Publish everything to PDF!

Recently someone asked me about a problem they were having sending annotated photographs to a potential client of theirs. The problem was they wanted to send photos of their work but also notes on each photo about what they had done. I’ve seen a lot of people resort to using Microsoft Word to do this - attaching a photo into the text. In fact one client of mine used to send me a Word document with a screenshot every time their was a problem with their computer. At first site this seems to make sense however there’s two big problems with Word documents you create from your computer. First of all how do you know the person you are sending it to has Microsoft Word? It used to be fairly ubiquitous on PC’s but people are starting to change to products like Open Office (which do 99% of what Word does but for free). If you get it installed on your PC then you’ve already paid for Word, but otherwise it can be up to half the cost of the PC again depending in the version. There was also a big change in the format of Word between the version that came out before 2007 and the version that came after. You just can’t expect everyone to have the same version just like you can expect everyone to have your favourite coffee. You can get free Word “viewer” programs but why should someone install software just for you to send one file over to see? And that’s not even considering people reading their emails on a iphone or android phone.

Secondly Microsoft Word is really not optimised for creating small files. It’s tracking your changes, letting you undo your mistakes, and all sorts of other things you probably don’t use. Files have a habit of ballooning in size as soon as you add photos too. So what we need is a nice portable document format that most people can view. Enter PDF’s (from stage left...) Admittedly a proprietary document format - i.e. Adobe inc. own the rights to change it at any  time - it has become the de-facto standard for presenting text and graphics in a form that should be pretty much the same whatever device your viewing it on. Furthermore PDF files are optimized for size - they compress up the data as small as possible for quick delivery.

Does that mean you have to buy the expensive Adobe Acrobat software to create them? No! Because many years ago people started creating a clever way to generate them from any application - they created a dummy printer. What does this mean? Well basically you install a piece of software that pretends  to be a physical printer to your computer. When you go to File -> Print it will appear in the list of available printers as if it’s a real device sitting next to you. However when you print to it, what it actually does is re-route it to a program that creates a PDF file from this.

There are many programs for Windows that do this. All of them free! Try CutePDF or PDFCreator -

If you have a Apple Mac or use Linux, your in luck as the facility is built in.

Now getting back to the original problem. What should you do? Well by all means fire up Word, attach the photo and write some notes on it. However once you’ve saved that, install the above software and “print” your document to a new PDF file. Now you can send that file to your recipient rather than the big clunky word document.

Once you’ve started using PDF’s for that you suddenly can start using it for keeping copies of lots of useful things. Have you just bought something online and the website presents you with a unique reference number? Don’t have a pen and paper handy? Print the page to PDF! That way you’ve got an exact copy handy when you have to look through your notes. Are you reading a long interesting web page but you want to come back to reading later when you haven’t got internet access? Again print to PDF and read it at your leisure later. I often Print detailed instructions on things to PDF and file them away. Often easier than trying to find that same page on Google (especially if you are using another computer at the time...)

By Primitive Designs Last updated: 16 September 2011, 13:09