PDF Files

Sooner or later, almost everyone with a personal computer encounters PDF (portable document format) files. Many a software manual, Read Me file, and downloadable “white paper” come in this format. Until recently, you needed the free program called Adobe Reader if you hoped to open or print these files. Windows devotees still do.

PDF files, however, are one of OS X’s common forms of currency. In fact, you can turn any document (in any program with a Print command) into a PDF file—a trick that once required a $250 program called Adobe Acrobat Distiller. (Maybe Apple should advertise: “Buy Acrobat for $250, get OS X free—and $120 cash back!”)


All right, that joke about Acrobat is an exaggeration. OS X alone creates screen-optimized PDF files: compact, easy-to-email files that look good onscreen but don’t have high enough resolution for professional printing. For high-end purposes and more optimization for specific uses (Web, fancy press machines, and so on), you still need a program like Adobe Acrobat, Illustrator, or InDesign.

But why would you want to create PDFs? What’s the big deal about them? Consider these advantages:

  • Other people see your layout. When you distribute PDF files to other people, they see precisely the same fonts, colors, page design, and other elements you put in your original document. And here’s the kicker: They get to see all of this even if they don’t have the fonts or the software you used to create the document. (Contrast with the alternative: Say ...

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