Sunday, February 26, 2012

Quest for PDF creation, markup, annotation, and signatures

I've been self-employed for 22 months. Before I was self-employed, I had a copy of Adobe Acrobat at Hubbard Engineering, and I used it to mark up, annotate, rotate, combine, and sign PDFs. But since going self-employed, I haven't digitally signed a PDF. I'd like to support diversity and save money by not using Adobe Acrobat for my final solution. This post is the beginning of my blogs about my PDF tools and solutions.

PDF Creation

In 2012, more and more programs are able to create PDFs directly, so creation isn't as big an issue as it used to be. But as long as there are programs that can't make a decent PDF, I am totally happy with my age old solution for PDF creation. I use PDF995, which behaves like a Windows printer driver so that any program that can print can create a PDF. It's a great program that "just works".

PDF Page Combining and Extraction

PDF995 comes with PDFEdit, which does a pretty good job of combining and extracting pages from PDF documents. That's what I use when I need to combine.

PDF Markup and Edit

When I was first self-employed and looking for a PDF signing tool, I found the online PDF editor PDFEscape. It didn't solve my signature problem, but it works really well to annotate, mark up, add images, text fields, rotate, highlight, etc. I plan to rely on it as a standard part of my work flow for PDF reviews and signatures (using the image insertion tool).

PDF Digital Signatures

You can digitally sign PDFs with Adobe Reader if the document has a signature field and has the proper rights. However, you cannot sign a PDF with Reader unless the PDF has been Reader Extended to enable digital signatures. This can be done with Adobe LiveCycle Reader Extensions ES (server product) or Acrobat Pro (select Extend Features in Adobe Raeder from the Advanced menu). But I haven't yet (see update below) found a non-Adobe way to make a PDF digitally signable from the Reader. I'll keep looking (see update below).

Here are the products I'm looking at:

  • NitroPDF, a worthy full-featured head-to-head Acrobat competitor for $100

  • Foxit Reader, a fast free reader that includes annotation, but may be pushing bloatware

  • PDF-XChange Viewer, includes annotation and signature placing for $37

2012-02-27 Update: After downloading and trying PDF-XChange Viewer, I promptly fell in love with it, and bought it for my editing needs. It appears to have everything I used in Acrobat, like signatures (but no distinction between certifying and signing), markup, typewriter, page rotation, extraction, and insertion (but no combining/packaging that maintains constituent document integrity/signatures), and abundant annotation tools. And it's lightning fast. I paid $46.88 for a three year upgradeable license. I'll have to write a complete review when I've exercised it plenty.

2012-04-29 update: I'm still very happy with PDF-XChange Viewer.  It's still lightning fast, it's still a pleasure to use, and I love the tabbed document interface.

No comments: