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
Windows Install a printer driver that outputs PDFs instead of sending a file to a physical printer. If you have a commercial version of Adobe Acrobat (not just the free Acrobat Reader), the Adobe PDF driver should already be installed. If you don’t have Adobe Acrobat, numerous third-party PDF printer drivers are available. When you issue 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 your PDF printer. Set other options as needed and click OK.
Mac You don’t need a special print driver—printing directly to PDF is built into the Mac operating system. Issue 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 a series of scalable mathematical shapes (or vector graphics as they’re sometimes known). These shapes 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 the others into the word-processing document?” You don’t. Print all the documents to PDF as described above. Then combine them into a single file using Acrobat or another PDF-editing tool.