What is a PDF File? A Simple Tech Guide on What You Need to Know

Did you recently get a PDF file from your boss or teacher and have no idea what it is? Do you know how to open it or how to edit it?

What is a PDF anyway?

We’re here to clear it up for you and explain what a PDF is, why you should care, and how it applies to your work or personal use.

Check out our guide below to understand the basics of a PDF, the different benefits of using this file type, and how to create or edit PDF files.

What Does PDF Mean in Computer Terms?

What is a PDF file? It stands for Portable Document Format and it stands as one of the most commonly used file formats today. You’ve probably encountered a PDF numerous times before, in school, at work, or when applying for something online. 

At the most basic definition, a PDF is a type of document file. You can look at it similarly to .docx or .odf files given that PDF files are primarily for notes, books, and magazines. That said, they also feature elements often associated with image files and web files, such as HTML or JPG files. 

These are documents where the layout, images, and fillable forms retain their shape and quality. To further understand this, let’s take a moment to dissect how PDF files work and then how they differentiate from an image file.

But how does PDF work?

It’s easier to think of it this way: say you have a .docx file. The only way someone else can open it is if they have MS Word too. Otherwise, they’ll need a Word processor that can read and convert .docx files into something they can read. 

PDF files don’t have this struggle. 

Anyone can open a PDF file, even if they have different apps. You can open and edit a PDF with Adobe Acrobat, Foxit, Nitro Reader, and many others.

PDF readers are notoriously lightweight and often free, meaning people you send a PDF to don’t have to pay or download a hefty installer to read it.

Differentiating a Computer PDF From a JPG

At first glance, a PDF and a JPG file can seem similar. However, there are a few key differences. 

A JPG file is a compressed graphic file. It’s static and every element of the file is a pixel. The compression also means you lose image quality but in return, you reduce the overall file size. 

JPG files don’t feature interactive elements. You have to take the whole thing as a flat, static graphic. 

PDF files, on the other hand, retain the original layout and images without a drop in quality. However, they offer more than a high-quality replica — they also allow the creator or someone with editing authority to scale images, fill up forms, and add digital signatures. In many ways, a PDF is like merging an editable document and an image into one.

What is a PDF For?

PDF files are more versatile than static images and they have a wide range of apps that can open and edit them. That’s great but what is a PDF file used for?

Offices and schools use them the most. Whenever your business needs to email documents to every employee, they will likely send the file as a PDF instead of an image or .docx file.

A JPG might be too large to send, especially if there are too many files to give out, and compressing it further might reduce the quality and make the words unreadable. A .docx file is susceptible to alterations and not everyone in the company might have MS Office to read it.

If they use a different Word processor, say Google Docs or LibreOffice, the format might change and make things even more confusing.

With a PDF file, every employee gets to see the file as it was originally designed, meaning no jumbling of the format or layout and no loss in image quality. If the business also needs people to send the file back but with information filled in, a PDF allows it. You can create a PDF file with fillable forms, meaning someone can type in information directly onto the PDF.

Using and Creating PDF Files

Since they’re so useful, how do you create a PDF file? There are multiple ways and we’ll tackle each one below.

The most common method is to start with a traditional Word processor, such as MS Word or Google Docs. Work on it as you normally would, laying out the text and images, and then saving it as a PDF. You can even use MS Word to add fillable forms into the document.

If you run on Windows 10, you can convert documents into a PDF, even a web page. Simply open the file, hit ctrl+P to print, and instead of connecting to a printer select “save as PDF” from the options. 

Some programs also allow you to save PDF files natively, even when they aren’t document processors. A few great examples include Adobe Photoshop and Adobe InDesign. The latter, in particular, is the best tool to make native PDF files since it’s an app meant for magazine or web page lay-outing. 

You can also find dedicated PDF apps for mobile and a Mac PDF editor for Apple users too. Even though all these tools are different, the result is a PDF file everyone can view with no formatting issues.

There are also conversion tools you can use. These are a little rough around the edges but you can rely on them to make a JPG file into a basic PDF and vice-versa.

Take Advantage of PDFs Now

What is a PDF file? It’s the most versatile type of document file you should start using today! It guarantees readers won’t lose the original format, image quality, or fillable forms no matter which reader they use.

Looking for more tips regarding PDFs or other document file types? Feel free to read our other articles here to get all the tips and tricks you’ll ever need. You might discover the right guide for your specific needs, today!

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.