This article was originally published in the Piedmont Computer Guild News, July/August 1998


Electronic Publishing with Acrobat® PDF

Sample files to accompany this article are available at

by Bill Barnes

Everyone knows about electronic publishing. If you want to distribute a document without putting ink to paper, you can either pass on your Word or PageMaker document or "put it on the web." Sometimes maybe you just want to share a form or a book with coworkers, but aren’t sure they can read your native document file and you don’t really want to put it on the web.

The language of the World Wide Web is a format called HTML. It consists of basically a text file with tags describing the format and layout of the page. Illustrations are included by referring to an external file. Then these commands are interpreted by a browser to more or less recreate the intended page. To see what this code looks like, choose VIEW | SOURCE from your browser.

While many ’97 or later version programs can automatically export to HTML format, sometimes the result is not exactly how the original page appeared. To improve the results, you have to manually edit the code directly. Creating HTML is a form of programming and requires special skills. As with any code generator, tweaking the results of exporting from your favorite application can actually be more difficult than creating it from scratch.

There are alternatives to the haphazard or complex results of HTML. The most common is the Acrobat® PDF (Portable Document Format) file. Through effective marketing, Adobe has succeeded in making Acrobat and PDF the overwhelming standard for off-line electronic distribution. Many programs distribute enhanced help information, or even their entire manual, as Acrobat documents and you can too!

Acrobat acts as a "printer" capturing an image of your page so that anyone with the reader can view and print it regardless of the program or platform that created the document. Since the reader is widely and freely distributed, you can comfortably distribute a PDF document and trust your recipient will see an accurate representation of your page. If the reader is not already installed on their system, it is distributed with many programs from other publishers and is available online at


Acrobat starts with a PostScript printer file created by any program. This file is then manipulated by DISTILLER to create another file that is interpreted by READER. Usually, you would want to manipulate the PDF in EXCHANGE before distribution.

Most of the actions of DISTILLER are behind the scenes and, in fact, the program installs the PDF Writer plug-in to your File menu that creates a PDF in a single step. (However, for all but the simplest files, I have found I get a better representation of colors and graphics if you manually print to a file through a PostScript printer driver.) After creating the printer file, you can manually open itin DISTILLER, or set up watched folders so the program will convert any file sent to a given directory.

If you want to add enhancements to your electronic document, open the PDF in EXCHANGE. Here you can build bookmarks or thumbnails and create hot links to either specific points in your document or externally to the Internet. You can annotate the page with "sticky notes" or add multimedia links. You can set actions so a page will open zoomed to a particular focus or the file starts with the bookmarks visible. If you need to, you can edit the text without returning to the originating application, although this is not recommended beyond correcting a typo that doesn’t significantly change the length of a line. When you save the file, choose a security level if you don’t want your reader to print or copy text to the clipboard. You can even build electronic forms and multi-document indexes in PDF files.

READER faithfully displays your electronic document, even if the user is on a different platform and has none of the applications or fonts you used to create it. He can view all or any part of any page and navigate with bookmarks, links, or thumbnail representations of each page if you created them. He can print the document or copy blocks of text across the Clipboard if permitted by the security restrictions you set in Exchange.

Companies use Acrobat to distribute documents ranging from manuals to catalogs to promotional literature. Electronic publishing is fast and economical compared to paper because once the document is updated, it’s a matter of distributing a disc or CD; or even emailing a file. Since the Reader can be installed as a browser plug-in, some static web documents are created in Acrobat.

The PDF format creates a relatively compact file that is guaranteed to faithfully represent the page, independent of the vagaries of the recipient’s setup. Graphic designers use it to transmit designs for proofing or final production because the results cannot inadvertedly be corrupted. The file can be configured to carry all the detail necessary for professional output, or downsampled to a resolution appropriate for viewing online.

The Distiller and Reader are available in versions for all flavors of Windows and Unix, plus Macintosh and Warp. The PDF file is platform independent and the same file can be read by any system.

If you need to share uneditable documents with others and a generic file format won’t carry your intent, consider the Acrobat PDF. Using it is relatively painless and you can be comfortable the results will match your intent.


Some sample files related to this article are available at Bill will give a technical presentation on Acrobat at the CorelDRAW! Special Interest Group meeting Wednesday, August 19 at 6:30 pm. For details, check out the PCCC web page at


Bill Barnes is an independent graphics consultant in Charlotte. You can reach him at 704 332-1031 or
For information on the services he can offer your business, please visit his home page at