There are a seemingly innumerable amount of PDF creators and editors out there that do a fantastic job of both creating and editing. But how about for free, guys? I love the PDF format. It’s being able to get documents out there the EXACT way you want people to see them. That’s why it does so much better than Microsoft Word or other word processors for wide distribution.
There are key steps, however, for the home user who wants to produce his/her own PDF files. Spend your money on Adobe Acrobat if you want full tech support available at the end of a phone line or an Internet tube. But if you want it for FREE, read on.
To create a PDF from scratch, you need nothing more than a PDF printer driver. I use PrimoPDF. I’ve been using it for a while and it seems to have held up well. The office uses CutePDF as the PDF printer. Both seem to work just fine. Create the document or image or combination thereof–or a multitude of other things–in a word processor, an image-editing program, or…whatever. Print it out using the print function of the program you’re in and, presto!, a PDF.
What if you’re like me though and want to scan important papers for archiving. (I subsequently shred the personal papers and recycle the shreds. No filing cabinet space taken up! But I digress.) This is where you obviously need some imaging hardware. For the purpose of archiving paperwork, your typical all-in-one will work just fine. I do recommend, however, one with an auto document feeder (ADF). (The Brother MFC series printers do just fine for this purpose but also use ink that’s gotten for cheap from Meritline. They’ll run deals on it from time to time. It works fine for home office use. But pick your own poison for this scenario.)
Now comes the tricky part. You need to find an all-in-one or scanner that comes with scanning software able to scan to PDF. The Brother MFC series comes with ControlCenter. It does a fine job of scanning to PDF if you want just the stack of papers turned into a PDF. This works best, of course, for single-sided papers. You can take the long way and scan each set of papers in the ADF, one set at a time. That works just fine. I’m going to venture a guess that all scanners and all-in-ones come with scan-to-PDF software. So this shouldn’t be a problem once you have a scanner or all-in-one.
Then comes the times when you’ve let a whole stack of important papers build up. You’re not looking forward to sitting there scanning each set individually. So, here’s where I use pdfsam. It made up for all the shortcomings I found in ControlCenter3 that came with my Brother all-in-one. I looked high and low for a while until, one day, I happened upon this little diamond in the rough. It’s open source. The interface looks ugly, yes, but I’ll take function over form any day. It does exactly what it needs to do. Split, merge, rotate, etc., by page number, graphically, bookmarks, and other properties. I love it. Just stick that whole stack of papers in there to scan. Break them apart later. And never fear–pdfsam is free.
If you don’t care too much about watermarks on the PDF, ScanToPDF is a nice, quick PDF scanner. There’s a paid version which does not leave watermarks, of course, but it, of course, has a price. If you’re just scanning in receipts or billing statements, you may not care about the watermark. (The version I use–the unlimited evaluation version 3.x–uses a very light blue watermark. The 4.x version uses a bold red watermark that’s not easily missed. You may want to try to find the 3.x version.) The reason I like this is that it quickly allows you to rearrange pages in case you got one out of order; or had to rescan a page. It also lets you scan pages and add them to an existing PDF–at the front or the end. Unfortunately, ScanToPDF doesn’t allow you to select multiple pages and save just a subset of the pages as a PDF–just one page or all of them.
I love PDFzilla as a PDF reader. And, yes, it’s free. I think it leaves less of a memory footprint than PDFzilla. And PDFzilla has tabs, just like your favorite Firefox browser or Thunderbird email program.
I hope this has helped!