PDF Document Handling

PDF files do have the advantage that they can be created by printer objects.

Some Notable Libraries

Ghostscript is a piece of software that can be used to work with PDF files. Ghostscript is not software that is famous for having a nice graphical “user interface”, but Ghostscript is used by some other software which does. For instance, FreewareGenius.com: “The best freeware virtual PDF printer: a comparison” reviews several pieces of freeware software that supports PDF files, and about half of the software options on that list use software code from the Ghostscript library. Therefore, Ghostscript has been pretty significant, even if it is often just “behind the scenes”.

Fortunately, many people have benefited from Ghostscript without even knowing anything about Ghostscript, except possibly that they noticed Ghostscript got installed during the installation of another piece of software.

There are various released of Ghostscript, even by different organizations. (This can be seen by Wikipedia's article on Ghostscript: section called “Variants and forks”.)

Wikipedia's article on PDF, “Software” section, sub-section called “Other” notes that Poppler has seen “use in applications such as Evince with the GNOME desktop environment. Poppler is based on Xpdf code base.” (Citations removed from quote.)
Viewing PDF files

(Following is some older documentation, which has not yet been merged into the above notes.)

Offerings by Google
[#gglcahtm]: Google Cache

As Google's spiders crawl along the world wide web, Google converts some file formats, including PDF (and perhaps also documents using formats commonly associated with Microsoft Word), to HTML files. Google provides the coverted files, accessible via Google's cache. This may not work for every single file, but does work for most publicly available files that are commonly found.

The result may look quite different, lacking graphics and other elements controlling the visual layout of information. Using Google's free service, though, is often the fastest way to easily see text within a PDF file using a computer that does not have other PDF-compatible software installed on the machine. It may also be a great way to get easily-selectable text that may then be copied.

As an example, to view the converted http://labs.google.com/papers/disk_failures.pdf which is in Google's cache, go to http://google.com/search?q=cache:labs.google.com/papers/disk_failures.pdf

Google Docs

Google Docs Viewer is a newer approach by Google. This might be more likely to render a PDF file the way that it was intended to be rendered.

PDF lite
PDF lite provides software to be able to view PDF files. The software also comes with a printer driver, allowing an easy way to create PDF files. GPLv3.
[#mkpdf]: Creating PDF files
Export to PDF

Some software may allow exporting to PDF. (For instance, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel may do this?)

This isn't necessarily a very useful feature, compared to just using a software “printer object”.

“Software printers”/“printer objects” supporting PDF
  • Microsoft Office Document Image Writer
    • included in Microsoft Office Professional
  • PDF24 Creator
    • Not to be confused with the similarly-named “PDF Creator”
    • At the time of this writing, this software looks somewhat promising. However, this guide is not currently recommending this software. (Further testing will be needed before such a thing might ever happen.)
    • Wikipedia's article for “PDF24 Creator”
    • (Good things were said about “PDF24 Creator” in this review: FreewareGenius.com: “The best freeware virtual PDF printer: a comparison”.)
      • (“PDF24 Creator” software isn't listed as number one in the top of this article. However, the numbers near the top, such as Bulldog being #1, was just based on a sequential alphabetical listing and not a final ranking of quality.)
  • CutePDF was an early contender (probably dating back to the 1990s), and so has become famous over the years, but is only free for non-commercial use
  • doPDF may be a trimmed down version of NovaPDF which contains a prominent ad for NovaPDF?
    • (Citation may be available...?)
  • Perhaps see also: Wikipedia's List of “virtual printer” software

(Following is some older documentation on “Printer driver objects”, which hasn't yet been merged in with the newer documentation that was just provided. This may be a bit redundant...)

One popular option is to install a “PDF printer” driver. This software acts like a printer, so any software capable of printing to a standard printer driver can effectively be used to create a PDF file. That provides a relatively easy method of creating a PDF file from many pieces of software. The downside is that such software may be prone to create PDF files that are rather graphical, which means that the PDFs may be fairly large compared to other PDFs. Also, software may not be as capable to “copy” text (using “copy and paste” actions) when using these larger PDF files. Some systems (perhaps particularly older computers, like from the 1990-2010 time frame) might struggle a bit more with rendering the larger element, which might be particularly noticeable when performing certain actions like scrolling.

PDFForge.org's PDFCreator, PDFCreator Redirect from SourceForge, SourceForge projects page for PDFCreator
PDF lite
PDF lite provides a printer driver. It also has a PDF viewer available. GPLv3.
CutePDF is an older option that was quite useful when free options for Microsoft Windows seemed to be sufficiently desirable, and there weren't as many other options. Now that “open source” solutions have offered more flexibility, CutePDF isn't standing out quite as much as it used to. It should still be a viable option, though.
PDF Editors

PDF software might be able to be edited by some “word processing” software or “presentation” software. For instance, while “Adobe Acrobat” is most famous for being “PDF Editing” software, software called “Draw” from the LibreOffice/OpenOffice suite can also make at least some changes.

Freeware Editors
  • Draw
    • part of LibreOffice/OpenOffice/etc.

    For instance, LibreOffice Draw can open PDF files, and can Export to PDF files. (Oddly enough, the option to make PDF files isn't under either “Save As...” or “Export...”; just below the file menu's “Export...” option is another seperate option called “Export as PDF...”.) On a machine running a 64-bit version of Windows, after installing the 32-bit LibreOffice, the desired software may be found at "C:\Program Files (x86)\LibreOffice #\program\sdraw.exe"

    (The name “sdraw” starts with an S, which is probably inherited from the relic known as “StarOffice”.)

    Right after the program is first installed, the default behavior for saving PDF files may be to use some lossy behavior (using 90% Quality under JPEG compression). After choosing “Export as PDF...”, a “PDF Options” screen will show. On the options tab named “General”, choose “Lossless compression”.

    The default format may be FDF, which stands for “Forms Data Format”, and allows some PDF software to have forms that may be filled out (as described by MakeTechEasier.com: How to Create A PDF With Fillable Forms in LibreOffice). Wikipedia's article on PDF: “Forms Data Format (FDF)” section says, “Forms Data Format is defined in the PDF specification (since PDF 1.2).” The same Wikipedia page identifies that PDF 1.2 had an inital release in 1996.

    There is some reason to believe (though, at the time of this writing, that hasn't been thoroughly checked yet) that the only other checkboxes that were checked by default was “Create PDF form” and “Export bookmarks”.

    You may as well check “Export comments” if you have no comments that you want removed. You may also wish to check “View PDF after export” to have the resulting file show up in another window, which will be using Draw to view the PDF file.

    After choosing the options, pressing the “Export” button will close the “child window” called “PDF Options”, and open a new “child window” (named “Export”) which will ask for details about where to save the file.

    Be careful about the import. For instance, there was a W-4 government form (from 2016) which Draw didn't want to render correctly, even after being converted by some other software, until Inkscape was found to make a decent conversion by importing (unchecked “Replace PDF fonts by closest-named installed fonts”) and then exporting with “Convert texts to paths” (and “PDF 1.5”, “Rasterize filter effects”)

  • Inkscape 0.46+
Commercial PDF editing software
  • Bluebeam Revu
  • Adobe Acrobat

ILovePDF.com has produced some good results, compressing many PDF files.

The website is now offering downloadable software which can perform such compression. (At the time of this writing, the author of this text has not yet tested such software.)

Other software may include Okular, Qoppa PDF Studio, Master PDF Editor, FoxIt, DocHub (Wikipedia's page on DocHub), and using Google's cache feature (documented by ][CyberPillar][: Google Cache for PDF viewing).

Misc info about PDF
  • PDF stands for “Portable Document Format”
  • PDF is basically an enhancement of “PostScript”. For a while, Adobe Acrobat (and the freeware version, “Adobe Acrobat Reader”, which was later renamed to “Adobe Reader”) was the only software that was very commonly known to support the PDF format.
  • That has since changed. Key popular web browsers now have built-in support, and the format has been opened up a bit. Wayback Machine @ Archive.org: TheInquirer.net: PDF 1.7 is approved as ISO 32000 (from 10:12AM 5 December, 2007 announced Adobe's PDF standard version 1.7 to be ISO 32000. Although there is an older Internet Engineering Task Force (“IETF”) “Request for Comments” (“RFC”) document, May 2004's RFC 3778 (updated by RFC 8118), the primary “open” standardized documentation has been the ISO 32000-1:2008 document (based on Adobe's PDF 1.7 standard) and the ISO 32000-2:2017 standard (based on Adobe's PDF 2.0 standard).

Following is some older documentation, which may be merged in with the above documentation at some point...

PDF Architect

After installing the system and then rebooting days later, an advertisement showed up in the lower-right corner of the screen. (The software was not manually started. It was automatically started, and showed an advertisement on the Windows desktop.) There was an “EGG-CITING” offer (shortly before Easter) to “SAVe 60%” “On the advanced PDF Architect 4 Pro now!” So if the software doesn't work out, then do make sure to take the time to uninstall this.

When tested in early 2016, this software, which is “Powered by Soda® PDF” (according to the Help, About screen) initially appeared to be rather capable. However, it actually required additional modules. For instance, trying opening a Word document resulted in popping up a screen specifying a need for “the PDF Creation Module” requiring registration. Opening a PDF file and choosing “Convert” brought up a screen mentioning an ability to save to “Rich Text Format (.rtf)”, “Text files (.txt)”, “HTML viewable in a web browser”, “MS Word (.doc)”, and others, but required an “activation key”, and the software launched a web browser that went to a page where the “Convert module” could be purchased. This “$20.00” module was automatically added to a virtual shopping cart, alongside the “PDF Architect Extended Download Protection - 2 Years” for another “$4.95”, which probably causes the company to extract even more money from those who are not being sufficiently wary.

In the end, despite all of the fancy-looking buttons, the downloadable free software didn't appear to be anything other than a platform designed to show lots of advertisements. The software could effectively be used to view a PDF file, and probably some other tasks, but bumping into multiple advertisements was required in an attempt to determine which tasks were available, only to find out that most of them did not seem to be.

Privacy Policy at PDFForge.org says, “we take we cannot warrant the security of any information provided to us. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors, may compromise the security of user information at any time. If you have feedback, questions or concerns contact us at Privacy, c/o InstallMonetizer 5655 Silver Creek Vly Rd 615 San Jose, CA 95138. You may also email us at support@installmonetizer.com

  • What was the domain? InstallMonitizer? Whoa, yipes! When viewing the website at that domain, the page clearly describes the process where “Advertiser's Software is Installed”.

If you have money to blow, this software might have some advantages over the commercial Adobe software, but people looking for good free solutions are generally advised to seek different options.

Adobe Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat Reader has a long history of being quite bloated, and operating very poorly on anything other than computers using very “top of the line” hardware. Even powerful systems tended to not load Adobe's software as quickly as many other pieces of software, such as web browsers.

Adobe seemed to be an early adopter of the “Quick Start” technologies that load much of software during system startup, thereby displacing blame of slow loading by adding most of the work to the system-wide startup process used by the operating system. This resulted in a system which is always slower to start up, even when Adobe's software isn't used, but does reduce the wait that a user selects after choosing Adobe's icon.

Adobe's move to add JavaScript support has proven the company's interest in being flashy was more appealing than cautious security.

Considering all these things, the team in charge of Acrobat seemed to be more interested in making a product that seemed to look good, instead of making a product that was actually usefully helpful for people who had some interest in using the software. Given those priorities, financially supporting the company (by purchasing the paid product) did not appear to be more attractive than checking out the usability of some of the other alternatives.

Other solutions might be available at Wikipedia's List of PDF software: “Editors” section (and TOOGAM's Software Archive: PDF files : section relating to writing PDF files).

For more software, see: