Do PDF files always look the same? Yes and No…

The legendary king of all file formats!

Do PDF files always look the same? Yes and No…

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 free printable 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!

What is a PDF?

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. Most of them have as many features as the original Adobe software. The PDF has truly transformed the Internet and encourages fast and easy sharing, collaboration and printing around the world.

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 ensures that the digital proof shown to our customers will look exactly the same when we print it.

Don’t be fooled by sneaky markups!

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.

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! 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. However, there is high demand for these collaboration tools. 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 a file like this 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.

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

After these settings are properly selected, hit Print. Adobe PDF will show you a Save dialog where you can rename the file 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 allows Postalocity to read and render everything exactly as it is in your file.

We 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.


By Esther Hoffman, Postalocity Expert & Customer Support / Published MARCH 31ST, 2021


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