Creating a PDF file

General Information

A .pdf (portable document format) file is a special type of file that is created from another file. This means that you don't write the original file in an application that lets you save the file as a .pdf but instead, you create the file in another application, for example a .doc document using Microsoft Word, and then you convert the .doc file into a .pdf file.

A .pdf can contain almost any type of content and can be read/opened on any computer. In addition to these two advantages, a couple of others are that .pdf files keep the formatting of a document no matter which computer or operating system is used to open them (which is not the case for a Microsoft Word file for example), and that unless you have special commercial software, you cannot modify a .pdf file once it has been created.

All of the above features make the .pdf format the best option to use when sending a file to someone else (unless of course that other person needs to modify the file that you are sending!).


Creating a .pdf file

The software to create a .pdf file is commercial and generally quite expensive. Some computers are now sold with a simple version of the software that allows you to create a .pdf file, but without many of the security settings and layout options available in the commercial version.

The University of Geneva provides an online service that allows you to create .pdf files from MS-Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint) files, some types of image files (.jpg, .gif, .png, .ico), some ASCII files (.txt, .asp, .java), and some Web files (.html, .htm)

The website, which explains (in French) how to create the .pdf file can be found at:


Reading/opening a .pdf file

All .pdf files can be opened using an application called Adobe Reader. If you have Adobe Reader installed on your computer, all you have to do is double-click on the .pdf file to open it.

Most computers are sold with this application already installed on them. If you don't have Adobe Reader installed on your computer you can download it for free from the Adobe website at :   To install it, double-click on the file that you downloaded and follow the instructions that appear. 


Exercise: take any file (or create one just for this exercise), and use the university service to convert it to a .pdf. Open both your original file and the new .pdf file to see the similarities and differences between the two types of files.