Extras - Short Takes: PDF On The Fly

M. Sean Fosmire is with the Michigan law firm of Garan Lucow Miller, P.C.

In January 2001, Roger Skalbeck wrote a review of FinePrint 2000 for LLRX. FinePrint uses a print driver to allow the user to manipulate the printed text in certain ways before it is sent to the physical printer. The most useful manipulation is to allow printing of 2, 4, or 8 mini-pages on one sheet of paper.

The folks at FinePrint have taken this concept one step further in developing pdfFactory, their newest offering. This product also uses a print driver to intercept the print command, this time to permit on-the-fly creation of PDF files. The user can modify the output in several different ways and then save the resulting PDF to the hard disk.

Adobe Acrobat itself uses a print driver called PDFWriter to do pretty much the same thing from any Windows-based program. So how is pdfFactory different? The first answer is that it is remarkably less costly - $49 for the basic Factory product vs. about $225 (street) for the full Acrobat product. If all you need to do is to create PDF files, as is the case for many law firms who need the capability to create files for e-mail transmission and in some cases for electronic court filing, and if you do not need the other annotation and form creation tools offered by Acrobat, pdfFactory will get you where you need to go for substantially less money.

Beyond the cost considerations, however, there are several innovations. The most important is that output may be concatenated into one single PDF file from a series of separate print jobs, from the same or different sources. The usefulness of this feature is best described by real-life examples. The following scenarios illustrate a point that I have long made, and that is that one of the most significant contributions that Acrobat makes to a lawyer's productivity is its ability to create the bundled document: a single file containing output from a number of different programs, collected together for ease of reference and, to be sure, for printing it out when nothing but paper will do.

The first example is that of the legal secretary who is attempting to schedule an attorney's trip for an out-of-town deposition. She can visit the airline's web site and print to Factory a page showing the times of departure from Chicago and the alternatives for return flights, as well as a diagram of the aircraft's layout, then go to MapQuest and print out a map and driving directions, then print from WordPerfect a copy of the confirming letter to the client and a copy of a deposition notice, all in one PDF file which can then be transferred to the attorney's laptop or PDA or sent by e-mail for later use.

In order to do the same thing using PDFWriter, she would have to print each page to a separate file, and then use Acrobat's Insert File feature to add each page, one at a time, to the full file. Using Factory, the "travel booklet" can be created in just a few seconds, as she is making the reservations.

Another real-life example involves the use of spreadsheets. Frequently, there is a need to vary one or two entries and display the results of numerous calculations based on those variations. A commonly needed example is an amortization schedule for a mortgage or other installment loan. It is often useful to demonstrate the different results obtained by using different annual interest rates and different principal figures. Using pdfFactory, each successive display can be printed in turn, with the collection of perhaps 10 or 20 pages automatically compiled into one handy PDF file.

pdfFactory allows the user to preview the output on the screen instantly, before a PDF file is created. (If it is not satisfactory, just hit Close and start again.) A lot can be done at the Factory preview display, before the PDF file is committed to disk. Unneeded pages may be deleted, and blank pages may be added. Unusual fonts can be embedded into the file from the Factory display. The PDF information (Title, Subject, Author, and Keywords) can be added, either at the preview display or even right from the Windows print dialog before the OK button is hit to start the print job and create the preview. With the Pro version of pdfFactory, Acrobat's security settings can be added from the Factory display, and any URLs contained on the page will be translated to active links when the PDF file is created.

It is even possible to use both FinePrint 2000 and pdfFactory to combine their features. A document may be printed to FinePrint, to provide for a 2-up display, a header, and a watermark, and then printed to pdfFactory to create the final output as a PDF file rather than on the printer.

Information on pdfFactory may be found at http://www.fineprint.com/software/pdffactory/standard/index.html. The standard product is $49.95, while the Pro version costs $99.95. A trial version of both products is available.