PDFs vs. Source Files

Another commonly asked question often answered by the ETMG Production Team.

Q: Is a PDF an acceptable source file?Lifecycle of marketing document and content creation

A: No, not for editing text or altering graphics.

Portable Document Format (PDF) is a file format used to represent documents independently of application software. Each PDF file encapsulates a complete description of a fixed-layout document, including the text, fonts, graphics, and other information needed to display it.

PDFs are most commonly used for viewing purposes only – obtaining approvals for instance. PDFs may be low resolution unless they have specifically been set up as a high resolution print-ready PDF. But neither hi-res nor low-res PDFs are truly editable. While you can move or delete pages, or extract text and vector images (if the PDF is unlocked and the graphics were placed from their EPS vector source) with Adobe Acrobat, you still won’t be able to edit the PDF page layout itself.

When your designer or printer refers to source files, they mean the source files from which the document was created – all the files needed that would allow for editing the text and/or graphics. Typically this is a zipped file which contains the native file format – most commonly Adobe InDesign – plus all of the supporting images and links such as logos in Adobe Illustrator, images in an hi-res file format like .eps or .jpg and the set of fonts used in the document. In order to truly edit source files the user must have Adobe Creative Suite.


3 thoughts on “PDFs vs. Source Files

  1. I spend a lot of time explaining source files. You have provided the perfect answer for when a client says “it’s all in the PDF I sent you”.

  2. While designers typically use InDesign, a portion of the world thinks Microsoft Word is how documents are laid out. If your PDF was laid out in Word, then the source file you are seeking is a Word file, not InDesign.

    With the PDF in hand, you can tell what application created it:

    On a Mac, if you Get Info (Command I) on your document, the resulting window will tell you the application that created the PDF in the field Content Creator.

    On Windows, open the file in Adobe Reader and press Control D. The application that created the PDF will be listed under Application.

  3. Not only do I like having this summarized to share with my clients but I love the trick that Michael gave for finding the source file application.

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