system that is different from the operating system that the document was created on. If a file does open on a computer, the fonts and graphics may look much different than the way in which they were intended to appear. Also, documents may not print correctly because of differences with printers and software.

Illustrated below is a document displayed on two different computer systems. Notice how the fonts, text alignment, and colors look different on each computer.


Adobe® Systems developed the PDF (Portable Document Format) as a file format which eliminates many of the problems associated with viewing and sharing documents. A PDF document can be viewed on any computer, and it will look the same on all of them, regardless of how it was created or on which operating system it is viewed on. The PDF format stores all of the fonts, colors, and graphics in such a way that these components will look exactly as they were intended to look. Also, regardless of the printing device that is used, a PDF file will print correctly on all of them.

PDF was originally designed as an electronic delivery system and not a printing system. It has developed into both a means of sharing electronic files and outputting documents on almost any output device. It is the most popular format for sharing files among different users. PDF pages can be large or small and they can include any combination of images, graphics, and text. Many types of links, annotations, and actions can also be used. The PDF compression scheme embeds into the file the required data needed to properly view and output the file.

PDF files are much smaller than the files they originate from and load faster for display on the Web. They can be used as attachments for e-mail and can be integrated with Web sites or CD-ROM applications. PDF files can be augmented with video, sound, Web links, and security alternatives for more enjoyable viewing. They can be made interactive with buttons, links, and forms. PDF provides an integrated format for display, editing, preflighting, proofing, transporting, printing, and archiving.

Pages in a PDF file are independent from each other. All objects are independent from the objects on other pages allowing PDF documents to be merged or deleted without having any affect on other pages in a file. An individual page can be removed from a PDF file and brought into a different PDF file and all of the resources that are required to display the page properly are copied with the file.

Many of the largest corporations rely on PDF as the standard for sharing and outputting documents. The U.S. government is one of the biggest users of PDF technology. Many government agencies such as the Census Bureau, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Internal Revenue Service use PDF extensively.

Shown below is a sample PDF document


Acrobat converts documents created in any application to the Portable Document Format and the resulting documents look the same as the originals and they also print the same. Acrobat helps users build document workflows that are efficient and consistent.

PDF files can be opened on Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, and UNIX platforms. In Microsoft Windows, documents can be converted to PDFs by clicking the “Convert to Adobe PDF” button on the toolbar. A “Convert to PDF” icon is automatically installed within Microsoft Office programs for PCs only. When the icon is clicked, Office documents are converted into PDF files via Acrobat Distiller. Electronic files converted into PDFs can be distributed via the Web, e-mail, an Intranet, or a CD-ROM.

Web pages usually look different on different operating systems or on different computers because of differences in the fonts that are available and the color palettes that are used. Web pages can be downloaded in Acrobat and also saved as PDF files and they will have the same appearance as the original. The “Web Capture” command converts a Web page or an entire site into PDF files and keeps all of the links intact. The Web pages can be combined with other documents to create one PDF file.

Acrobat Capture

Acrobat Capture works with a scanner to help convert paper documents into PDF files. When a printed document is scanned, Acrobat Capture (which supports most scanners) converts the document into a PDF. Acrobat Capture allows organizations to store many of their paper based documents electronically, eliminating the need for saving bulky print based paper documents.


Acrobat Capture can automatically produce Intradocument links such as a table of contents, cross references, and indexes. It features accurate OCR, font and page recognition so that what appears on the screen is the same as what is on the paper document. Also provided are foreign language, medical, legal, and scientific dictionaries as well as dictionaries defined by the user.

Acrobat Capture is available in two versions:

  1. Personal Edition: allows conversion of up to 20,000 searchable PDF pages and additional 20,000 to 100,000 page packs can be purchased for added capacity.
  2. Cluster Edition: converts an unlimited number of pages to PDF.

Acrobat Distiller

Acrobat Distiller “distills” the important information during the PostScript interpretation and eliminates the unnecessary information. This allows the PDF file to be smaller than a PostScript file. A typical PostScript file of several megabytes can be reduced to a few hundred kilobytes when distilled to PDF. The smaller file size also means that the output speed is higher than it is with a PostScript file.

Acrobat Reader

In order for a PDF file to be viewed on any computer, the computer must have Adobe Acrobat Reader® installed on it. The latest version of Reader is Acrobat Reader and has several new features. Drag-and-drop toolbar icons are featured along with dynamic thumbnails generation. There is support for screen readers allowing the visually impaired to have accessibility. Copies of files downloaded in Web browsers can be saved if necessary. The Reader software is free and can be downloaded from the Adobe® site at



Many corporations, organizations, print providers, service bureaus, and publishing houses prefer PDF files over other formats because of the efficiency and time savings that they create. PDFs can be repurposed on the fly so that they can be used for offset printing, digital printing, and Web publishing without the need for separate processing.

Among the types of applications that are delivered to print providers and service bureaus as PDF files are newspapers, magazines, catalogs, books, forms, mailers, and advertisements. Web applications such as electronic order forms and electronic catalogs that have an online ordering feature can be created. Printed applications such as newspaper and magazine articles, brochures, and marketing materials can be presented on the Internet. The flexibility offered by Adobe Acrobat allows electronic files created in other applications to be converted into PDF files that can then be distributed via the Web, e-mail, an Intranet, or a CD-ROM.

Document Creation

PDFs can be produced from original documents created in Adobe programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and PageMaker. Using Adobe programs to create an original document makes the PDF workflow even more efficient and streamlined.

PDF files can also be produced from original document files created in non-Adobe software programs. Among the most popular programs are Microsoft Office applications such as Word and Excel, QuarkXpress, and Macromedia FreeHand.

Converting Documents to PDF

There are several ways to convert documents to PDFs, depending on the type of software program that is used to create the document. Programs that allow documents to be saved as PDF files usually have a dialog box under the file menu such as “Publish to PDF” or “Save as PDF” or “Export”, which allows the document to be saved and exported in several formats, including PDF. Some programs require several steps in order to output documents as PDF files while programs such as InDesign or Illustrator have fewer steps because the programs, along with PDF, are produced by Adobe. The Adobe programs are the most compatible with PDF.

Acrobat has added a helpful feature for converting documents created in Microsoft Office applications such as Word and Excel. With the installation of Acrobat, icons are automatically added to the toolbars of Office applications. Clicking the icons will convert Office documents into PDF files. One icon is “Convert to Adobe PDF” and another is “Convert to Adobe PDF and E-mail”.

Older Acrobat versions require the Print Dialog box to be opened in Office applications and then Acrobat Distiller must be selected as the Printer Name. This eliminates the process if having to save PostScript files and then running them through Distiller as a separate operation. This is because Acrobat distills the file when it is printed.

Older Acrobat versions require the Print Dialog box to be opened in Office applications and then Acrobat Distiller must be selected as the Printer Name. This eliminates the process if having to save PostScript files and then running them through Distiller as a separate operation. This is because Acrobat distills the file when it is printed.

Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign may require a “Save As” or “Export” of the PDF in order to bypass PostScript and allow PDFs to be created with Acrobat. This will save trim and bleed specifications and transparency, which are not supported by PostScript.

Importing/Exporting/File Transfer

You can save PDF files as a different format if necessary. You may want to include all or part of the content of a PDF file in another document that was created in a different application such as word processing program. With the use of Acrobat, the PDF file can be saved as “Rich Text Format”, which can then be imported into the word processing application. The text can then be edited and rearranged in any way that is necessary.

Individual PDF pages can be saved to other image formats such as TIFF, JPEG, and PNG. You can then use the “import image” command from a different software application to edit or add PDF pages to documents.

Security settings can be used so that no text or graphics can be exported from a PDF document. The security features include password protection and digital signatures. The printing of a document can be blocked and changing its content can be blocked as well.

PDF is the preferred method of transporting files to a service bureau and print provider. With the use of PDF, it is common for large organizations to transfer files between departments through an Intranet or to transfer files to other organizations. The compact size of PDF files allows documents to transfer faster than many formats, even if a standard dial-up network is used as the means of transfer.

Navigation Tools

There are several navigation tools to make viewing PDF documents easier and more efficient. The navigation tools include:

  • Thumbnails: The thumbnails panel displays a small representation or icon for every page in the file so that the user can click on any thumbnail and go to that page quickly. Two different sizes of thumbnails can be viewed depending on your preferences. An area can be selected on a thumbnail and Acrobat will go to the designated area of the page. The area selected on the thumbnail is then highlighted with a red border.
  • Bookmarks: The bookmarks are displayed as an index of the major topics in the file. The user can click on a topic to go to that topic within the file. Different levels of topics such as main topics and sub-topics can be identified through color-coding, bold typefaces, or italics.
  • Comments: This provides a listing of all annotations concerning the document.
  • Signatures: This lists the signatures and user profiles of all those signing off on the document for proofing.

Shown below is the Bookmarks Panel.

The Thumbnails Panel is shown below with the
selected area of the page highlighted with a red border.

The illustration below shows how the size of the thumbnails can
be decreased so that more thumbnails can be shown at one time.

The Comments Panel, with its associated menu, is shown below.

The Signature Panel, with its associated menu, is shown below.

PDF Advantages

Businesses and organizations can benefit with the use of PDF for several reasons:

  • PDF documents can be created from any application.
  • Paper documents can be scanned and converted to PDF.
  • PDF documents may include bookmarks, security options, Web links, and annotations.
  • PDFs can be easily distributed electronically to any location.

Service bureaus and print providers benefit with the use of PDF because:

  • They are easier to transfer to a service bureau or a printer because of the smaller file size.
  • The production process becomes more streamlined for the service provider through the use of PDF. There are fewer delays and the costs are lower.
  • With the use of PDF, documents can be processed and printed without having to furnish the original version of the file, created in a different application.
  • The way in which a document will look when printed, including the fonts, graphics, and overall layout of the document, can be shown on the screen.
  • Proofing is faster with PDF.
    PDFs can be used to build PostScript files that are more reliable for direct printing or as files to be sent through prepress.
  • PDF documents can be archived.

Listed below are several other reasons why PDF files have advantages over other formats:

  • The file size is smaller than PostScript.
  • PDF files are platform and application independent.
  • They are easy to repurpose for other types of media.
  • Acrobat Reader is readily available through a free download from the Adobe Web site. This makes it possible for everyone to view PDF files.
  • Content can be repurposed from print to the Web.
  • PDF has gained universal acceptance.

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