What is a PDF file?

4 March 2024By Alice

PDF is one of the most used file formats ever, and it was created to allow documents to be shared and accessed while keeping their contents intact. Read this article to find out how to open, create, edit and convert your PDF file.

What is a PDF file?

How did PDFs come about?

PDF stands for Portable Document Format. It’s 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 idea for PDFs came from the need to share documents across different computer systems without losing the formatting or layout of the original document. Before PDFs, sharing documents across different systems often resulted in formatting issues, as different systems used different fonts and formatting methods. Adobe developed PDFs to solve this problem by creating a universal format.

Pros and cons of the format

There are several reasons why someone might prefer PDFs over other file types:

  • Universal Compatibility: PDFs can be opened and viewed on any system, regardless of the software or hardware. This makes them an ideal format for sharing documents across different systems.
  • Preservation of Formatting: PDFs preserve the formatting and layout of the original document, including fonts, images, and colours. This ensures that the document looks the same on any system.
  • Security: PDFs can be encrypted and password-protected, making them a secure format for sharing sensitive documents.
  • Interactive Elements: PDFs can contain interactive elements, such as hyperlinks, buttons, and forms, making them a versatile format for a wide range of documents.
  • Printable: PDFs can be easily printed, making them a convenient format for documents that need to be printed.
  • Digital Signatures: PDFs can be digitally signed, making them a secure format for signing documents electronically.

Although we have to consider some downsides of this format:

Converting documents from PDF to other formats, such as MS Word or plain text, can lead to formatting challenges. The intricate layouts, fonts, and images may not translate accurately, necessitating manual adjustments and consuming valuable time.

Editing PDFs poses a challenge due to their focus on preserving the original layout and formatting. This preservation makes it difficult to make quick modifications without specialized software, resulting in frustration and the need to convert to an editable format beforehand.

Compatibility issues may occur when different software versions interact with PDF documents. The latest PDF features may not be supported by older readers, leading to potential rendering problems.

Extracting data from PDFs, like tables or forms, isn’t always straightforward. This limitation restricts their utility for advanced purposes, often requiring manual data entry or additional software tools for automated processing.

How to open a PDF?

Opening a PDF file is very easy. If you have already downloaded the document on your PC, you can decide whether to open it with an apposite program or to display it on a web page, but nowadays most browsers will open the file in a new window, so you don’t need to install any PDF viewer. This means that if you need to view a PDF file found on the web, you will not necessarily need to download it to your computer in order to view it, which saves time and space.

If your computer is already old enough though, you might consider getting a PDF reader. Adobe – the creator of PDF files – offers the native software Acrobat Reader, that obviously works splendidly with this format, but whose additional options are mostly chargeable.

There are thousand of other options, the most used ones being SumatraPDF, LightPDF and Nuance PDF reader.

ONLYOFFICE provides a free PDF editor that allows you to open and read your files, both online and offline: decide whether to download the editor on your PC or to work directly in ONLYOFFICE DocSpace.

What is a PDF file?

How to edit a PDF?

As we said before, PDFs are mostly meant to be read and shared, but sometimes you might need to edit a file to fill out forms, sign the document, underline part of the text and so on. In order to do so, there are some solutions that can help you.

Again, Adobe’s Acrobat can perform all the tasks, but the program is quite pricey when it comes to buying extra features.

Canva is another popular website, as well as Sejda PDF editor and PDFgear.

ONLYOFFICE PDF editor is a valid alternative that allows you to highlight, underline and cross out text, leave comments and draw directly on your PDF. In this editor it is also possible to fill in ready PDF forms.

What is a PDF file?

Creating from scratch

Creating a PDF is easy and there are different ways to do it, depending on the editor and the device you are using.

Let us look at an example with the help of the ONLYOFFICE document editor.

The easiest way is to save the document as a PDF by clicking on the tab File -> Save as -> PDF.

What is a PDF file?

The second method can be useful not only when working in editors, but also when you want to download a document from the Internet, and that is the print method.

What is a PDF file?

In the File tab we click on Print and then on Print to PDF. When in a browser, click on the printer icon and then on Destination -> Save as PDF.

How to use fillable forms in PDF?

You might want to create a PDF form so people can fill in their information for different purposes. ONLYOFFICE Docs provides a PDF forms generator that can help you easily and quickly create them. Let’s see how to do it.

In the editor, choose Create new PDF form.

Once the document is open, create a text layout of the document, then add the fillable form that you find in the toolbar in the Forms tab.How to create a fillable form in PDF

Once you have added a field, you will see fields properties on the right sidebar. Here you can adjust the parameters to determine which type of text (or only digits) may be entered in the fields.

How to create a fillable form in PDF

When the document is ready, save it as PDF. In the toolbar you will find this option to make the process easier.

We invite you to watch this video about the latest version of ONLYOFFICE, in which the very function we just talked about was added.

How to convert PDF files?

As we have seen with the example of the ONLYOFFICE Editor, creating a PDF file from a text document is very simple; simply save the file in the required format and you’re done. However, doing the opposite, i.e. converting a PDF into a DOCX text document, is not an immediate process, as PDFs contain elements that may not remain intact.

There are special tools that allow you to convert PDF to DOCX without risk and while retaining the formatting. Some of these are the native Adobe Acrobat, PDFelement, Xodo and many others.

In addition to the PDF editor already mentioned, ONLYOFFICE has a completely free online converter in which you can turn DOCX documents into PDFs and vice versa.

What is a PDF file?

How to password protect a PDF? 

As we said in the beginning, PDF files can be encrypted and password protected for added security, a function extremely useful (and necessary) for those people who must share confidential information and do not want it to fall into the wrong hands. Once the password is set, both you and person who receives your file can open the document only by entering this code.

Let’s see how to password protect a PDF using ONLYOFFICE Desktop Editors.

First of all, open the file you want to protect.

What is a PDF file?

Then click on File -> Protect -> Add password.

What is a PDF file?

Enter the password you want, enter it again in the lower field, then click OK.

What is a PDF file?

You have set the password. Next time you open the file, you will be asked to enter the code. If you want, you can change it or delete it in File -> Protect -> Change password/Delete password, but you will have to enter the old one first. If you forget the password, you won’t be able to access the file anymore.

What is a PDF file?

Now you know more about the PDF format, what it is, when and why to use it and how to create one. If you need to work with this format, you can use the tools provided by the ONLYOFFICE Editors right now.