How to make a PDF

There’s a right way and a wrong way to make a PDF. Based on an un­sci­en­tific sur­vey of the PDFs I get from oth­ers, a lot of you are do­ing it the wrong way.

The wrong way: print the doc­u­ment on pa­per and scan it to PDF.

The right way: “print” the doc­u­ment di­rectly to PDF.

How to print directly to PDF

Win­dowsIs­sue the print com­mand. You’ll see the Print di­a­log box. At the top of this box is a popup menu list­ing the in­stalled print­ers. Se­lect the Microsoft Print to PDF dri­ver. Set other op­tions as needed and click OK.

Mac OSIs­sue the Print com­mand. The di­a­log box that ap­pears has a but­ton at the lower left la­beled PDF. Click this but­ton. From the menu that ap­pears, se­lect Save as PDF. In the next di­a­log box, en­ter a file­name and click Save.

“What’s the dif­fer­ence? Ei­ther way, you end up with a PDF.” True. But one PDF is much bet­ter than the other.

When you print a doc­u­ment and then scan it to PDF, you’re de­feat­ing most of the ben­e­fits of us­ing a PDF at all. Es­sen­tially, you’re mak­ing a se­ries of pho­tos of your doc­u­ment and pack­ag­ing them in­side a PDF. These pho­tos oc­cupy a lot of disk space, they’re slow to view or print, they have to go through OCR to be search­able, and any care you’ve put into ty­pog­ra­phy will be di­luted by the re­duced qual­ity of the scan.

But print­ing di­rectly to PDF stores your doc­u­ment in a com­pact, high-res­o­lu­tion for­mat. In­stead of a se­ries of pho­tos, the doc­u­ment pages are stored as highly com­pressed dig­i­tal data. These pages take up very lit­tle space on disk, are fast to view or print, are search­able with­out OCR, and pre­serve your ty­pog­ra­phy with per­fect fi­delity. (If you have bitmap im­ages in your doc­u­ment, like JPEGs, they will still be stored in the PDF as bitmaps.)

“But I need to com­bine sev­eral doc­u­ments into one. How am I sup­posed to get those into the word-pro­cess­ing doc­u­ment?” You don’t. Print the word-pro­cess­ing doc­u­ment to PDF as de­scribed above. Then com­bine them into a sin­gle file us­ing Ac­ro­bat or an­other PDF-edit­ing tool.

Got it? Good.

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