PDF creation and editing tools

This is a post by Michael Perlman, Technology Mentor at the Center for Teaching & Learning.

How are PDFs made?

Maybe you think that creating a PDF file (“portable document format” file) involves walking up to a big office machine (either a multifunction copier, or a dedicated scanner) and feeding in a stack of papers, one-by-one (or the entire stack, if the given machine has the luxury of a document feeder). Actually, PDF files are almost always produced on computers. You send your documents to a virtual “printer,” which is really just a program that spits out a PDF file. This file looks exactly like a normal printout of the original document, and can be copied around and viewed on nearly any computer or device.

Making a PDF on a Konica Minolta photocopier

The Konica printers in many offices around Queens College allow you to create PDF files by feeding in your stack of papers and pressing a button. The machine then sends the file to an email address that OCT has pre-programmed on it.

To avoid having to rotate pages when you get the file, scan your document text side up, with the top edge first into the feeder. (Settings may vary with each machine. You may have to experiment or look for instructions posted at the machine location.)

feeding document into Konica copier

Why would I want to make a PDF?

To avoid operating system and application incompatibility. Let’s say you created PowerPoint files in the 2007 version running on Windows 7. You want to post them on Blackboard, but some of your students have an older version of PowerPoint, the Mac version, or perhaps no version at all. By posting your slides as PDFs, the files can be easily opened by all students, the layout will be unaffected, and any specialized fonts will be intact.

To control access. You can set a password within your PDF file to limit access, editing, or printing.

To be green. Share documents digitally instead of printing them.

What tools are there for creating PDFs?

Historically, Adobe’s expensive Acrobat software was the industry standard. In the last decade, however, a number of affordable, and even free, tools have emerged to take on the task of creating and editing PDF files.

Some examples:

•    Microsoft Office 2007 and later
•    Mac OS X (any application that can print)
•    CutePDF Writer (free) For Windows
•    PDFMate PDF Converter
•    CamScanner, an iOS app
•    Using the “scan” function in the Google Drive app on an Android device

Some of these tools turn your phone into a scanner/PDF maker, and have built-in functions to optimize what you have scanned by straightening out tilted images, correcting shadows and colors, recognizing text using OCR, and cropping unnecessary borders.

What’s the difference between Adobe Reader and Acrobat Pro?

Adobe Reader is a free downloadable software with which you can read and print PDF files. You can also fill out a form and add an electronic signature if the original author of the document has enabled these features. In addition to these features, Acrobat Pro can create PDFs; edit text; rotate and reorder pages; and create a secure password. You can purchase the Student and Teacher Edition of Acrobat Pro at the Queens College Bookstore.

For a more detailed comparison of Adobe Reader and Acrobat Pro, go to: http://tv.adobe.com/watch/acrobat-tips-and-tricks/differences-between-adobe-reader-acrobat-and-acrobatcom/.

What other tools are available for editing PDFs?

PDFtk Server is a (free) command line backend to the graphical PDFtk applications. This tool gives you extensive PDF manipulation tools. With just a little bit of command line finesse, you’ll be able to merge, split, collate, rotate, encrypt/decrypt, and watermark PDF files, among many other tasks. A list of everyday examples, and their commands, can be found at http://www.pdflabs.com/docs/pdftk-cli-examples/.

PDFtk Free (available for Windows only) has a command-line tool, as well as a GUI version, if you’re averse to command-line approach. You can combine and split PDFs in the free version. The paid version lets you rotate, watermark, and secure PDFs with passwords.

Tutorials for the command-line PDFtk:
•    http://youtu.be/GJSRTQ2pejE
•    http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/fix-pdfs-quickly-with-pdftk

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