PDFs for free: online & on your computer

Portable Document Format (PDF) files are a common feature of the modern Internet. Generated by Adobe's Acrobat software, PDF files carry with them all image and font information, and do not have to be reconstructed by the receiving computer. The format was devised by Adobe as a way of bringing the invariant nature of print on paper to the variable world of computer-based documents. By giving away the Acrobat Reader as a free download, Adobe ensured that the PDF format spread widely and has become an unofficial Internet and corporate standard. Graphic designers also use the format when finalising a job, embedding all image, typeface and colour information in a single PDF file and optimising it for printer workflows.

However, creating a PDF is not free. At the time of writing, users can purchase the full family of Acrobat software for AUD$555. This allows them to create, edit, add comments to and authorise others to comment on, PDFs. Users of Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, Excel, Photoshop, InDesign, Quark Xpress and a host of other packages are able to either 'print' to PDF, or create a postscript file that can be then 'distilled'.  

For businesses that only occasionally create or edit PDFs, the cost of this software is quite high. Adobe is aware of this part of the market, and offers an online PDF creator for approx USD$9.99 a month or USD$100 per year. However in the everything-should-be-free world of Web 2.0, numerous alternatives have arisen that cost absolutely nothing.

DoPDF is a small download available on Windows. Once installed, a PDF option appears in the print options box of all the programs from which you might want to create PDFs.

CutePDF is a stripped down piece of freeware which installs as a PDF option available when printing a document.

PDF online allows users to upload a file, enter their email address and have the completed PDF file emailed back to them. Simple, and no software installation required.

Primo Online does the same thing as PDF online, also for free.

Open Office (the free open source suite of programs that emulate the Microsoft family), allow users to save files as PDFs as a native capability.

There are other fee-based packages such as Nitro PDF that offer a rather more extensive set of features, and are still cheaper than the full version of Adobe Acrobat.