Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : February 2007

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 TECHNOLOGY TALK:

BY JOHN ANDERSON  

Create and Work with PDF Documents (without Going Broke)

The Portable Document Format (PDF), created by Adobe Systems, is the most popular way to share documents because of the way it maintains the formatting, layout, images, fonts and more of the original document.

If you go to the source and purchase Adobe Acrobat (www.adobe.com/products/acrobatpro/acrobatstd.html) you are likely to spend $299. This might seem a little pricey for someone who doesn't create PDFs everyday. It also contains many more features than most of us will ever use. Luckily, you can create and manipulate PDFs cheaply, or even for free.

Creating PDFs

When I first started searching for PDF creators I was surprised to find many more than I expected. But while there are quite a few free and low-cost programs for creating PDFs that are less than reliable, there are some that won't let you down.

» PrimoPDF (www.primopdf.com) is an application that is installed on your computer as a printer driver. That means you can use it with any application. All you need to do is select File > Print in your application and then choose PrimoPDF from the dropdown list.

PrimoPDF offers many options for creating PDF documents optimized for viewing on-screen, in an electronic book reader or printing.

You can even add a password to the PDF to prevent users from printing, copying, or modifying the file. You can also change the document's meta information, such as title, author, subject and keywords.

PrimoPDF has some drawbacks, like its slow processing speed and the advertisement that appears on the application's dialog box when you print. But it does produces crisp PDF documents while maintaining internal and external links from the original file. The advertisement does not appear anywhere on the final document.

» PDFCreator (www.pdfforge.org/products/pdfcreator) is also installed as a printer driver and works right out of the box, but improves after you play with some of the settings. One nice feature is the ability to set the resolution of the PDF and ensure that it opens as quickly as possible when it's posted on the Web. You can also configure PDFCreator to compress the file and to include all or just some of the fonts on your computer in the document.

When you "print" to a PDF file, a dialog box appears. Here you can add information about the file: title, author, the date on which it was created and keywords. This dialog box also contains two other buttons: one to override any options that you have set, and another for e-mailing the PDF. Click Save. Unless you're working with a large document, you should have a PDF file within a few seconds.

If you have a home or small office network, you can install PDFCreator on a server. Anyone using the network can get access to PDFCreator and create PDFs without installing the software. You do, however, need to have the PDFCreator program running on the server for this work.

Manipulating Your PDFs

These programs mentioned work great when turning a normal word-processing document into a PDF, but eventually you will find yourself in a situation where you need a software tool that can emulate some of Acrobat's more robust editing features. Adding and deleting pages, inserting text, rotating pages and more can be accomplished with free or low-cost programs.

» PDF Split and Merge (www.pdfsam.org) will let you add a graphic or image file as a coversheet to a PDF document that already exists. Just tell PDF Split and Merge what files you want to work with, give the combined file a name, and click the Run button. It can combine and break apart PDF files into any final result you require. And, unlike some software used for combining PDF files, PDF Split and Merge retains internal and external links, as well as any bookmarks in the files.

» PDFTK (www.accesspdf.com/pdftk/) is a powerful tool for working with PDF files. It can combine and split PDFs, add security to a file, attach other files (like a spreadsheet) to a PDF and more.

First, a word of warning: PDFTK is a command line tool, which means opening a command prompt and typing a long string of hard-to-read, difficult-to-remember commands to get it to work. It looks something like this: pdftk manual.pdf attach_files command_ref.html to_page 24 output user_manual.pdf

Normally I wouldn't have even mentioned this program if not for the graphical user interface for PDFTK, called GUI for PDFTK (www.paehl.de/pdf/?GUI_for_PDFTK). No typing, just point and click. The interface for PDFTK isn't pretty, and it only gives you access to a small subset of PDFTK's full functionality, but they are the ones you're most likely to use.

If you want to edit a PDF in any other way, such as adding text or graphics, or changing colors, you need to open your wallet. Two good tools are PDFEdit995 (www.pdfedit995.com/) and the Foxit PDF Editor (www.foxitsoftware.com/pdf/pe_intro.php).

PDFEdit995 is free, but includes an ad that appears whenever it is run. Getting rid of the ad costs $9.95. Foxit PDF Editor, on the other hand, will set you back an entire decimal place ($99). As with any other software, your needs and your budget will dictate what options and software best suit your needs.

While you might miss out on the convenience of having everything you might need in one package, like Adobe Acrobat, you don't need to spend a lot of money (or any at all) to create and work with PDFs. There's a lot of free and cheap software available on the Web that can handle whatever PDF needs you have.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: February 2007