For those who can't justify purchasing the full version of Adobe Acrobat to create PDF files, there are a lot of other options. Acrobat PDFWriter is a driver from Adobe that acts like a print driver and allows you to "print" to a PDF file.

PDFWriter comes with a variety of software packages. Many users will already have a copy of it running on their system.

Alternative software (some of it shareware) for creating PDF files is available for download at Additionally, many desktop publishing software packages have an "Export to PDF" function, which will work in a similar manner.

The first crucial part of creating a "bulletproof" PDF file is to make sure your source file follows PostScript conventions. As PDF files are essentially viewable PostScript files, the same care must be taken for PDF file creation that is taken when creating files for high end output (check out our May 2000 tip, Creating Output Ready/Camera Ready Art for further information). Some of the key elements for creating a file that will effectively write to PDF include:

  • Using suitable graphic formats. Some graphic formats such as GIF are notorious for corrupting PostScript and PDF files. Where possible, stick to EPS or TIFF formats in your source file.
  • Rotating bitmap images in their source application. For instance, if you use Photoshop, rotate your images in that software rather than your page layout or illustration package. Rotations that are not in 90 degree increments are especially volatile.
  • Practice proper font usage. Many typefaces can be bolded or italicized whether or not there is a boldface or italic in their character set. If you are having problems writing to PDF, make sure that you have used bolding and italicizing properly. Sometimes the only way to determine this is to find the font file and view the options that are presented for it. The example below shows how the Times New Roman family contains a bold, italic and bolditalic version. These can be used without any problems. However, as you can see, the Stencil font does not have bold or italic faces. Many software packages will go ahead and make it italicized if you tell it to. However, italicizing this font when there is no italics in the "fonts" directory for it would quite possibly lead to a corrupt file.

The second crucial ingredient to a successful PDF file revolves around proper settings when printing to PDF. In general, your concerns here revolve around resolution and fonts. PDF is a great format because it allows automatic optimization of resolution for the medium in which the file will be used. Unfortunately for those of us in the print world, most PDF creation tools default to "screen" resolution. This is great for web designers, but makes for some bad looking printing if not corrected. There are a variety of resolution options and you will want to ensure that you have suitable resolution for your file to be printed with crisp, high resolution images. See Approximate scanning resolutions in 7 Steps To Scanning Success for guidelines as to what resolution you need.

Font subsetting is also an issue that comes up in PDF file creation. For the print world, you generally want to turn "subsetting" off and make sure the print options are set to "embed" all the fonts that you have used in the document.

For those who take the time to figure out how to create good PDF files, the rewards are well worth the efforts. If you want to take this step, the best advice is to try out the different options at your disposal and find out the best way that works for you. Don't be frustrated if your first attempts don't work perfectly. With perseverance you will soon find a solution that suits your particular situation.

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.