How to Work with PDFs

By Helen Bradley | Posted August 26, 2013

The PDF format is probably the most common file format for sharing and distributing documents. Most of us use PDFs every day at work and at home. Because of its ubiquity, you'll find lots of free PDF readers—including Adobe's own very popular Adobe Acrobat Reader.

However when it comes to completing existing PDFs and creating new ones, the software solutions aren't so obvious, and some are expensive. In this article, we'll look at free and low-cost ways to work with PDF files.

Create a PDF

Nowadays practically any software can save a file as a PDF document. For example, both the 2010 and 2013 versions of Microsoft Office include a built-in PDF feature. Simply choose File > Save As. Then, from the Save As Type dropdown list, select PDF as the option.

small business software: FoxIt


The Foxit PDF Reader lets you add text and images to a PDF. If the PDF file includes fill-in fields, FoxIt will let you type within them.

If you use the free Microsoft Web Apps on SkyDrive, choose File > Print, and you can create a printable PDF of a document from any of its free applications. Likewise you can save Google Drive documents as PDF documents. With a file open in Google Drive, choose File > Download As, and you'll see an option to create the document as a PDF document after which you can download it.

If the application you're using does not allow you to save the document as a PDF file, you can print it using a PDF printer driver. This is a special driver that you install and then select like any other printer. When you print to this "PDF printer," it creates a PDF file from the output. A PDF print driver lets you create a PDF from any application from which you can print. For a good, all-around PDF printer driver try CutePDF.

Convert to PDF

If you have a file you want to convert to a PDF, you can choose from a number of online converters. One of the more popular ones is called Zamzar. It takes a document in one of a large variety of formats and converts it to a PDF. This is useful, in particular, when you don't have the original software that created the file. Even if you can't open the file, you can convert it to a PDF this way.

Split a PDF

The Chrome browser is a great tool to use when you already have a PDF file, but you need to split it up into smaller files or extract just a few pages fro

m it. Open the document inside Chrome and locate your disk by typing c:\ in the address bar. Now navigate the file system to find your PDF.

Small business software: Chrome and PDFs

Need to split a PDF? Open it in Chrome, and use the Save As PDF print option.

Once your PDF is open in Chrome, press Ctrl + P to open the print dialog. Chrome comes with a Save As PDF option for printing, which you can select by clicking the Change button and choose Save As PDF. In the Page numbers area, type the page numbers of the pages you want extracted from the PDF, click Save and type a filename for this new file.

Split and Join PDF Files

To split and join a PDF you will need specialized software, and one program we like is PDFSAM, which stands for PDF Split and Merge. This application can easily split a PDF into smaller files in a number of ways. It can also merge multiple individual PDFs to make one larger file, and you can use it to rotate pages in a PDF and to reorder them if needed.

PDF Editing

If you need to edit a PDF and add text or a signature to it, you will need a tool that can handle those tasks. While Adobe Reader has the capability, it also has a very clunky interface, and it isn't easy to work out how to add a signature image, for example. Luckily, PDFescape is a much simpler alternative. You can upload a PDF from your computer and add text and images to it online.

Another free alternative is Foxit Reader. This program installs on your computer, and you can open any PDF file in it. It has tools for adding text and images and, if the PDF already has fillable fields in place, you can see them on the screen and click to type into them. Foxit Reader's friendly ribbon style interface makes filling in a PDF as easy as typing into a document.

Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at HelenBradley.com

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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