PDF Primer: Printing and Converting - Tech Learning

PDF Primer: Printing and Converting

Listen to this Podcast 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
Publish date:

Listen to this Podcast

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? 

You have several alternatives, and they generally provide the basic functionality needed to create PDF files. These are divided into two categories--PDF Printer Drivers and Web-based Conversion Programs. PDF Printer Drivers allow you to print from any application (e.g. MS Publisher) to Portable Document Format (PDF), while Web-based Conversion Programs will take most files you have created and convert them after creation to PDF. It is up to you to determine which is most convenient.

PDF Printer Drivers

  • 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.



Converting Files to PDF

We’re working on a grant proposal that must be submitted online in PDF format. We have Acrobat Reader, but how do we create a PDF file ourselves? Adobe Acrobat is the commercial program of choice for creating and working with PDF files. However, if a software purchase does not fit into your budget, there are

Converting PDF files to MS Word

Question: Are there commercial programs that convert read-only PDF Files into editable MS Word files? The IT Guy says: In August, 2004 I addressed several different options available for creating PDF files, but neglected to highlight several commercial programs which can provide the functionality which you

Mac PDF converter

Question: Is there a PDF converter for Mac OS X? The IT Guy says: Every program running in Mac OS X has the ability to create a PDF File from the print dialog window. Simply choose File – Print, but instead of clicking “Print” choose “Save as PDF.” Then select the desired location and file name for the

Options for working with PDF files

Question: What alternatives are available for working with PDF files besides the full version of Adobe Acrobat? The IT Guy says: PDF (Portable Document File) is a popular file format because it preserves original formatting and allows the file to be viewed on different computer platforms using free reader

Creating an Interactive PDF

from Technology & Learning A project on the 2008 presidential election can teach students about national politics and Acrobat's many tools. There are many ways to begin a PDF document using Adobe Acrobat. The easiest and most popular way is to create your document in another application (such as Microsoft

Converting PowerPoint Slide Shows to Web-based

Listen to this podcast Although Wink is a nice tool to use to create tutorials, what if you already have Powerpoint presentations that you want to place on the Web as slide shows? While we could use Powerpoint's built-in Save As HTML feature, the resulting HTML files and graphics are bloated and painful to manage.

Allowing PDF highlighting and annotation

Question: Is it possible to enable others to highlight and make annotations to a PDF file that can be saved, without their purchasing the expensive full-version of Adobe Acrobat? I would like our teachers to be able to do this with the standard Adobe Reader software that is free. The IT Guy says: The latest (7.0)

Editing a PDF File

Question: Is it possible to edit a PDF file without spending a ton of money? I have one file that needs four words inserted into it using Word Art, but I don’t know how to do it. The IT Guy says: Adobe would really like us to purchase the full version of Adobe Acrobat in order to edit PDF files. As an

Making the Leap to Linux

"Linux? No way," I'd start out when someone asked me to consider it. "There's just not enough educational software out there for it, it's too hard to install programs, and what's really out there for it?" Besides, I always imagined a command line, clunky interface, and balding 40-year-olds singing