Unlike Word documents which can change from one computer to another and Powerpoint and Publisher files which may not even be viewable on many computers, Adobe Acrobat PDF (Portable Document Format) files are a type of file that will always look exactly the same whether it is is displayed on the screen or printed. You never have to worry about pages shifting either. You can also make it more difficult for people to copy content from your document. When it comes to documents like contracts and agreements, files that you don't want people to change before they sign, PDF files can prevent people from editing your document's content.

Like Microsoft Word files, PDF files are completely self contained and can be easily distributed equally well over the web, as an attachment to an email or on a CD or USB memory stick.

PDF files can be opened using Adobe Acrobat Reader which is not only freely available from Adobe's site but is actually included on most computers. You won't have to worry about whether someone is using Windows, a Mac or Linux, whether they are using Microsoft Word or one of the alternative word processors like Open Office, WordPerfect or Word Pro. PDF's can even be opened on many mobile phones.

Although PDF files are great, they do have drawbacks. For one thing, people can't make changes to a PDF file unless they have Adobe Acrobat Professional installed on their computer. However if you actually want to prevent people to make changes to your PDF file, you can take it one step further by adding a password that will prevent them from editing the file. A second password can be added to only allow people with the password you specify to viewing it if it contains sensitive information.

The good news is that many office productivity applications now include the option to save, print or export your document as a PDF. For example, If you are using Microsoft Office 2007, you can save you to save files from any of the Office applications such as Word, Excel and Publisher into a PDF by first downloading and installing the free 2007 Microsoft Office Add-in: Microsoft Save as PDF or XPS. If you are using Office 2010, this feature comes built-in. Just click File, Save and then change the  "Save as type:" to PDF before saving.

But what if you are still using an older version of Office or other applications? No problem! You can actually create PDF files from within just about any application on your computer and it won't cost you anything but a little time to install the software that will allow you to make it happen.

Apple Mac OSX comes with software to create pdf's. All you need to do is print the document and when you go to choose the options, you select "Save as PDF". If, on the other hand, you are on Microsoft Windows, the following is a short list of my favourite free solutions to help you get similar functionality. Anytime you need to create a PDF file, just print to one of these PDF printers and provide a filename. Regardless of whether you are on a Mac or on Windows, don't forget to make sure your filename ends in .pdf .

Just a reminder that you will need to be logged into your computer using an administrator account in order to install any of the fillowing applications.

CutePDF Writer

I like this particular application for it's simplicity. Just like PDFill Writer mentioned further down, there are no options to choose from. Just print to it and it prompts you for a filename. The end result is similar in functionality to Adobe PDF Printer/Distiller but for a price that can't be beat (FREE!!!). There won't be any no watermarks, limitations, spyware, or advertisements in your PDF files. I have been using it problem free for years! 


  1. Make sure you are logged into your computer using an account with administrator rights.
  2. Go to a website called Ninite. I love this site as it offers a very easy way to install popular free applications from the Internet.
  3. Add a checkmark in the box next to CutePDF Writer and scroll down to the bottom to click on the big green button.
  4. Follow the prompts to complete the installation.

That's it, your ready to create PDF files by simply select CutePDF Writer from the list of printers and click OK. Within a few seconds, you will be asked for a file name for the PDF file. It is really that simple!


Although you can create forms, they will not be fillable nor savable on your clients computer. Links may not be clickable either depending on the version of Acrobat Reader they are using. To get these features, you will need to purchase and use the professional version of Adobe Acrobat.

A Few Tips

Although any Truetype fonts will work, these will quickly increase the size of your PDF file since the fonts must then be included within the PDF file itself. Try to stick with standard fonts such as Times New Roman, Arial, and Courier New. You will be better off anyway. Although it may be neat to put all kinds of interesting fonts, your documents won't look professional if you use more than a couple of fonts in a document.

You can considerably reduce the size of the PDF's created by CutePDF Writer by following the instructions on the following page: How to reduce the size of output PDF file. I use the -dPDFSETTINGS=/screen setting and can't tell the difference on screen between this and the default setting.

Want More Advanced Features?

The password option when saving as a PDF from Microsoft Office applications restricts a person from opening the PDF file. If you want to make a PDF viewable but not editable, you will need to add a password for editing only.  This and many more options are only available in the following free alternatives:

  • PrimoPDF -- This application allows you to set security settings for your PDF. Unlike the other solutions presented here, it also enables you to append to an existing PDF. This means that you could create parts of your PDF using different applications such as Word, Excel, your favourite web browser, your email program, etc.
  • PDFill PDF -- PDFill Writer is just as easy to use as CutePDF Writer described above. Where this program really shines is in it's PDFill PDF Tools which allows you to do things like merge existing PDF files, split or re-arrange pages, add or remove security restrictions, rotate and crop pages, add headers/footers and watermarks and more.

It is interesting to note that the latest version of OpenOffice, the free compatible alternative to Microsoft Office, can now also allows you to open, edit and save PDF files. You can even create fillable PDF files.

Note: Adobe Acrobat Professional, not to be confused with Adobe Acrobat Printer / Distiller, is the only way to create forms that are fillable and saveable. This is what you will need in orde to enable your clients to email a completed form back to you.

Feel free to contact me if I can be of service to you.

With warmest regards,

Life and Tech Coach Michael Milette
Come discover a great life!

TNG Consulting Inc.
Sustainable solutions for life