The Proliferation of PDF

By Amanda Greenslade

In this modern era most westerners have heard of PDF. We see them on websites with the little red and white icon. They're often full of free fact sheets that can be read on screen or printed on an A4 sheet of paper. They usually work on any computer or device.

But what is a PDF? And when it comes to professional publishing, what do writers and project managers need to know about the different kinds of PDFs and what they contain? How can they be used as ebooks for sale?

What is a PDF
The portable document format by Adobe is a container or package of information to display a fixed layout. For more on this see the Wikipedia article. PDFs may be generated from Word documents, layout software like Adobe InDesign, photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop, and countless other programs.

PDFs may be created from just about any kind of document, image or web page. So a PDF in and of itself is not necessarily ready for publishing (electronic or print). Sure, printed books are sent to printers in PDF format, but it's not just any old PDF. It has been typeset and preflighted and made ready for printing. It is a certain kind of PDF, with a certain resolution. It may have bleed, minimum margins, colourspace settings and many other considerations, unique to each printer.

When it comes to books, booklets, pamphlets and any other types of product with pages, the best software in the world is Adobe InDesign. It can output print-ready PDFs as well as interactive PDFs. The latter will retain hyperlinks and other web-based technology, for the purpose of publishing the PDF online.

What you need for your printer, distributor or website will depend on the printer, distributor or website designer. So you need to ask for the specifications.

Unless you possess graphic design software, skills and experience, you will probably need to hire a sufficiently skilled graphic designer to (a) do a good job on your design and (b) output the PDF to the correct specifications.

So a PDF may be ready for professional printing, emailing, distributing, loading to a website, printing at home, or it may not be. In and of itself, PDF is not necessarily ready for what you need, and it may take a professional to get it ready.

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