PDF stands for Portable Document Format. It is a file format that aims to accurately represent a document onscreen, regardless of which computer system the file is viewed on. As such, it is the best choice if you need to exchange data while preserving their original layout and appearance. PDF is widely used in the printing and publishing industry. A large section of this site provides more information about its use in the graphic arts industry. Below are pointers to the most relevant pages:
These pages cover the basics of the PDF file format: what is it, how to create PDF files, what does the file format look like,… These are the most popular pages:
- How to edit PDF files – you’re not supposed to do this but it can be handy
- How to preflight PDF files – validating if a PDF can be properly printed
- The history of PDF – from Carousel to PDF/X-4
- PDF/X-4 – the new standard for using PDF in prepress and printing
- Metadata – defining and using metadata in a PDF file
Systems and applications that use PDF
All current prepress workflow systems can handle PDF files and use it as their internal file format.
PlanetPDF maintains an extensive list of PDF tools so I am not going to bother doing the same. These are the main vendors of PDF-based solutions that are popular in prepress:
- Adobe Acrobat is the tool almost everyone uses for viewing and manipulating PDF files.
- Enfocus is a Belgian company that created Pitstop, a plug-in to preflight and correct PDF files. The other main contender in this market is pdfToolbox from Callas software.
- Quite Software has some pretty cool Acrobat plug-ins like Quite-A-Box-Of-Tricks, a toolbox that is great for manipulating PDFs coming from Office applications.
Sometimes things go wrong, so this site also has an overview of common PDF related issues. It is outdated, but I may revive this section at some point in time. The same is true for the application notes, in which you find more information about the PDF-support from various applications, like InDesign, PowerPoint, Photoshop, or QuarkXpress.
Other sources of information
The web is filled with information about PDF and Acrobat. Below are some of my favorites.
- Web sites and forums: PlanetPDF is the leading PDF-related website and of course Adobe also have something to say about the subject on their general PDF and PDF Technology Center pages.
I guess the best PDF-oriented forum you can find nowadays is the Adobe forum for Acrobat users. I also like the Apogee Network, a forum specifically for users of the Agfa Apogee workflow.
- Books: There are nowadays tons of books about PDF. The most recent one I read is a highly technical one that dives into the innards of the file format: Developing with PDF, written by Leonard Rosenthol
Just for fun
PDF is a complex file format, which means there are millions of ways to create a document that does not make full use of the capabilities of PDF. Adobe even made a joke YouTube movie about the Stupid PDF Syndrome.