All About PDFs

What is a PDF?

The Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) has revolutionized the printing industry and become the universal file format for preserving source document fonts, images, graphics and layout, regardless what application or operating system was used to create the file. PDFs are widely available, compatible, and easy to distribute. PDFs are intended to make sure that your job looks and prints the same no matter who opens the file. However, there are some pitfalls to avoid when making the best PDF possible for use in printing.

Not All PDFs Are Created Equal

One of the myths associated with PDFs is that they are all the same. Nearly all word processing and design applications have the capability to generate PDF files. Like the applications themselves, each of these files can have inherent flaws and limitations.

How you generate a PDF is as important as what program you generate it with. Because PDFs are designed for both print and web use, they can be generated to different standards. If you are not careful, you can damage a layout created perfectly in its native format when generating a PDF. Requirements for PDF publishing are very specific.

Three Common Ways to Generate PDFs:

  1. Save As (Photoshop CS & Illustrator CS); This approach offers the least amount of user customization and has the potential for the most pitfalls. Office applications, the Windows and OSX operating systems themselves and low-end graphics software will give you little to no control over several crucial settings and will not generate viable PDF's. High-end graphics applications, such as Photoshop CS and Illustrator CS, can correctly create PDFs using this method.

  2. Print Postscript and Distill to PDF : This is the best way to create PDFs using graphics applications prior to the Adobe CS applications and QuarkXPress 6, but it can also be complicated, time consuming, and difficult to configure (printer drivers, PPDs, Distiller settings etc.). Files are first output into PostScript (usually by "printing" to a file). Then the PostScript is Distilled into a PDF using Acrobat Distiller.

  3. Export PDF (QuarkXPress 6 & InDesign CS). Some current design applications have an export feature built right into them. This method bypasses Distiller in favor of a built-in PDF export engine that generates press-ready PDFs, provided you know the correct settings. QuarkXPress 6 and InDesign CS offer this capability. (Older applications such as PageMaker require Acrobat Distiller.)

Best Ways to Get Good PDFs

Before generating a PDF:

When generating a PDF:

After generating a PDF:

Common Errors with PDFs: