PDF: still a great way to securely share your documents

There is a lot of talk in these and other pages about the use of the 'ePub' and other ebook formats formats to get your book onto the digital market. However there will be times when you don't want to go to any trouble: you just want to share a document, ideally with some level of security to prevent it being easily duplicated.

In these cases the good old-fashioned PDF file may well be your answer. PDFs have a number of advantages for quick and easy sharing:

  • They are easy to create from any application's 'print' menu.
  • They can be read on virtually any computer, tablet or smartphone, no matter the operating system, and normally without the reader having to install additional software.
  • They replicate the formatting and layout of your document, no matter what sort of device the recipient chooses to read it on.
  • While not absolutely bullet proof, they can be made secure in a number of ways.
  • They are often smaller files than their word processor equivalents.

The PDF is as close as you will get to a 'digital photocopy'.

Creating a PDF

Creating a PDF varies a little depending on your computer's operating system.

On a Mac, the ability to create PDFs is built in. When you go to print any document, the print dialog box includes a button (normally at bottom left) marked, well, 'PDF'. Clicking this button reveals a number of options but the simplest is just 'Save as PDF...'. Select that and you will have the opportunity to indicate where you want your PDF file to be saved. (Read more here.)

On a PC, you can achieve a similar result from within some individual applications, but you will need to install a piece of third-party software in some cases. Some of these, including Adobe Acrobat Pro, are expensive. However there are at least two free options: CutePDF Writer and PDFCreator. These install in your system as a virtual printer. (There is a good rundown on this webpage using CutePDF Writer.)

Securing a PDF

The PDF file format has a number of security options built into it, provided your PDF creation tool supports them. The commonly available options are:

  • You can password protect the document, meaning that the recipient will need to enter a password (provided by you) in order to open it at all.
  • You can prevent the document from being printed without a password.
  • You can prevent text being selected and copied without a password.

Whichever of these features you choose to use, they need to be set at the point of PDF creation. For instance, on the Mac you choose these settings at the time of 'printing' to a PDF. On Windows it will depend on your PDF creation program.

The PDF format has been in wide usage almost as long as the personal computer has been with us. Like some of us, it may be getting older ... but that doesn't mean it's lost its usefulness!

As usual, if you have any questions or comments, please contact me directly, via our Facebook page or in the comments below.

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