The legendary king of all file formats!

Let’s start with a quick thought experiment.

When your boss needs you to sign a form, does she send you a Word document? Probably not.

And when your favorite blogger offers up a really cute printable for free download, is it a JPG picture? Unlikely.

How about that short story your friend wrote and released as an ebook. Did you download the .ePub version? Doubtful.

What file would you expect to get instead? A PDF, of course!

The PDF, short for Portable Document Format, is the gold standard for publishing files to share with many different people while preserving the original formatting. A single PDF can be opened on Mac or PC, Android or iPhone, Chromebook or Kindle, and you can rest assured that the file will look identical on all four, without even a minor variation. That is the magic of the PDF.

Originally code-named “Camelot,” the PDF format was created by Adobe in the early 1990s as the follow-up to PostScript technology. PDF slowly and steadily gained popularity and usefulness in its first decade. But everything changed in 2007, when PDF transformed from a proprietary technology to an official ISO standardized technology. Standardization allowed the PDF to truly become universal, ubiquitous, and budget-friendly. Thanks to standardization, there are now hundreds of free PDF readers and PDF printers available, and most of them have as many features as the original Adobe software. The PDF has truly transformed the Internet and helped to encourage fast and easy sharing, collaboration and printing around the world.

So it’s no wonder that Postalocity chose PDF as the default format for job files. There is simply no other format that meets our high standard of consistency. No other file format can ensure that the digital proof shown to our customers will look exactly the same when we print and mail it.

Don’t be fooled by sneaky markups!

But here’s a shocking fact you may not know: Some PDF files will look very different when you print or send them. Sometimes entire pages of text and images will appear blank. More often, it is the form data that disappears. The PDF may look fine at first glance, but look closely for the information in those little form fields, because it may not be visible or it may look strange. This is a problem when you need your saved PDF to look the same way forever.

What’s going on here? What happened to that magic international standard?

These problem PDF files have a secret: Something *gasp* proprietary was added to these files, and the addition was saved as a markup, separate from the actual file! You see, many tools people use for collaboration, like fillable forms, aren’t in the ISO standard. PDF standards just don’t include markups such as comments, annotations, fillable forms, signatures, or variable data merging. But there is high demand for these collaboration tools, so Adobe Acrobat and many alternate PDF creators provide proprietary tools and allow for third party plugins. When the PDF is saved normally, these proprietary objects, images and fields are “packaged with” the file, but not “embedded in” the file. And when a file with this markup package is opened by someone without the same proprietary tools, the markup can change or disappear.

Uploading one of these marked-up files to Postalocity will give you similar results. Since Postalocity can only read the actual PDF, those un-embedded markups won’t show up properly, or won’t show up at all.

PDF Printing to the rescue!

How do we fix this unwanted markup problem? We simply rely on one of PDF’s greatest strengths: its printer! PDFs are designed to embed and compress all text, fonts and images inside the file while being printed to ensure that the printed page looks exactly like the original version. So all markups packaged with a pdf can be embedded into the actual file by “printing” it using a PDF printer that creates a new PDF file.

If you don’t have access to Adobe PDF as a printer, there are many other PDF printers that also give you the option to embed fonts and markup while printing the file. If you do have Adobe Acrobat and can choose Adobe PDF, you’ll want to change your print settings to match the highlighted sections in the image below.

First make sure that “Document and Markups” is selected in the Comments & Forms section, and then go into Properties right at the top of the print menu. Then go to the Adobe PDF Settings tab and uncheck the box for “Rely on system fonts only.” When this box is not checked, this forces Adobe PDF to embed all fonts.

After these settings are properly selected, hit Print and Adobe PDF will show you a Save dialog where you can rename the file if you like, or overwrite your existing file. This new file will no longer have markup, as all text, fonts, and images in the markup will be flattened and embedded into the PDF.  This will allow Postalocity to read and render everything exactly as it is in your file.

We certainly hope you learned something new about PDF files today. If you’d like to know more about how Postalocity uses PDF files, feel free to contact us with your questions.


Written By:

Esther Hoffman

Postalocity Expert & Customer Support

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