PDF Primer: Printing and Converting

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Let's take a moment and imagine what life would be like without PDF files, that standard document format that is viewable across all operating system platforms (e.g. Windows, Macintosh, Linux). The standard document format makes it easy to exchange documents that keep the original formatting they were created with--including graphics, layout and fonts. You can print to PDF from any program on your computer (e.g. MS Publisher, MS Excel, Kid Pix, etc.) and, instead of seeing the file come out on your printer, it appears as a file on your computer. That text and images in that file can be copied and pasted to other documents by the recipient, or they can be locked with a password (although you can bypass the security of PDF files with the right software). Without PDF files, everyone would have to have the exact same computer system, including fonts and software. This would present problems, obviously.

However, printing to PDF--you never save a file to PDF file format--requires a special printer driver. Individuals were limited to a proprietary solution by Adobe, the company that originally came up with Acrobat PDF files. While Adobe has lowered the cost of the tools used to create PDF files, this can still be an expensive purchase when you may not need all the features of the proprietary program.

Be aware that the proprietary software (works only on Mac and Windows platforms) also allows you to edit text in PDF files, merge multiple PDF files together, as well as a host of other features. Most people, though, only want to put their original documents in a format they can easily share with others. Since they have access to the original document, they have little need to take advantage of the features offered by the more expensive Adobe Acrobat product. So, what are the free alternatives to the $100-$160 (depending on whether you buy the standard or professional version) Adobe Acrobat software?

  • CutePDF - http://www. cutepdf. com
    It is free for personal and non-commercial use. A shareware version exists for $49.92
  • MyMorph - http://docmorph. nlm.nih.gov/ docmorph/ default.htm
    A Windows only program, it enables you to convert hundreds of files for conversion to PDF. It requires Internet access since it works with the Web-based Conversion Program, DocMorph (shared below). MyMorph is a Windows-based software program that significantly increases the functionality of the DocMorph Web site by enabling users to select hundreds of files at one time for PDF file conversion. MyMorph uploads files via the Internet to DocMorph, waits for results, and downloads the newly created PDF files to hard disk.
  • PDF Creator - http://sector7g.wurzel6.de/pdfcreator/index_en.htm
    A standard PDF Printer Driver for Windows, it allows you to print from any application to a PDF file.
  • OpenOffice 2.0 - http://www.openoffice.org
    Not strictly a PDF Printer Driver, OpenOffice allows you to open any MS Office document and then export the file to PDF. This limits the file formats you can work with to those that can be opened by OpenOffice. Be aware that OpenOffice 2.0 (available for free on all software platforms) can open over 100 different formats, including MS Office, multiple graphic formats, and more.

Web-based Conversion Programs

  • DocMorph - http://docmorph.nlm.nih.gov/docmorph/docmorph.htm
    Allows you to convert from fifty different file formats, including PDFs, to five different outputs. Those output formats include Portable Document Format (PDF), Multi-page Tagged Image File Format (TIFF), Single-page TIFF, Text, and Synthesized speech.
  • Online PDF Converter - http://convert.neevia.com
    While this online PDF converter has a 1 megabyte limit per file--which may limit you if you have a document that has lots of images--you can convert from a wide variety of formats (easily over 50) to PDF. Two nice features is that it allows you to add a watermark image of any text you enter on multiple pages. It also enables you to encrypt your PDF document. While I recommend using your own encryption tools (read previous issue of Download a la Mode regarding Data Encryption for more information), this can add a simple protection to your document.
  • PDF Online - http://pdfonline.com
    Converts various formats (MS Office, html, common graphic formats) to PDF. Note that you can buy additional PDF Printer Drivers at prices ranging from approximately $10 to $40. However, you should consider the tools in the previous section--PDF Printer Drivers--before investing.

If you're wondering which to go with, consider what your needs are. If you are using MS Publisher, as well as other software (not including MS Office), and you need to print to PDF, then definitely consider using PDF Creator. If your needs are much simpler--for example, you want to convert Powerpoint and MS Word documents to PDF--then install a copy of Open Office 2.x on your computer or take advantage of DocMorph for single conversions to PDF, or MyMorph if converting multiple documents. Again, your best best is to use Open Office when dealing with MS Office documents. This is especially true for Windows and Linux users. Macintosh users, of course, can choose print then click on the PDF button to save the file as a PDF.