PDF Tools and Techniques Page

This page will host a discussion of various PDF techniques and tools, pros & cons, cost, etc.


If you have more time on your hands than you know what to do with, AND you'd like to know more about a lot of the PDF software out there, check out the Wikipedia article here. It covers software that converts, creates, edits, and views PDFs, in flavors available for more operating systems than you knew existed. If this isn't enough for you, there's yet another list of PDF software here in the Open Directory Project. Have fun.

Quick Links to discussions on this page.

Background: What is PDF?



Printing to PDF | Reducing A PDF File's Size |Merging PDF Pages to One File | Fixing Different Page Sizes | Getting Scans Aligned | Reordering Pages in A PDF



Acrobat Reader | Acrobat Paid Versions | Foxit Reader vs. Acrobat Reader | PDFill | Nitro PDF | Tool for MAX Files | Orpalis PDF Reducer




PDF means "Portable Document Format," and was invented by Adobe, who made the specification available for free in 1993. However, they kept the format proprietary until 2008, when they officially released it as an open standard. (Ref.)


PDF files are a way to combine images and computer-searchable text into a single document that is readable no matter what kind of computer you have. It allows you to include scanned paper documents or printable computer files into a single package (think electronic paper) that you can then share with any other computer user (hence the "Portable" in the name).


The main advantage of using PDF files is that they look and print the same no matter what platform (computer, operating system) you're using.





Printing To PDF

On a Mac, you can do this natively (update - even in Finale). Simply open your print dialog (File/Print or Command-P), as you do for a normal printing procedure, and select the "PDF" button in the lower left corner of the dialog. Thanks to some sharp-eyed group members, we now know if you're running Finale on a Mac, this option is available.


On a PC, you'll need to install PDF printing software. This software installs as a printer on your system, so when you elect to print a document, the PDF printer appears as one of your available printers. Simply select the PDF printer, click OK, and you'll get a dialog asking where to save the resulting PDF file.


For PCs, PDF printing software used and recommended by our members includes PDFill Writer (free), PrimoPDF (free), and Adobe Acrobat (expensive). We will add more programs as we receive submissions about them.


In LINUX, you may not need to install software. In a 2009 blog posting, the author says all you need to do is choose the "Print To File" option in the print dialog box, and select the PDF option. (Verification of this needed. Any LINUX users reading this?)

Reducing a File's Size

A Group member asked (in February 2012) how to reduce the size of his PDF file in Acrobat. He said the file was 10MB and that was way too big. This is the answer posted on the board:


Here's what I did to reduce a PDF file size using Acrobat Pro: (updated April 2015)


NOTE: Please see the comparison to PDFill immediately following this.


I started with a PDF of "Elephantine Polka" (a tuba solo with concert band) downloaded from BandmusicPDF.org (it's in the public domain) and merged the modern piccolo and horn parts that someone else had created. The resulting size of the merged file was


16.452 kb (just over 16MB)


1. Opening the file in Adobe Acrobat Pro, I went to TOOLS > Print Production > Distiller: selected "Smallest File Size." This changed the settings for the next output operation.


2. Then I went to TOOLS > Print Production > Preflight: There I selected the option to convert all colors to greyscale.


3. Next, I went to TOOLS > Document Processing > Optimize Scanned PDF: There I selected All Pages, and set the filters to Deskew: On; Background Removal: Medium; Descreen: On; and Text Sharpening: Medium. When I told it to optimize, it said it found a page that was already optimized and did I want to continue anyway? I said yes, do that for all pages.


4. I then saved the file as PDF, under a modified name. The resulting file size was


1,935 kb


or a reduction to just under 12% of the original file size.


How well this works on other files probably will depend on how bloated they are to begin with. If you applied these techniques to an already reduced-size file, it probably wouldn't have any effect.

I tried several other manipulations in Acrobat, but was unable to get the file smaller.


After this, I tried several other manipulations in Acrobat, but wasn't able to get the file any smaller, except once by accident, I got it down to about 1,130 kb, but unfortunately, I don't remember what I did.


I did look at all the files after each save, and can confirm each was as legible as the others.


UPDATE (May 20, 2015):

Got a Ted Heath file from David C. Here are the file sizes at various stages of size reduction:

Original file:                                 10.1MB
After following procedures above:  7.1 MB
Then saving as "Reduced Size PDF": 2.7 MB
(I then tried printing it to a B&W PDF, but the size increased to 3.3 MB)



I used PDFill's OPTIMIZER on the merged file mentioned above, and it went from an original size of 16,452kb to a size of 27,363kb. I may have done something wrong, but I followed the instructions on their website. Based on this, I cannot recommend PDFill for this purpose.


Here's another way to reduce a file's size (thanks to Al L): open in Foxit Reader and print as a black & white PDF.


I just (April 2015) performed a test on Foxit Reader (actually, the Foxit Reader Printer). Here are the results:


I took the bloated, 27MB file mentioned above and opened it in Foxit Reader. From there I selected PRINT and selected the Foxit Reader Printer. In the print dialog, I selected: Compress images using lossy algorithm; Color: B&W; Image resolution: 300. The resulting file size was


18,119 kb


A noticeable size reduction, but nothing to play a fanfare about.


I then opened the 1.9MB file (the result of the Acrobat test above) in Acrobat, selected PRINT, then selected the Foxit Reader Printer. I used the same print settings as the previous test. The resulting file size was


3,899 kb


or a doubling of the original file size.


Looks like Acrobat is still the winner.



There's another free tool available called Orpalis PDF Reducer. Member Bob Dworak reports it works quite well, but other member offer some cautions. Here is some of the discussion from group members:


I did a quick and nasty test on the free version of Orpalis PDF Reducer. I started with a very bloated pdf of "Central Park West." (He produced) the following test files: (View the files by clicking the links)


Central Park North -test-original.pdf - the original page with nothing done to it (882 KB)

Central Park North -test- PSEelements.pdf - page with a little Levels adjustment and reinforcement in PhotoShop Elements (306 KB).

Central Park North --test - original Acrobat optscan.pdf - page with Adobe Acrobat Optimize Scanned PDF applied (149 KB)

Central Park North -test- Orpalis free.pdf - (33KB)


I could probably make the PhotoShop Elements page smaller and improve the quality, but it would take time. The quality of the Orpalis-treated file is pretty good, and the file size is a clear winner.


Orpalis Free is not terribly user-friendly, but the results make it worth fiddling with. If I didn't already have Acrobat, I would buy that before I bought the pro version of Orpalis, but for free it's definitely worth at least a try. I would like to hear what other people think, since it's hard to make a judgement from this test on one original pdf.


Bob Dworak



For what it's worth I don't see the benefit of compressing these files so dramatically to save one megabyte of space. The original has smooth lines and is printable. The end result after all that compression is a jaggly mess that's only really suitable as the basis for a restoration.


Hard drive space keeps getting cheaper and bandwidth gets greater (not as fast as any of us would like).


Think about the situation 10 years or 20 years from now - wouldn't it be nice to have good quality versions of these charts available for the next generation to use?



Dave Lang


If that program produces jaggy lines then it's worthless. Acrobat will optimize and 11mb pdf to less than 1mb without making the file unusable. Yesterday I tried to send the group a before & after, but the 11mb was too big. Here is the 'after' (one page of it), I think it's very usable. There's also two heavier compression setting than this one. I've used the next setting also and it also looked reasonably good.


I realize that Acrobat is very expensive, but maybe there's an older version available or another program that can do a decent job.


Clark Gault


The bottom line is if you want REALLY small files, try this software; but if you want higher quality, you might be better comparing the samples in the links above and perhaps sticking with Acrobat or similar.


NOTICE ABOUT SOURCES FOR ACROBAT: Lots of people are saying Adobe Acrobat is too expensive. Well, if you buy the brand new version, it probably is. However, there are two things you need to be aware of: First Adobe has now gone totally to the SUBSCRIPTION sales model. As far as I know, they no longer sell their products outright - they only sell "Subscriptions" to them. So you can purchase "the use of" any of their products for about $20 a month, or for ALL of their products for about $50 a month. I don't know if there is any kind of annual commitment, but I don't think there is. The second thing you need to know is there ARE older versions of their software still for sale on the internet.


Here's one way you can find out what's available: (1) Open up a search engine. For this example, I'm using Google. (2) Type in "adobe acrobat -DC -book" and search. The "-DC" eliminates all "Document Cloud" versions from the search results - these are subscription versions, so you should be left mostly with retail versions; and the "-book" element of the search query eliminates anything with "book" or "ebook" from the results. I did this just now (June 2017) and the second listing was Adobe Acrobat Standard version 9 for $80. I also saw Verion 8 Professional for $5.75, Version 9 Professional for $150, and Verion 10 Pro for $250. These are very reasonable prices, and any of them should do what we describe above. The main difference should be the menuing system, so the steps described above might require some searching to duplicate.

Merging Multiple PDFs To One File

Download and install PDFill Tools. Run PDFill Tools. Click the Merge button. Drag all your PDFs into its window. Use the “Move Up” and “Move Down” buttons to put the files in score order. Click “Save As” and save your combined file. (thanks to Al L)

Fixing A File With Widely Differing Page Sizes:

A good way to fix that chart with wildly differing page sizes is to check the “auto fit to printer margins” in Foxit Reader’s print dialog. (thanks to Al L)


If you have a chart that has consistent wrong margins, PDFill Tools has an easy fix. Click “4. Rotate or Crop”, load the document, set the new margins, and then Save As. Faster than you can get your finger off the mouse, it’s finished. Example: a 9.5x12 manuscript was scanned to tabloid size, 11x17. Tell PDFill to make the bottom margin 5 inches and the right margin 1.5 inch and every page will be cropped to 9.5x12. Open that file in your PDF reader, choose Print… and set “Fit to Margins” or some such and the pages will be automagically fitted to 8.5x11 size. (thanks to Al L)

Getting Scans Aligned:

I’ve used Paperport a lot. It came free with my scanner and I suspect lots of others have it too. It takes a while to learn, but it has many options like spot cleanup and instant realignment. (I use the auto-realignment function and it almost always comes out perfect. How does it know? <grin>) (thanks to Al L)


Reordering Pages In A PDF

Frequently, we'll encounter a PDF file with the pages out of order. To put the pages in the proper order, we need to reorder the pages.


On A Mac, do this by opening the PDF in the native "Preview" app. Open the side bar and drag the pages to their proper destination, making sure they don't go outside the highlighted rectangle. Then hit "Save."  Voilà!  That said, it needs to be version 5.03 or greater (possibly 5.0 which I don't have). (Thanks to Bob S)


On A PC, you will need a specific selection from one of the software packages reviewed below. Not all of them allow you to reorder pages. Here are some how-tos from our members using the various programs.(Note, not all of the programs listed in this section have a review in the review section below this. If you (a member) could please submit a review on one of the review-lacking programs, we'll post it here for all to see. Thanks!)


From Arnie G (8 Jul 13): I use Acrobat Pro ($$$), and I have not yet found another alternative that will re-order parts as easily as this program. With Acrobat Pro, you click in the left margin and select "Pages". This splits the screen vertically, with thumbnails of all pages on the left. When you click a page, it appears on the right. To re-order pages, just click and drag.


From Tino G (8 Jul 13): I use pdf split and merge basic (http://www.pdfsam.org)Review Needed. It's a free program java based and you can reorder visually with drag and drop the pages.


From Matt M (8 Jul 13): I use PDF Converter ProReview Needed. It sounds very similar to re-order pages. I click thumbnail view - click and drag. I think I paid around $80 or $90. It is very useful for straightening, cropping and converting in and out of PDF format.


From Jim B (8 Jul 13): Ditto on the Acrobat Pro but here's an alternative I just discovered yesterday - This company sells programs that do specific tricks on pdf files - each program handles just a single specialized function.  They are not catch-alls but the advantage is they are relatively inexpensive (as compared to Acrobat Pro).  For instance, I just bought their pdf nUp module for $27.  This program can recombine single pages into 2 and 4 page layouts.  This allows me to create a pdf file of a chart in a tabloid (11" x 17") size with 2 pages per sheet.  If you have access to a printer that prints this size, you can eliminate having to tape pages together (except for an odd-numbered page)  I have been looking for this capability for years - most commercial programs that do this sell for $500 or more and Acrobat Pro does not do it. (Editor's note: Actually, Acrobat Pro will do that, but it's a bit involved.) Here is the link for their program that allows you to reorder a pdf (also delete, duplicate reverse, etc pages) it is $35.  They have a demo program that only puts a watermark on page 1. http://www.a-pdf.com/page-master/index.htm Review Needed


From Olof L (8 Jul 13): I have used the freeware PdfArchitect (from pdfforge)Review Needed, which allows easy re-ordering of pages (just like in Acrobat Pro). Since I installed Acrobat Pro ($$$!), I still have one use for pdfarchitect: often when Adobe Reader and Acrobat Pro won't open a certain pdf, I can open it in pdfarchitect and save it under a new name. Then there's no problem with the newly saved file in the Adobe programs. But like many free programs, pdfarchitect isn't free from problems. Two minutes ago I tried to open two different Nestico charts in pdfarchitect. The pages seemed to be blank, but when I saved a file and opened it in Adobe Reader, it looked normal. Then I opened an origami instruction on how to fold a cat, and this was all fine in pdfarchitect. Maybe it was due to the smaller file size and lower number of pages of the latter. Or maybe pdfarchitect prefers cats to Sammy Nestico. I don't know. There might be a later version with a fix for this problem, I use


From Martin H (8 Jul 13): I use CutePDF ProfessionalReview Neededhttp://www.cutepdf.com/Products/CutePDF/Pro.asp $49.95, try and buy. No complaints. It works great for what I need.


From Al L (8 Jul 13): Download the free program PDFill. It installs clean and has many functions that make working with PDFs easier. See the image on this page: http://www.pdfill.com/pdf_tools_free.html You click tool #2. Easy, peasey.




Adobe Acrobat Reader

Acrobat Reader is a free download from Adobe; It allows you to open and print most PDF files (those files that allow printing). It's available for Windows, Mac, Android, and Symbian OSs.


However, some members encounter problems with this. See the review below, in the Foxit section..

Adobe Acrobat Standard or Professional

This is NOT a free program. It is, however, the grandaddy of PDF software, and is therefore highly complex, to do along with its high capability. This reviewer has been using it for more than a decade, and still hasn't figured out how to do some of the most simple things. If you already have this program, for example, as part of another package, it will probably do anything you need it to, if you can figure out how. If you don't have this program, which is in version XI as of this writing, it's probably not worth it to go spend about $100 for the standard version or $150 for the standard version (internet prices as of this writing) simply to read, write, clean, combine, and reorder PDF files. You'd be better off spending your time (and no money) learning to use one of the free options below.

Foxit Reader vs. Acrobat Reader

This nice review is from member Al L. Thanks Al!

Adobe Acrobat Reader seems to me to be the worst PDF viewer. Big, sloppy, slow, finicky. I’ve used Foxit Reader for years, another freebie. PDFs open before I can get my finger off the mouse button. Download here. However, every so often I run into a file with special multimedia features that requires Reader so I keep it around, but Foxit is my default viewer!


Foxit Reader runs on Windows, LINUX, or U3 (not sure if this means Mac). This software allows you to view and print PDF files, fill in PDF forms, search for text, add and save comments, split the view into two or four panes, so you can look at different sections of the PDF simultaneously, or convert a PDF to a text file.


PDFill tools, a free download here, allows you to merge, split, reorder, delete, encrypt, decrypt, rotate, crop and reformat PDF pages,  to add information, header, footer and watermark, to convert images to PDF, PDF to images or PostScript to PDF, to delete, flatten and list form fields, to scan to pdf, to create transparent image, and more. Whew! And all for free. No watermarks! No pop-up ads! (Thanks to Al L)

Nitro PDF

This PDF tool comes with both a free and a pro (currently version 8, $120) version.


The free version actually comes in six versions: (1) Nitro Reader, which not only reads but allows you to create PDF files (need a review of this); (2) Word To PDF (online converter); (3) PDF To Word (online converter); (4) PDF To Excel (online converter); (5) Primo PDF (PDF creator, installs as a printer); and (6) PDF Download, a Firefox browser add-in that converts online PDF files to HTML for faster web viewing of online PDF files.


The pro version allows you to read and create PDF files, plus allows you to edit text in a PDF file, do OCR on a PDF file, convert PDF files back and forth between Word and Excel, and combine and manipulate pages in a document.

Tool To Read MAX Files so You Can Convert Them To PDF

Many of our members use or have used Paperport or Visioneer. The default file format when scanning using this software is MAX. Unfortunately, not everyone can read files in the MAX format.


There is a free tool that you can download at http://support.visioneer.com/utilities/viewer.exe that will allow you to open and view MAX files. Once you have opened the file, you can then use any of the above PDF Printer utilities to print the file to PDF. (Thanks to Jerry Z.)


Orpalis PDF Reducer

This tool has a free and a Pro ($199) version. User Bob D. Reports it works quite well, reducing the size of a much-edited file from 8MB to 0.5MB. Bob also reports the new version (2.01 as of his report) is an improvement over the older versions, and the output looks pretty good to him.


More to come as we receive well researched and well-written submissions.

Please click on any of the links at the top of the page for more information on any of the listed topics.