If you’re going paperless you’ll need a quick, easy way to create and edit PDF (Portable Document Format) files. Adobe Acrobat Professional will do a great job on both counts and is arguably the easiest to use — and at $400 per user, it should be! If you’re willing to put up with a little less convenience and “polish,” try one of these alternatives.

Creating PDF Files

There are tons of free “.PDF printers” available for download. Once installed, creating a PDF from your office, accounting, or CAD application is as simple as hitting “print” and selecting it from your list of installed printers. The best of the free PDF printers is the open-source PDF Creator Pro: It has small PDF file size, accurate reproduction of line weights and hatch patterns in CAD, and consistent formatting in Microsoft Office files.

In addition to looking good on-screen at various zoom levels, when you print a PDF onto paper, it should look identical to what you’d get if you were printing from the original CAD or Office application.

Beware: There are dozens of copy-cat PDF products. Some produce terrible output, while others are outright malware. Download from http://sourceforge.net/projects/pdfcreator/ and you won’t have any problems except for the pop-up toward the end of the installation asking you to replace your search engine and install a “toolbar” you don’t need. Click “Decline” to complete the installation.

Editing PDFs

PDF Creator Pro downloads with an add-on called PDF Architect that allows you to reorder the pages in a multi-page PDF file. That kind of “editing” is easy to come by for free, but if you need true editing — the ability to replace text or images in your PDF files — you have to spend a few dollars:

Foxit : Their full line of PDF products ranges from a free reader to Foxit Business ($127), which is similar to Adobe Acrobat Standard; $85 gets you the Advanced Editor edition, which can edit text and images in a PDF file.

Nuance: My personal favorite of this bunch, PDF Converter Pro ($99), allows you to fully edit PDFs as well as do round-trip conversion to/from the Microsoft Office formats.

Bluebeam Revu: At $180, it’s the most expensive of the “alternatives” but has the best markup/redline tools for working with CAD drawing files.

Joe Stoddard helps remodelers find success with their technology. jstoddard@mountainconsulting.com

More REMODELING articles about PDFs and office software:

Happy (Paper) Trails: Going paperless in your office

Virtual Ease: Using 3-D PDFs to convey design ideas to clients