What Is a PDF? A Basic Understanding of PDFs and How to Use Them

If you’ve spent any amount of time preparing or reading documents on your computer or virtually any digital device, then chances are that you’ve come across the term “PDF”. However, just because you’ve seen this ubiquitous term doesn’t mean that anyone’s ever taken the time to explain to you what it means.

In this article, we’ll remedy that. We’ll teach you the answer to the question of what is a PDF and show you the different things that you can do with a PDF that you may have previously never known.

What is a PDF?

The question “what does PDF stand for” is one that commonly arises. The answer to what does PDF mean is Portable Document Format. In essence, PDF refers to a specific file type that is used for digital documents.

The PDF file type was developed by Adobe for an originally singular purpose: viewing.

Think about it this way. Generally, with any other document file type (.doc or .docx, for instance), you will need a special program to open the document. The .doc files can only be opened with Microsoft Word. Without Microsoft Word on the computer, a user cannot view the document. And since Word is a fully-featured document editing tool that’s part of the Microsoft Office suite, it costs a premium.

If you want the documents you create to be accessible by all, then you should save them as a .pdf. Because PDF files can be accessed without a specific viewing program, but can even be opened in your web browser, they are far more accessible to the general public.

Why Use PDFs?

So why not use any other file type for document viewing that doesn’t require a special program? For instance, one can create .txt or .html documents that can be opened up in web browsers or text editors, programs that virtually all computers have at no additional fee.

The principal advantage that PDF files hold over those file types, however, is that they can retain formatting. Thus, they can be far easier to read. They can follow specific margins, font types, page orientation and size, etc.. None of those formatting rules will typically be preserved with any other file type.

All of this doesn’t come at the cost of much extra space. Although PDF files do take up a little more space than their .txt and .html contemporaries, that margin is minimal. And if you have used a tool to compress the PDF beforehand, then the added file size becomes even more inconsequential (read more about how to compress a PDF).

Portable Document Format

Now that you know the answer to the question of what is a PDF, you have a much better handle on why you should use it for all the documents that you send out. If you want your material to be accessible to all users while preserving formatting, a PDF file is the way to go.

For more technical advice, be sure to check out the rest of the website!

Adam Hansen