Why send a PDF and not just a Word document?

Why send a PDF and not just a Word document?

Here is a problem straight from my office desk.  I received an announcement/ad that will run in next month’s newspaper (The Baptist Record).  Normally, I am responsible for the design and look of each ad that goes into my work; but this time the secretary saved me some effort and decided to design the announcement herself.  Using Microsoft Word, she did a simple layout and emailed me the design.

Why is this bad?  Well, lets have a look at how the design looks on her compute vs. how it looks on my computer…


The design on their computer screen

The design on MY computer screen

Ever had this problem?  Most people aren’t aware of it because they always print their stuff from their computer.  However, when you are working with another person (on a different computer) it’s a common problem that a layout will change.  Sometimes drastically. Fonts can be different, text boxes resized, margins adjusted, styles are altered, and pages can be added.


When working with a client or designer who uses Word (or PowerPoint, Publisher, etc.) to design their work, you must be mindful: What they see is not what you get! That’s just how this software operates.


Is there a solution to this problem?  Technically, no.  Microsoft Word was never intended to be professional “design software.”  At its core, Word is just a simple typing program that makes typesetting easy for anyone.  As a trade-off for this “ease of use”, Word makes it difficult for designs to be compatible with other computers.


So, if that funky font you used for a headline isn’t on your friend’s computer; then Word will just pick another font that’s similar to how it looks. In doing so, it will throw off how all the other text is displayed as well.  You could spend hours setting text boxes and aligning type; only to find that the “default margins” on your friends printer are .25 inches smaller than yours.


Before you burst into tears, there is a work-around solution that most printers and designers prefer: the PDF!

The PDF (which stands for Portable Document Format) attempts to solve this problem by saving your files (and all it’s images, fonts, styles, layouts, and data) in a format that is exactly the same on any computer.  Most printers adopt this wonderful format as the file type of choice for printing.  The design you see on your computer, when saved as a PDF, will be the same on any other computer (usually).


How to save your document as a PDF?

First, make sure that you have a “Save to PDF” add-in installed on your computer.  You can get it here.


Next, it’s a simple matter of choosing the PDF format when saving your work.  This will create a PDF document that can be emailed or printed by anyone from his or her PDF Reader.

There’s just one catch however …  When you create a PDF, this document can’t be opened by Word.  This means that it can’t be edited either.  What you see has been “set in stone”.  So, be sure that what you send to a printer or designer is exactly how you want it to look.  They will not be able to edit your document (unless they recreate the whole thing!).

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