Many desktop publishers are wondering this same question. Adobe Acrobat and the PDF files that were born from it seem in many ways most relevant to the Internet. Why then should any serious desktop publisher be intimate with this file format? To answer this question, it's best if we dig into the format and what it can do.

What is Acrobat PDF?

PDF (portable document format) files are essentially viewable Postscript files. As such, these files can be opened and output on any computer (Mac or PC). As well, provided that the PDF file was saved with the fonts properly embedded, these files will appear the same on any computer they are opened on. Any "PC" desktop publisher who has tried to have a file output at a "Mac" service bureau will immediately appreciate the importance of this, as will anyone who has tried to have a Word file opened and output from someone else's computer. Also, any Mac designer who has grappled with sending a digital file to a customer who is PC-based will find a solution with this format. Better yet, the PDF format has some extremely powerful compression tools that allow these files to be saved at much smaller file sizes than traditional Postscript files.

Given these features of the PDF file format, here are some great reasons why you should make this format part of your arsenal:

  • Consistency - by saving files to PDF, you can create a file that will look the same on whatever platform or system it is viewed on.
  • Preflighting - it's not uncommon to create a PDF file and discover that some of your graphics didn't work, or worse yet, that the only a file error message was created when you made the file. THIS IS GOOD. As mentioned before, a PDF file is essentially a viewable Postscript file. Virtually every high end imagesetter, plotter, or digital printer is a Postscript device. When your PDF file bombs it is a clear indication that there is something wrong with the source file and that your file would have crashed if it were being sent to a high end device (which can cost time and money). By discovering that you can't create a PDF file, you get a "heads up" that your source file is not quite right. Given this "heads up," you can troubleshoot your file to find out what's not working (usually an inappropriate graphics format, a bitmap that has been rotated in the file, a corrupt font, or a font that has been improperly bolded or italicized). You can then fix the file, test it again by creating a PDF, and then send it out with a high degree of confidence.
  • Proofing - Utilizing this format allows you to email a file to both your client and your service bureau that will appear the same at both places. You can have a great deal of confidence that the client is looking at a good representation of the final image. As well, if you are separating a two colour (or multi colour) image, you can generate separations that will appear as separate pages in your PDF file. Using this feature, you can be sure that your colours will separate properly before sending your file to a printer or service bureau.
How do I create a PDF file?

There are essentially 3 ways to create a PDF file:

  1. utilize the "PDFWriter" or "export to PDF" feature that is now available with many software packages,
  2. use the Adobe Acrobat suite and the Acrobat Distiller printer driver,
  3. use a shareware product or third party option that can write a PDF file. Of these choices, using the Acrobat suite is definitely the most consistent option and the one that is recommended to professional desktop publishers. However, the other options are definitely powerful and can be used in most situations. Check in with us next month and we'll present some of the technical concerns in creating PDF files. In the meantime, keep in mind that font embedding and appropriate resolution settings are the two biggest concerns when you create you PDF files.

We strive to be as accurate and current with our information as possible. Due to the infinite number of scenarios that occur in print & desktop publishing, we can not guarantee that the above information will be correct in all situations.