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PDF: Flexible Distribution, Workflow for Print and Web

Portable Document Format

I don't believe it's possible, or at least realistic, to be in publishing without some involvement with PDF® or PostScript®.

You definitely don't use a Mac without bumping into PostScript. And, with the release of Windows2000®, the Windows world also has respectable support for this powerful page description language (PDL).

Portable Document Format, or PDF, is derivative of the same technology that introduced PostScript in 1985 and forever changed the computing and computer-based publishing worlds. This powerful page description language (PDL) may have revolutionized these worlds, but its power was not readily accessible to all but the most geeky, except for rendering output from PostScript printers and, for the semi-geeky, creating Save-As-File PostScript output.

But it's this very "save-as-file" feature of PostScript that ultimately begat PDF and brought it to market in 1993. Just as print service bureaus don't support every application you might use, so you'd have to bring them a PostScript file if you created your page-layout project in, say, ReadySetGo. With PDF, you don't have to worry if your original document was created in NisusWriter but everyone you want to electronically distribute it to only has Microsoft Word.

With the advent of Acrobat's PDF technology, everyone can freely download Acrobat Reader and read a PDF version of your file — regardless of what application you used to first create it — regardless of what platform they are on (i.e., Mac, Windows or UNIX). Of course, the creator of the file must have Acrobat's authoring program (or a shareware equivalent, see below) to first convert the file to PDF, but then anybody can read it, and it will look virtually indistinguishable from the original ... same layout and design, color (or you can reduce it to greyscale), typeface (optional) ... and will print on virtually any printer. Unlike PostScript, a PDF file does not need a PostScript printer, or software-based PostScript interpreter, to accurately reproduce to paper.

PRINT OR WEB: Yes, I'll write more of this page very soon. Stay tuned.


  • PDF files can be published and distributed anywhere: in print, attached to e-mail, on corporate servers, posted on Web sites, or on CD-ROM.
  • Acrobat Reader software is free for download from Adobe's Web site. More than 300 million copies have been distributed worldwide.
  • PDF files are usually smaller than their source files (if saved for Web use or as Acrobat 3-compatible, they can be up to 90% smaller) and, since version 4, can be downloaded a page at a time for fast display on the Web.
  • Acrobat 5 was version-revved to level 1.4 or PDF, which supports transparency. You can get a quick taste of this feature in the new Apple OS, Mac OSX, which has replaced its former QuickDraw™ graphic layer with its version of PDF 1.4, which Apple calls Quartz. On-screen windows are semi-transparent, permitting you to see through it to the next layer (as as the Finder desktop) or window beneath. And Acrobat 6.0 was released in May 2003.

PDF & POSTSCRIPT RESOURCES   [Links will open in separate window]
  Adobe on Acrobat In Adobe's own words, "Adobe¬® Portable Document Format (PDF) is the open de facto standard for electronic document distribution worldwide. Adobe PDF is a universal file format that preserves all the fonts, formatting, graphics, and color of any source document, regardless of the application and platform used to create it."
  Acumen Journal The Acumen Journal is a monthly technical publication in PDF format for customers and friends of Acumen Training, the offshoot of the now-defunct Acquired Knowledge Inc. group that developed EZ-PDF.® Each issue of the Journal has two articles, usually one each on PostScript and Acrobat. The journal is free for the downloading.
  GhostScript™ Ghostscript is developed by Aladdin Enterprises, not to be confused with the Aladdin Software that came out of Raymond Lau's development of Stuffit. Ghostscript is probably the world's most widely used second-source PostScript and PDF interpreter. Ghostscript is included in most Linux distributions as one of the key components of their printing services; it also provides screen previewing of PostScript and PDF files, conversion of PostScript to PDF ("distilling") and vice versa, and a variety of other PostScript- and PDF-related functions.
  PrintToPDF® PrintToPDF is a shareware Macintosh printer driver from James W. Walker that creates PDF files (readable by Adobe Acrobat¬™ Reader or GhostScript on any platform). You do not need to have the full Acrobat package (as opposed to the Reader) installed for PrintToPDF to work. You can create PDF bookmarks to your section and subsection headings, and URLs will become hot links. PrintToPDF is not as powerful as Acrobat (more of an alternate for the PDFWriter driver, not the more powerful Distiller/Exchange combo from Adobe for creating customized PDFs), but it creates simple PDFs for a much lower price ($20).
  PDF Driver for Windows DocuCom PDF Driver 4.x is a PDF-generator alternative for use under Windows 95/98/NT/2000. Use any Windows application — such as MS Word, to create your document. Then use the "File > Print" command and choose "DocuCom PDF Driver" as your printer to create your PDF documents. This product generates PDF specification 1.3 conforming file. You need a compatible PDF viewer to display or print the files -- such as DocuCom PDF Reader or Acrobat Reader.