FAQ: Using Acrobat PDF

andreas.com FAQ: Using Adobe Acrobat PDF

What is Acrobat and PDF?

Adobe Acrobat lets you create a document or image, “freeze” it as PDF file, and then distribute that PDF file as a frozen copy of your document. Others can view your document or image on any computer, with your layout and colors. Best of all, they can’t change the content. It’s a great way to distribute documents and preserve your layout.

Adobe Acrobat is actually several different products. People often use the same name for all of these.

  • Adobe PDF: A PDF file, such as whatever.pdf, that can be viewed on any computer that has Acrobat Reader software. PDF stands for “Portable Document Format.”
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader: A view-only program that lets you view PDF files. Acrobat Reader is free. Visit www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep.html for a free copy.
  • Adobe Acrobat PDF Writer: Lets you create PDF files from within another application, such as Word, Framemaker, PhotoShop, and so on. This often appears as an item in the File menu.
  • Adobe Acrobat PDF Distiller: A stand-alone program that converts files into PDF files.
  • Adobe Acrobat Exchange: This lets you edit PDF files, so you can create forms, links, add sound, and so on.

If you want to read PDF files, just fetch Acrobat Reader for free and that’s all.

If you want to create Acrobat PDFs, you’ll need to buy and install Acrobat Writer or Distiller. Here is where the fun starts; Adobe Acrobat is a complex set of programs. You’ll need to decide whether to use Writer or Distiller, and that depends on your goal.

  • Adobe Acrobat PDF Writer: Lets you create low-resolution PDFs. If you are going to distribute your files as quick productions, draft versions, or view-only over the web which will be viewed on a monitor, then Acrobat Writer is good enough.
    However, if you are going to print those files, then the low resolution of Acrobat Writer’s PDFs will result in foggy, unclear images. Writer’s PDFs can not be used for offset printing because the output resolution is very low.
  • Adobe Acrobat PDF Distiller: This is the high-end version. It is around $250. It lets you produce files with high resolution. Your PDF will always be clear on any output device: monitors, laser printers, or offset printers.
    The drawback is the large size (5-10 MB) of Distiller files. However, if you’re distributing these over a corporate network, the size doesn’t matter.

I recommend that you never use Acrobat Writer. It produces low-quality results. Co-workers and customers will complain that the file is corrupted.

Where to Get Acrobat Reader, Writer, and Distiller

All Acrobat software is available at www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep.html

Do I have Acrobat?

Click and see if it opens. If you see a picture and some text, then you have Acrobat Reader. If you get a message that says you can’t open this file, then you don’t have Reader. To fix that, visit www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep.html and install Acrobat Reader. Try the sample PDF again. If that’s all you need, you don’t need to read the rest of this FAQ.
(By the way, I made that PDF icon. It fits into a single line. Go ahead, copy it, and use it, if you like.)

You Can’t Copy Text from PDFs

In the first few versions of PDF, this was true. Adobe did not want people to copy a text, so you couldn’t copy. In version 3.x and 4.x, this changed. You can grab and copy text, just like in any other program, and paste it into any Windows program.

Framemaker Lets Me Make PDFs. Can I Do that in Word?

Adobe also makes Framemaker, so Adobe included Acrobat Writer into Frame. You can add Acrobat Writer to any other program, so you can produce low-resolution PDFs from any program.

How to do this:

  1. Buy Adobe Acrobat Writer at www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep.html
  2. Install Acrobat Writer
  3. When you print, select Acrobat Writer as the “printer.”
  4. It creates a PDF file onto your harddisk.

If you only want to create low-resolution, cheap-and-quick PDFs, then just get Acrobat Writer. You don’t need to read the rest of this FAQ.

But then again, when you print to a laser printer, you’ll probably ask the next question.

Why Are My Acrobat PDFs Fuzzy?

Because you are using Acrobat Writer to create the PDFs. Writer uses a low-resolution driver. This is okay for creating a PDF file that will be seen on your monitor, which is a low-resolution device (at 72 dpi.)

However, when you print to a laser printer, it is a medium resolution output device at 600 dpi. When you take a 72-dpi image and output it at 600 dpi, it comes out fuzzy.

If you print to an offset printer that uses 2,000 dpi, then your images will be clouds.

Why Would I Want to Use Adobe Distiller?

PDFs made with Distiller have high resolution, so the images will be sharp on any output device: monitors, laser printers, and offset printers. The fonts will also appear correctly, including Asian fonts, because Distiller lets you include the fonts into the PDF.

If you are producing files for print production (such as computer manuals, books, and so on,) you can save tens of thousands of dollars in production, plus cut the production time from weeks to literally a few days.

The drawback is that Distiller PDFs tend to be larger than Writer PDFs. They are often 500 KB, and as much as 10 MB for simple files. For large files, such as books, I’ve made PDFs that filled 600 MB. The Distiller PDF contains much more information within it. However, for distribution over corporate networks and on CD disks, this is not a problem.

A major drawback is the complexity of a PostScript installation. The rest of this FAQ covers that.

Wait! Why Is This Getting So Complicated?

Most users work on PCs, with Microsoft Windows, using Microsoft TrueType fonts, and they view their files on their monitors, which use standards that the manufacturers shared with Microsoft, and the users print on bubblejet or laser printers, also using standards that the manufacturers shared with Microsoft. Microsoft knew all the possibilities: the computer, the operating system, the program, the monitor, and the printer, so they were able to create a system that can work with all of these variables.

But when you step outside of the Microsoft world, you begin to deal with companies and systems that have developed their own standards. Printing, that is, book printing, is a skill that has existed more than 500 years in Europe. The best offset printing machines are from Heidelberg in Germany. In the beginning of computers, the software engineers knew nothing about the offset printing industry. So Adobe wrote a programming language that lets any computer control any output device. That’s PostScript.

Better yet, these offset printing machines are adjusted for every location. Every offset printer company uses them slightly differently. These are maintained by a highly-trained and skilled technical staff. So there’s no such thing as a standard installation.

Fonts are another problem. Typographers have been designing fonts for 500 years and they have their own standards. It becomes an interesting technical challenge to create a computer font that can be displayed on a screen and an offset printer and both should look the same.

So when you began to print to an offset printing machine, you’re no longer working in the safe and familiar Microsoft world.

What’s an Output Device?

First of all, let’s be clear about output devices. An output device is anything to which you display your data. You can display your files onto a Palm Pilot’s screen, your computer monitor, your laser printer, or an offset printer.

Each of these devices has a different resolution. That’s the device’s ability to create dots. Monitors produce 72 dots per inch (dpi) on the screen. Laser printers produce 600 dots per inch (dpi) on paper.

What is PostScript?

PostScript is a computer language. It is a set of instructions to the output device. It tells the output device how to make dots. You can open a PostScript file and read it as text. In a way, it’s like HTML. However, PostScript is mostly just code, so you won’t recognize much.

The advantage of PostScript is its ability to control the output at high resolutions. PostScript was designed to work with offset printing (a printing press, often as large as a locomotive) at very high resolutions, such as 2,400 or even 4,000 dpi (such as photographs in medical manuals.)

The Microsoft Windows printer drivers were designed for the average user in the average office, namely, to print on 600-dpi laser printers. Thus you can’t use a Microsoft printer driver to create a 2,400 dpi file.

This also means that you can’t use Microsoft’s TrueType fonts. These were also designed by typographers to be printed on 600-dpi laser printers. If you use TrueType fonts to print with an offset printer, the results will be fuzzy.

So you must also use PostScript fonts.

What’s the Difference between TrueType and PostScript Fonts?

See the FAQ for that www.andreas.com/faq-fonts.html

There’s a bit of a problem with installing PostScript fonts. Adobe doesn’t develop their own software. They buy it from other companies, put the Adobe name on it, and sell that. Those separate companies don’t cooperate with each other, so the products generally don’t work together very well.

This is why Adobe PostScript fonts are a problem. With Microsoft’s TrueType, you keep all of the TrueType fonts in one folder (Windows/System/Fonts) and all Windows programs use the same folder.

However, with Adobe fonts, each product has its own folder and each product looks only within its own folder. So if you create a document in Adobe Framemaker and you use the Palatino font and then you open the document in Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Acrobat Distiller, you will not see Palatino. You first have to install Palatino font into every single folder for every single Adobe product. If you don’t, then you’ll create a document in Framemaker and then you print it with Adobe Distiller and you’ll find that Distiller substituted new fonts for the missing fonts.

At this point, you’ll say this is insane. Yep. PostScript is a challenge.

Yes, But I Haven’t Done All of This and It Works

Then either someone else installed this before you, or you specified a font and it’s substituting other fonts for you and you can’t tell the difference, or you haven’t noticed the difference in high resolution output.

Take one of your printed documents and compare it to a printed document from someone who installed PostScript correctly. Talk to your offset printer’s technical team and ask them to show you the difference.

Installing and Using Acrobat Distiller

A successful PostScript installation requires that you adjust your entire system (your computers, all of the other computers that produce documents) to match the offset printer’s requirements and install the PostScript fonts and drivers.

So let’s first install the fonts. But that means you have to install ATM.

Adobe Type Manager (ATM)

Adobe ATM (Adobe Type Manager) is software that installs Adobe PostScript fonts. You’ll need this. Generally, it’s free when you buy an Adobe PostScript font. SoÖ the first step is to install the fonts into every Adobe product.

Now the next step is to buy ($250) and install Adobe Distiller. Don’t forget to use ATM to install copies of the fonts into Distiller as well.

Next, you’ll have to install a PostScript printer driver on your computer. PostScript printer drivers are tuned specifically to each printer. You can not use generic PostScript printer drivers and assume it’ll be okay. Contact your printing company and talk to their technical team. They will send you the PostScript driver that they have modified to match their printer.

Finally, you’ll tune the PostScript settings and the Distiller settings to match that driver and your production process.

Wait a Minute. What’s the Point of All This?

It’ll save you a huge amount of time and money. You’ll be able to produce perfect documents. Here’s why.

The Traditional Printing Process

Here is the traditional way to print books and manuals on offset printers. Most companies still do this.

  1. Write a document in Frame
  2. Save as a .fm file
  3. Save again as a PostScript file (.ps)
  4. Send the 80 MB .ps file to the printing company on a Zip disk or CD by courier
  5. The printers convert the PostScript file into a RIP (Raster Image Processor) file.
  6. Print the RIP file on a HP 5Si printer as blueline draft output.
  7. Use a courier to return the blue line printout for proofreading.
  8. Find errors, make changes, and repeat the process (send by courier, etc.)
  9. When the PostScript file is okay, use RIP to print it on a HP 5Si printer as plastic film output.
  10. Use a courier to return the film printout by courier for proofing. This roll of plastic film can weigh 50-100 pounds. If you are printing in Japan, you can guess how much it’ll cost to send 100 pounds via overnight rush delivery.
  11. Make changes and repeat the process (send by courier, etc.)
  12. When everything is right, the printing company prints the RIP file to a plate setter. This burns the digital image onto a metal plate.
  13. They use the plates to print on an offset press.

Using Adobe Acrobat to Print

By using Adobe Distiller, you can cut several steps.

  1. Write a document in Frame or Word.
  2. Print as a PostScript file at 1200 dpi onto the hard disk.
  3. Use Distiller to convert the PostScript file into a PDF.
  4. Proofread the PDF on screen.
  5. Print it on HP 5Si printer (at 600 dpi) and review once again.
  6. The file has been proofed for the last time. You do not need to verify the file again.
  7. Send the PDF to the printing company via the Internet, such as FTP.
  8. The printing company prints it on their HP 5Si printer and looks for any errors.
  9. The printing company convert the file into a RIP (Raster Image Processor) output.
  10. The printing company compares the HP printout and the RIP printout. They then print the RIP file to the plate setter. It burns the digital image onto a metal plate.
  11. They use the plates to print on an offset press.

This means that there is no bluelines, no film, no air courier transport, no back-and-forth with files. This saves seven to ten days of production time.

Basically, you write a text, save it as a PDF, review the PDF, and send it by ftp.

If you are working with OEMs, you won’t need to give them PostScript files (which in many cases, they don’t understand.) Just give them a PDF and they can use that to produce their manuals.

Color or Grayscale?

If you create PDFs to be viewed on screen, you’ll probably want to use color. However, PDFs to be printed on offset presses must use grayscale images. So you’ll have to create two sets of images.

  1. Never use embedded images. It makes it difficult for you to update images. Always use linked images and point to an Images folder.
  2. Make a folder called Images-Color and a second folder called Images-Grayscale, and a third folder called Images.
  3. Create your screen shots. These are all in color, so copy them into the Images-Color folder. Copy them into the Images folder as well.
  4. Open your document and insert the pictures from the Images folder.
  5. When you have finished the document and you’re ready to print, copy the color pictures into the Images-Grayscale folder. Use a graphics conversion tool to convert them into grayscale images.
  6. Now you have two sets of pictures: one in the color folder and one in the grayscale folder.
  7. To produce a PDF for color screens, copy the color images into the Images folder and print. Since the pictures are linked, all of the images will be updated and the document will use the new pictures.
  8. To produce a PDF for an offset press, copy the grayscale images into the Images folder and print. Since the pictures are linked, all of the images will be updated and the document will use the new pictures.

Why Does My Word Document Move Around?

If you use Word to create a 400-page document and you change from a laser printer driver to a PostScript drvier, you’ll notice that the text will shift around. The TrueType fonts are slightly different at different resolutions. However, over 400 pages, this can add up to several inches, and the text will reflow. You’ll have to recheck your final layout.

However, there’s a solution to this. Set your PostScript driver as the default printer driver and use PostScript fonts. No more reflow.

PostScript Driver Installation

The following is an overview and installation instructions for the PostScript driver and PostScript Printer Description (PPD) files on Windows machines.

What are PPD files?

PostScript printer description (PPD) files describe the fonts, paper sizes, resolution capabilities, and other features that are standard for your PostScript printer. PPD files are used by PostScript printer drivers to determine how to print your document. If you do not use the correct PPD file, your document might not print correctly, or not all of the printer’s features will be available when you print.

PostScript Driver Installation in Windows

The PPD for your printer will depend on your printer type. Visit Adobe and get the PPD for your printer. Visit www.adobe.com/supportservice/custsupport/LIBRARY/pdrvwin.htm

  1. Copy (for example) AGSS700A.PPD into C:WindowsSystem and restart the computer.
  2. Go to My Computer and select Printers | Add Printer.
  3. Select Agfa Selectset 7000 v.52.3
  4. If you are in Windows, the computer will ask for the original Windows CD. If on NT, it will ask for the i386 folder. Use the Windows NT installation disks and copy i386 onto your root directory.

PostScript Driver Installation for Macs

You’ll need the PostScript Printer Driver (PPD) for your particular printer. Visit www.adobe.com/prodindex/printerdrivers/macppd.html and find the PostScript driver for your printer. It includes instructions for installation.

To install a PPD file, copy it to the System Folder | Extensions | Printer Descriptions folder.

To use a PPD file, print using a PostScript printer driver, such as the Adobe PostScript printer driver called AdobePS. If you do not have a PostScript printer driver, you must install and configure it before you can use it for printing.

AdobePS is available for free at www.adobe.com/supportservice/custsupport/download.html in the Printer Drivers section.

Some applications may require the PPD file to be copied to an additional location. See your application’s documentation to determine if your application searches for PPD files in a specific directory. If you have any such applications, use the Finder to copy the PPD file to the location(s) that your applications require.

Summary of Printing Process

So you’re finally ready to print. The PostScript drivers and fonts have been installed, you’ve tested everything, and you’re ready to print.

  1. Convert the images to grayscale and copy the grayscale pictures into the Images folder.
  2. Select Print and create a PostScript file. PostScript files are .ps (on Windows, it is .prn). Be sure to have lots of hard disk space. A PostScript temp file can be 400 MB or more. It also takes about an hour to create.
  3. Start Acrobat Distiller and convert the PostScript file into a PDF file. This can also take an hour or more.
  4. Send the PDF via FTP to the printing company and notify them by email and voicemail.

Handy Tip: Printing PostScript to a Laser Printer

PostScript files can be printed only onto PostScript printers. However, with a free tool, you can print PostScript files onto any printer. This is useful for proofreading and so on. Use PrFile32.exe, a Windows shareware tool. You can find this on the Internet.

Another Handy Tip: File Association

If you know how to do the following, associate your postscript output files with Acrobat Distiller. When you finish producing an PostScript file (.ps or .prn,) you can then click on it and it calls up Distiller and it is converted into a PDF.

Yet Another Handy Tip: How to Edit PDFs

You can open and edit a PDF as if it were a text file. Use Adobe Illustrator to do this.

Settings for PostScript and Acrobat Distiller

In order to print PostScript and PDFs, you need to make a number of adjustments to your print dialog box and Distiller settings. Regrettably, Adobe did not document this and worse yet, their tech support does not understand this very well.

The following is based on collaboration and extensive testing with people who were part of the Adobe Acrobat 4.0 development team.

These settings are specific to a particular offset press. You can’t just use these settings and hope that it will work. Contact your printing company and talk with their technology team. Don’t talk with the sales person or the project manager; they don’t understand this and they may give you wrong information.

You also have to be certain that their technical people understand these issues. In a number of cases, I’ve dealt with printing companies that did not understand Acrobat’s settings. If you are using desktop laser printers, call your printer’s tech support or Adobe’s tech support and check the settings.

There’s a bit more about Distiller that I’ll not discuss: you can create personalized profiles for various output devices and then use those profiles when creating PDFs. It’s also useful to create a default profile, so all of your docs are produced to the same settings. As you work with Distiller, you’ll figure out how to do this.

PostScript Settings

Frame Print: Main Dialog Box

Word Print: Main Dialog Box

Click Properties to access the standard Windows print settings dialog box.

Paper Tab

Graphics Tab

Device Options Tab

The above image (Device Options tab) is incorrect. Change this to “Screen Filter Mode, Agfa Balanced Settings” for BOTH boxes.

PostScript Tab

Adobe Distiller 3.x Settings

Here are the settings for Adobe Distiller 3.x. This is specific to an offset press, so you’ll need to check with your offset press for details.

Distiller | Job Options

The above image is incorrect. Select “Subset Fonts” to on and set to 99% (99% is identical to 100%).

Adobe Acrobat 4.0 Settings


See? It’s a big job to use Adobe Acrobat correctly. It has to be coordinated across various machines at various locations and all of them have to be tuned to the same settings. But it’s worth it, the rewards are very good.

There’s much more to Acrobat. In many ways, it can do what an HTML page can do: you create forms, embed sound and animation, and so on. However, I’ve never seen anyone use these features. Everyone only uses it to distribute files or send files to an offset printer. If you want to learn more, get Adobe’s “Classroom in a Book: Adobe Acrobat.” It covers many of these features.