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Making PDF files

By Ashok Argent-Katwala

This is to help people make their own PDF files, particularly from academic papers - we also have a little help for people having trouble reading PDF files.

LaTeX / converting from DVI

Providing you've got well-produced (extended, or otherwise) postscript figures you should be able to produce beautiful PDF files without any fuss at all using dvipdfm. dvipdfm foo will produce foo.pdf from foo.dvi and any files it depends upon.

Watch out for errors caused by sloppy postscript files. I've only seen this from an EPS produced by Visio, where the diagram worked in some places but not in others.

Please, avoid using dvips then ps2pdf other than as a last resort. It tends to produce documents that look dreadful on-screen in various versions of Adobe's acrobat reader.

There is also the pdfTeX package, which I've used sucessfully in the past. You put more declarations in the TeX source, which gets conditionally applied with some #define-style processing. You may find this ugly or delightful. All-in it's more hassle than converting the dvi directly, with the benefit of finer control.

Word documents

My current (July 2006) best advice, for a public document, is to get PDFOnline to convert it for you. You upload the file and they mail you a PDF. I haven't yet been sent a Word file it didn't sort out (and I get sent some nasty Word files).

In Jan 2004, CSG suggested using a Mac, but I don't know which version they were referring to:

Microsoft Word on one of the Macs in the lab is your best bet. They output very nice PDF.

Failing that, Adobe's Distiller (which is a commercial package) may be your best bet. Later versions integrate well with Word and produce pretty documents. The few times I have needed to do this I have also needed to use Adobe Acrobat (the full, expensive package, not the free-gratis Acrobat Reader) to tweak things afterwards. You may have some trouble with large documents, especially those with large or complex figures. The fastest route I've found then is to make single page PDF files of the complex pages and the use Acrobat's page-replace or page-insert features to switch them in to the final PDF files. Acrobat seems a lot more stable working with the big document than the combination of Word and Distiller. (This is all quite subjective, and based on experiences using a first-generation clamshell Apple iBook in about 2001. Your mileage may vary).


Further contributions to this page would be appreciated. Please send them to Ashok.