Over the last few months, millions of us have adjusted to enhanced online collaboration. From videoconferencing platforms to chat apps to track changes, the tools we use to work together continue to evolve quickly. But the PDF, or portable document format, remains a gold standard for common page layouts.
On any kind of laptop, desktop, mobile phone, or operating system, PDFs, which were first invented in 1993, work. Users can add new fonts, images, and other document components to a PDF, and on any platform, all of those components are displayed together. The PDF is one of the best examples of open-source software becoming widely adopted. Since PDFs aren’t proprietary to any individual company or platform, anyone can develop, use, sell, and distribute PDF software.
Thanks to being highly compressed, PDF files are also easy to share, whether via email or through direct downloads to all kinds of devices. And anyone on any device can view a PDF, a marvel of cross-platform capability.
But all those positives don’t mean that there aren’t any negatives about working with PDFs. Thousands of unique PDF readers and editors exist, all with varying levels of user experience. Microsoft Word has recently upped its PDF game, allowing users with light needs to edit and fill forms alongside regular documents, while Adobe, which originally created the PDF and granted royalty-free rights to the format in 2008, has different levels of widely used programs: Reader, which is free; Acrobat, an entry-level option, and Acrobat Pro, which as part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud represents the most comprehensive PDF software.
Whether you create, send, and work with PDFs on a regular basis or are new to the PDF game thanks to the demands of today’s remote work environment, we all stand to learn a little bit more about reading, editing, and encrypting these popular file formats. Here’s hoping the following tips and tricks will strengthen your skills.
This is easier than you think. Most applications will let you choose Save As a PDF right from the File menu. But if you can’t find that option, any application that has a Print function will let you turn a file into a PDF. From the drop-down printer list, select Save As a PDF—even if you don’t have a printer installed on your laptop or desktop, this option should be easy to find. Within Adobe Acrobat, you can take this one step further, turning any website, photo, or screenshot into a PDF. Simply select File > Create and then choose from options like PDF from Screen, Window, or Selection Capture; PDF from Scanner or Web Page; or PDF from Clipboard. This is where Adobe Acrobat really shines. You can take any document and distribute it to reviewers, who can then add their edits in a variety of ways. After selecting the text that you would like to comment on, right-click it for options like Add Note to Replace Text, Strike Through Text, Add Comment, or Create Link. Best of all, if you’re the owner of the PDF, you can then go through each edit or suggestion one by one, clicking to quickly accept, reject, or respond to the annotation.
Adobe Acrobat gives document authors the easy ability to build form fields within PDFs and allows text to be added by anyone with access to the document. Each form can then have its own specific criteria—number, date, multiple-choice answers, etc.—and existing forms can be easily converted to the form fill status, giving editors, reviewers, and respondents the maximum amount of flexibility. Adobe Acrobat also allows for a safe, secure, and speedy way to get forms signed, which has been an important tool over the last few months of remote, well, everything. Simply click Fill & Sign, which allows you to add pre-saved electronic signatures or initials to areas where physical signatures were once required. Security settings allow you to lock the PDF so that only the desired user can modify certain sections.
Have several pages, files, or documents that need to be combined into one source of truth? Adobe Acrobat is remarkably nimble at this function. Select Combine Files from the toolbar, then drag and drop the different parts of the whole PDF you want to create. You can rearrange them, change their orientation, and even turn different file formats into a single PDF saved together. This can save hours of tedious cut-and-paste work and create a new standard file for multiple collaborators to work from.
This represents the flip side of the strategy above. If you have an unwieldy PDF file that you need to pull individual pages from, Adobe Acrobat allows you to save any part of a larger PDF as its own document. With a file open, click on Tools > Pages > Extract or Edit PDF (depending on your license level) and select from a variety of ways to slice and dice a PDF to end up with the result you need. Work in Google Docs or Sheets or Microsoft OneDrive? It’s easy to transform a file from one of those services into a more easily shareable PDF. Look for the Share & Export or Export to a PDF option from the dropdown File menu.
Although many people assume a PDF’s contents are not as easily changed or searched as a Word document, Adobe’s free Reader application actually has impressive functionality baked right in. Click Edit > Advanced Search > Open Full Reader Search and you can filter by specific text, subject, or interactive lists.
Adobe Acrobat is quite generous in how easy it makes it for users to insert and edit images in PDFs. With a document open, click on Tools > Content Editing > Edit Text & Images or Add Image for a host of intuitive controls, including drag-and-drop functions, direct file upload options, and quick resizing and cropping tools.
Whatever your parameters, Adobe Acrobat gives you the capability you need to encrypt, protect, or even redact your PDF. Under the Tools > Protection queue, you can adjust the way your PDF can be accessed, edited, viewed, saved, signed, and manipulated.
PDFs are one of the pillars of today’s document-sharing world—and with millions of us still working remotely, chances are we’re using them now more than ever. If you’re looking to boost productivity and efficiency, getting a solid handle on popular programs like Adobe Reader and Acrobat is a good start.
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