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The Portable Document Format (PDF) is a file format developed by Adobe in the 1990s to present documents, including text formatting and images, in a manner independent of application software, hardware, and operating systems.


The PDF file format is nearly 30 years old, which is a testament to how effective it’s been. Back in the 1990s, the managing team at Adobe saw that there was a problem facing computer users. The two most popular forms of computer, PCs that used Windows and Apple Macintosh computers, used two different operating systems and file structures. As a result, it was difficult for people who used these machines to communicate digitally with each other, which was a significant problem for businesses.

Apple quickly developed an identity as a better system for graphical design and artistry while Windows-based computers found a home as business machines. Adobe sought to bridge the gap by creating a format that both operating systems could read and allowed users to share pictures or text. The team at Adobe developed the PDF in 1993 and created the first programs that created and edited these files. For the next 15 years, Adobe used PDFs as proprietary technology, helping them grow as computer users saw the benefits of using this standard file format. After 2008, PDFs became open source, which meant that other companies could develop programs to interact with the file format, expanding consumer options when trying to use PDF files.

There are 8 types of PDF file – each designed for a specific purpose. These are:

PDF –This general PDF standard is sufficient for in-office use, sharing and viewing online and for standard quality documents.

PDF/A – This standard was developed for long-term file storage, commonly used by archivists, records managers and compliance managers. It has a restricted set of features, including JavaScript, audio and video content and encryption, because they may disallow users from opening and viewing accurately in the future.

PDF/E – Architects, engineers, construction professionals and manufacturing product teams will use this standard most often. According to Planet PDF, “This standard was intended to address key issues in the areas of large-format drawings, multimedia, form fields and rights management – to name a few – that might prevent the engineering community from embracing PDF in their workflows.”

PDF/X – This standard best suits print professionals, graphic designers and creative professionals. High quality, professional grade documents can be expected when using this standard. This PDF standard will ensure documents are print-ready by correctly embedding fonts, images, color profiles and more.

PDF/UA – This standard enhances the readability for people with disabilities, IT managers in government or commercial enterprises and compliance managers. The UA stands for Universal Access; this standard will work with assistive technology that assists users through reading and navigation. 

PDF/VT – Print professionals will also use this standard for documents. This standard is based on components of the PDF/X standard, allowing some features such as color profiles, layers and transparency to be maintained. The biggest addition is the ability to customize data within these files, such as bank statements, business invoices or personalized marketing material.

PAdES – Standardizes secure paperless transactions that conform to the European legislation. This standard was established for PDF digital signatures in the EU.

PDF Healthcare – According to Acrobat, This standard “Provides best practices and implementation guidelines to facilitate the capture, exchange, preservation and protection of healthcare information. Following these guidelines provides a more secure electronic container that can store and transmit health information including personal documents, XML data, DICOM images and data, clinical notes, lab reports, electronic forms, scanned images, photographs, digital X-rays and ECGs.”


For most of our purposes, we will use the first option … PDF

Anything you can look at on the screen of your computer - words, pictures, spreadsheets, websites etc - can be turned into a PDF file.

This can be achieved by using in-built functions within a program such as "export to PDF" in Word or can be achieved by using a specific program to convert what you see into a PDF file. The best program that can do this is call PDFILL.

PDFILL is downloaded and installed onto your computer (see button on right to link to website where the program can be downloaded) PDFILL is free to download and use

PDFILL works by creating a "printer" in the list of printers available for your computer ... except that this printer does not actually print ... it converts wat it sees on the screen into a PDF file and allows you to choose a folder into which it can be saved.

PDFILL also comes with a wonderful selection of tools that can be used to manipulate PDF files - these tools should be downloaded and installed at the same time you install the basic PDFILL program. These tools are also FREE!


PDF's of documents can be created in two ways and the result can often look identical - except for the fact that in one version the words can be copy and pasted from the PDF and the other they cannot. 

In the first version the original document is typed up in a word processor and the converted to a PDF - in the second version an image (or photo or scan of the words) is treated like a photo and converted to a PDF of that image. 

This is important to understand if you are trying to extract text from a PDF - two different methods will be required depending on how the PDF was first created.

If the second method is found to be the way the document was created (i.e. as a photo or scan) then you will need to use a specialized OCR (Optical Character Recognition) program to extract the text. The best one to use is ONLINE OCR - see button to the right which will link you to the website that does the work - no program needs to be installed to handle this process.

With PDFILL TOOLS you can perform a number of useful tasks with PDF files including:    (click on button to right of each topic to see how to use)


  • Merge or Combine two or more PDF files into a single PDF file.

  • Split, Extract, Reorder or Delete PDF pages from a PDF file into a new file.

  • Encrypt or Decrypt PDF documents (Master Password or User Password may be required).  Protect PDF files with passwords and prevent PDF files from being printed, copied, changed, filled, extracted, signed, assembled or merged. Supports Adobe® Standard 40-bit Encryption and Adobe® Advanced 128-bit Encryption

  • Rotate a PDF page by 0, 90, 180 and 270 degree. Crop a page to modify its layout of Print or View by specifying its margins.

  • Put multiple pages into one page to save paper and inks when printing hard copies.  Add note lines for handout.

  • Add Headers and Footers to present information, such as date, time, page numbers, or the title of the document, in the top or bottom margins of a document.

  • Add Stylized Text Stamp.

  • Add Stamp using image file (bmp, jpg, gif, png, tiff, and wmf).

  • Convert images (bmp, jpg, gif, png, tiff, and wmf) into a PDF file with layout options.

  • Save PDF pages into images (png, jpg, bmp and tiff) with DPI options.

  • Delete, Flatten or List the PDF Form Fields inside a PDF file.

  • Convert PS files into PDF files so Adobe Reader can read them.

  • Add information (title, author, subject, keywords, created, creator, producer, version) to PDF documents.

  • Scan your paper form or photo as an image file (PNG, JPG, BMP, TIF, GIF) or a PDF file.

  • Create a transparent image with options to adjust transparency options.

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