What is a PDF?

It’s been around for a long time, the Portable Document Format, better known as the PDF.  In fact, it was in 1991 that the first version of the PDF came into existence; Version 1.0 of Adobe Acrobat was officially launched in 1993.  In those days, creating a product that delivered an exact electronic view of a document wasn’t easy; developers had to deal with operating systems, such as Windows, MS-DOS and UNIX that all did things their own way.  But it was achieved and today’s PDF is probably now THE tool in seamlessly sharing documents across the electronic space.

In 2007, the PDF format came under the care of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) which has overseen the development of new specifications for the PDF, in alliance with Adobe adding their technical input, of course, and the technology is still growing to this day.  The recent launch of Adobe Acrobat DC (Document Cloud), which adds the tools of a touch-enabled interface, e-signature support and advance font-synthesising capacities, sits alongside recent additions such as 3D support, and it’s reported that their next aim is to improve the viewing on PDFs on mobile devices via their new Mobile Link and Mobile Apps functions.

A PDF – whether it’s a native PDF which is an electronically-processed PDF document  or a scanned PDF via a mobile or scanning device – captures all the details of a document in an electronic image that can be viewed, printed, forwarded, edited – well, with limited capability – embedded, optimised for the web and more.  But the PDF is more than just an image of a document; type fonts can be embedded allowing them to be viewed via any device, at any time; buttons on forms can be created that can trigger a movie or soundtrack; text can be rendered; graphic images and hypertext links can be inserted; the PDF is a genuine multi-purpose product and with the rise of online and mobile activity over the past few years, the PDF has become a mainstay for many companies and industries worldwide.

Advantages of a PDF

The PDF product is a cross-platform standard; anybody is able to create a PDF file and view via a PDF reader, such as Adobe Reader.  The file is compact and size is kept to a minimum, even if there are movies, sound tracks, bookmarks, web pages, hypertext, links or thumbnails included.  It is also possible to ensure your PDF document remains secure by password-enabling the file, i.e. only those with the correct password are able to open and view the PDF.

For many companies, the ease and speed in which you can create a PDF document and share it with others is probably the biggest advantage for many.  Add to the fact that documents can be made secure using encrypted data, watermarks or passwords and you’ve got one of the easiest ways to create, protect and share a wide variety of documents and files with colleagues and external stakeholders.

Because the PDF file is compressed and takes up little space on a storage system, the ability to archive documents using the PDF is growing in popularity.  There are a number of software products that allow you to create and archive a multitude of documents electronically, securely and quickly, and it is possible to search for a specific document in the archive.

Disadvantages of  a PDF

But as good as the PDF is, as with most things there are drawbacks.  Whilst the PDF can be used on the Internet, sometimes an HTML file may be a better option and if using a prepress application, the EPS file format is also used.

The PDF has the ability to retain the logical structure of a document using metadata; the drawback is that there aren’t many applications in the marketplace that are able to create these sorts of tagged PDF files.

But probably the biggest disadvantage is that PDFs are not really editable.  Yes, annotations, notes and other small changes can be made but it is difficult to change images or blocks of text to an existing PDF document.

Without doubt, the PDF is here to stay and its popularity will continue to grow.