The virtual "Adobe PDF" printer, part of Adobe Acrobat, behaves like any printer, except it "prints" to a PDF file, not to a sheet of paper.
While there are many ways to store letters, documents and other information digitally, arguably one of the best involves converting the information into a PDF document.
PDF, which stands for Portable Document Format, is a type of file format that was created by Adobe Systems, Inc. in 1993 for document exchange, but is equally good for the archival of digital content.
PDF existed for many years as a proprietary format, but formally became an open standard on July 1, 2008, and was subsequently published by the International Organization for Standardization, or ISO.
While PDF had been a popular format for many years, formal standardization has helped fuel its popularity. In fact, many governments around the world use it for the archival of public records.
PDF is a great candidate for long term storage of records because it was designed to be self contained. All of the fonts, graphics and other pieces that make up a document are rolled into a single file. PDF files can also be opened on virtually any computer system, whether it is powered by Windows, Linux, Apple Macintosh.
Today many programs for viewing and creating PDFs have surfaced, giving virtually everyone the opportunity to utilize the PDF format.
Probably the most popular of all PDF readers is Adobe's very own Acrobat Reader, which can be downloaded and installed for free, directly from their Web site at adobe.com.
For those wanting the most "official" PDF software, made by the very people who created the PDF standard, Acrobat Reader is a must.
Many people, however, have found displeasure with Acrobat Reader because they feel Adobe has stuffed a lot of unnecessary features into the program. They argue it has become overly large, bloaty, and, consequently, very slow.
Naturally, there are alternatives. Probably the most popular of these is Foxit Reader, a free PDF viewer for Microsoft Windows. Foxit is minimalistic in it's design and thus claims to be considerably faster than Adobe's own PDF viewer, Acrobat Reader.
For Mac, there's Skim, an open-source (free) PDF viewer and note-taker rolled into one application. Skim requires Mac OS X Leopard (10.5) or higher.
Linux is another story. For many years, Adobe chose not to provide an "official" PDF viewer for Linux. As a result, many alternatives were born from the open-source community. XPDF and Okular (part of KDE) are just a few examples.
For many, choosing an alternative PDF viewer isn't high on their to-do list, especially since most computers already have some kind of PDF viewing software pre-installed.
Creating PDFs, on the other hand, is something many people might find useful. Unfortunately, most computers aren't capable of creating PDFs without additional software
Most PDF creation software comes with a "virtual" printer that essentially takes whatever is sent to it and makes a PDF out of it.
This "virtual printer" acts like any other printer connected to the computer, except that it generates a PDF file of the print job instead of spitting out something on paper. This means that if a program can print, it can make a PDF.
Once the PDF creation software is installed, the user simply opens the document they want to make a PDF of, clicks the program's print button and selects the virtual printer from the list of available printers. Once the user has clicked the "OK" or "print" button, the virtual PDF printing software takes over from there.
Once the PDF creation software kicks in, it takes what would normally be printed out on paper and saves it in a PDF file for later viewing.
Adobe's commercial PDF application, Acrobat, comes with a virtual PDF printer. But there are free alternatives. PDFCreator, an open-source variant, and BullZIP are just a few. A web search for "pdf printer" is a good way to get started.