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How to Create & Use PDF Files

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More and more businesses are relying on PDF files to transfer company documents and to send camera-ready artwork to printers. Here’s what you need to know to open, create, and utilize PDF files in your business.


About Adobe Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat software converts just about any type of file into a PDF (portable document format) file. The PDF file format is the most reliable, efficient way to share documents across platforms–Windows, Macintosh, or UNIX. The layout, content, fonts, and graphics in your file are preserved and can be viewed and printed.

To view and print PDF files, you’ll need the free Adobe Acrobat “Reader” software, which you can download from www.Adobe.com.

To create a PDF file of your document (e.g., the interior pages of your book) for offset printing, you’ll need to purchase the Adobe Acrobat software program that includes the “Distiller” module (cost: approximately $250).


Professional Page Layout Programs vs. Word-Processing Programs

Professional page layout programs such as Adobe PageMaker, In-Design, and Quark Xpress were made for creating documents for commercial printing. They can handle fonts, graphics, color separations, and other essential pre-press operations. By contrast, word-processing programs such as Microsoft Word are designed to perform in the office setting and fall short in providing the pre-press features. However, you can use Adobe Acrobat software to convert a black-and-white Microsoft Word file into a pre-press compatible PDF file.


Creating a PDF File for a Professional Printing Company

Only 20% of pre-press service providers and printers know how to work with PDF files. So you’ll need to do some research to find printing companies that you are comfortable with and that have good technical support.

If you feel overwhelmed with the technical aspects of this process, think about hiring a graphic designer to format your raw word-processing files and to provide professional-looking graphics for the book interior and cover.

If you’re up for creating this file yourself, begin by converting your document into a “postscript” file–embedding all fonts and images at high resolution. Then get the “job options” file from your book printer, and drop it into the Distiller “settings” folder. This tiny file has all your printer’s technical specifications for printing the job at its plant. After you’ve launched the Adobe Acrobat software and selected your printer’s company name under “job options,” select the postscript document you just made, and the Distiller software will convert it into a PDF file. Any errors that occur will appear in an alert window at this point.

Always print a final proof from this PDF file to check for possible missing fonts and other errors. Then send the proof with your PDF file to your printer. Be aware that printers will charge a fee to fix your file and may add a surcharge for PDF files made from Microsoft Word documents.


Creating a PDF File for the Web

The plug-in called “PDF Writer”–included in Microsoft Word 2000 for Windows–is a limited version of Acrobat Distiller. PDF Writer is fine for creating B&W or color PDF files for the Web or for files opened and printed on personal computers. PDF Writer files can be part of your Web site (as a downloadable document), an e-mail attachment, an e-book, or an on-line fill-in form. Do not use this to make a PDF file for your printer.

To receive a free PDF document that provides step-by-step instructions for creating PDF files, send an e-mail to karen@macgraphics.net.


Karen Saunders owns MacGraphics Services, an award-winning graphic design firm specializing in book covers and interiors, logos, advertising, and marketing materials. She taught desktop publishing at the Community College of Denver. For more information, call 303/680-2330 or visit www.macgraphics.net. Ranch for technical assistance with this article. K.S.

Note: Many thanks to James Bastian of Bang Printing, Brenda Neff at United Graphics, and Steve Oliveri at The Dot



6 More Points on PDF


  • If you have imported graphics, be sure your photos are 300 DPI and in the TIF or EPS file format.
  • All line art needs to be 1200 DPI.
  • Don’t use the “style palette” to create fonts that you don’t have. For example, if you have the Times font, but not the Times Bold font, don’t make your font simulate Times Bold by choosing the “Bold” in the style palette.
  • Stay with B&W for text and graphics if you are doing your page layout in Microsoft Word.
  • Use a professional page layout program to make color files for offset printing.
  • Bleeds require extra steps, so please request the complete step-by-step instructions listed at the end of this article.

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