The double-edged sword of editable PDFs

Paul Brand

Creative Artworker

Posted on May 31, 2016

With print declining as rapidly as digital communication grows, many companies are now embracing the PDF format in new ways. Creating and sharing online PDFs with consumers can save a business thousands in print costs and is a good way of committing to greener business practices.

Because they’re so much easier to update and replace with fresh content, PDFs are helping businesses keep pace with product and industry developments, and meet their customers’ changing needs more creatively.

At Talisman, we regularly produce high-quality PDF artwork for our clients in the financial sector and so have been well-placed to watch their changing use and potential. Some problems have been solved, but in their place, new challenges and pain points have arisen.

We’d like to share with you some of the traditional problems of PDF editing, outline some of the solutions and opportunities now available to businesses, and flag up some of the newer issues you might come across.

The problem

In the past, when clients needed to make an alteration to a PDF document, they’d need to ask their agency to rework the artwork files for them. New, low-resolution PDFs would need to be supplied and checked before final versions were created, and if further changes were needed, the whole cycle would have to begin again.

Unsurprisingly, this meant a high degree of cost and time investment in producing PDFs well. That was until the technology changed.

Adobe’s three readily-available versions of their software now allow much freer use of PDF files, starting with Acrobat Reader, which is free, through to the monthly subscription package of Acrobat Pro.

However, to avoid regular frustration and to expand your opportunity to develop PDF usage, it’s worth evaluating whether you’re using the right software package for your business. Acrobat Reader may have been doing the job up until now, but if you want to use PDFs to their full potential, now’s the time to upgrade.

The right Adobe product

Adobe offers a side-by-side comparison of their products here, but here’s our quick low-down of the options to choose from:

Adobe Acrobat Reader DC

Adobe Acrobat Reader DC software is free and the trusted default for viewing, printing, signing, and annotating PDFs. Compared to other PDF viewers, it’s the only one compatible with all types of PDF content, including forms and multimedia files. Like all the Adobe products, it’s also connected to the Adobe Document Cloud, letting you save and work on PDFs on both computers and mobile devices. The option to unlock some basic premium features enables you to upgrade at manageable cost when needed but, unsurprisingly for a free version, its functionality is limited.

Adobe Acrobat Standard DC

The standard package will begin to cost you a monthly subscription fee but opens up the ability to create PDFs from almost any source, edit text and images, and export PDFs into Microsoft Office programmes to allow for cleaner reformatting.  It also introduces the functionality of PDF forms, enabling you to create ‘fillable’ PDFs that allow you or your customers to input information to collate or share data.

Adobe Acrobat Pro DC

For just a small additional cost, Acrobat Pro offers full functionality to help bypass almost every PDF challenge you’ll come across. This includes the ability to scan documents and then edit their content digitally, which is remarkably useful.

It’s the only version compatible with Mac OS X, and the version that allows you to add your own audio, video, and other multimedia elements.

Significantly, Acrobat Pro also allows you to compare two versions of a document to see what’s changed. And that, as we’re about to outline, can prove essential to a smooth project delivery.

One easy way to reduce PDF stress

Gaining the ability to edit PDFs – even if that’s just changing a sentence, colour of the headline or replacing an image – has been great for businesses. Money and time are saved because you can do more yourself.

However, it’s also flagged up a new set of issues. When multiple people are working on a project and decide to make changes, passing on new versions for additional reworking, the artwork and design can begin to suffer. This is especially problematic for agencies and design departments: making PDFs editable by other people essentially means that you can quickly lose control of the project.

It can become difficult to see what’s changed and what hasn’t, which sections have already been checked,which are new, and which require copy to be reflowed throughout the document.

To save a lot of time, using the ‘compare pdf’ feature of Acrobat Pro will let you see exactly what has changed between the two documents and show you where to focus your efforts.

You can do this within Acrobat Pro by using the following process:

1 – Open your latest pdf (Studio document.pdf) in Acrobat Pro.

2 – In Acrobat, in the top menu option list, go to View and then drop down to compare documents, you should see the following window.

Editing PDFs

3 – Under the heading To (newer document) go to the choose button and search and select the supplied pdf from your client (Client document.pdf).

Editable PDFs

4 – Under Document Description select the Reports, spreadsheets, magazine layouts and keep the compare text only ticked.

Comparing PDFs

Click on the OK Acrobat will produce a pdf that compares the two files.

PDF Comparison

Save your compare file for reference. It’ll now be much simpler to work your way through and make relevant checks and amends to the master document.

In summary

The new ability to edit PDFs is a breath of fresh air for businesses. It’s helping clients unlock the potential to create and use PDFs to share great content, including interactive PDFs, cut costs and reduce their carbon footprint.

But as with all things, using software well is key. It’s worth being wary that your team’s new-found freedom to edit won’t begin to cause unnecessary confusion and hold-ups, and that everyone involved in the project has access to the right level software for your needs.