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Level-up your PDF knowledge for July 1

By: Danielle DavisRoe and Jeffrey Schoenberger, Affinity Consulting Group LLC

The early days of computer software were the Wild West for document file formats. Into the late 1990s, even products of the same name from the same software publisher were incompatible, such as Word for Windows and Word for Mac. Moreover, even if the formats were compatible, printer drivers or other oddities often caused a document printed from version X of a program to look different from the same document printed from version Y of the same program.

Adobe Acrobat and its PDF file format were a godsend in this environment. Adobe’s core mission was to ensure a document always looked the same. It didn’t matter which fonts you had installed, which printer you used, or whether you viewed the document on Windows, a Mac, or, later, a mobile device. It would always look and print the same. And, after initially charging $50 per copy of its PDF viewer software, Adobe did something smart; it made its PDF reader free and maintained versions for nearly all platforms, including long-forgotten operating systems like AIX, OS/2, and SunOS. This cross-platform approach continues today.

Where Adobe did not initially buck the software trend is in the price of its PDF creation software, Adobe Acrobat. In an era when Microsoft charged $600 for a copy of Office, compared with $12/month today, Adobe charged a similarly high fee. That changed in 2008, when Adobe decided to make PDF an open standard, codified by the International Organization for Standardization as ISO 32000. With that action, any software developer could write PDF creation software without paying or otherwise running afoul of Adobe. And they have!

Today there are tons of free and low-cost PDF options available for Windows, Mac, and mobile. Recent versions of Windows, all versions of macOS, and even standalone programs like Word, let you create a PDF without any special or additional software.

For two reasons, we continue to view Adobe Acrobat Pro, now a subscription service of $20/user/month, as the PDF gold standard. First, it’s the most ubiquitous. If you need to search the web for “how to” assistance, it’s easiest to find help for Adobe. Second, its features and interface are identical between Windows and Mac. If your office is a “bring your own device” firm, then one set of training materials tells everyone in the firm how to do X in the product.

Core PDF tools

But plenty of low-cost and free alternatives exist out there. Let’s review some functions and options:

View and print: Any modern operating system (e.g., Windows, Mac, iOS, or Android) can view and print a PDF document natively. You don’t have to install anything to make it work.

Create a PDF from a Document: At the operating system level, independent of a specific application, Windows and Mac can “print to PDF.” For Windows, you may need to install it as a Windows feature. On the Mac, PDF creation is part of the native print dialog.

For iOS (iPhones and iPads), you have three native, built-in options. First, using the Markup functionality, you can annotate and save webpages in Safari as PDFs. Suppose you don’t need to annotate the document. In that case, you can save a PDF of the onscreen information by tapping the share sheet, selecting Print, making an “expanding pinch and zoom” gesture over any document page, selecting the share sheet on the subsequent screen, and selecting “Save to Files.” The third option is to “share” the document or webpage to Apple’s Books application.

For Android devices, the technique is similar to the Apple’s Book’s method, but it requires you to install a PDF reader or viewer. After you’ve installed a PDF program, to save a webpage or document as a PDF, tap the Action menu (three dots), tap the Share icon, and then tap the PDF program to save as a PDF.

In addition to PDF creation through printing, some Windows and Mac applications, such as Microsoft Word, can save a document as PDF. What’s the difference? In most cases, not much. The advantage of “save as PDF” versus “print to PDF” surfaces in two forms. First, in a Word document, for example, if your document uses Word’s styles feature or you’ve set headings viewable in Word’s navigation pane, then saving as PDF creates those headings as bookmarks in the PDF, making navigation easier for long documents. Printing as a PDF does not. Second, saving as a PDF allows you to save your PDF in the PDF/A format, an archival format required by many courts and government entities.

Add, copy, move, or remove pages: Windows does not natively support these types of PDF manipulation, but there are free PDF programs that accomplish these tasks. One that has worked well for folks is PDF Candy. It’s available as both a web-based app and a Windows-only desktop app. Sejda is another option. It is available as both web-based and desktop-based, but supports Windows, macOS, and Linux. However, with Sejda, you may face usage limits if you stick to the free tier.

For Mac users, Apple includes a high-quality PDF editor, Preview, with macOS. The Preview app lets users add, delete, or move pages.

Annotate, comment, or sign a PDF: Most PDF reader programs allow you to annotate, comment, or e-sign a PDF. Adobe’s free Acrobat Reader allows users to comment on documents (such as sticky notes, annotations, highlights, etc.) and sign forms. Foxit Reader, another PDF viewer, publishes manuals on what their free Windows and Mac readers can do. With these free packages, you can get a PDF word count, sign and “stamp” documents, comment and annotate documents, fill out form documents, and even add bookmarks, links, and images to the PDF (assuming the PDF is not protected). On the Mac, the Preview app can annotate PDFs and fill out and sign forms.

July 1 changes impacting lawyers’ PDF usage

In the prior section, we described core PDF activities anyone needs, from opening or creating a PDF to basic manipulation and e-signing. Beyond these core functions are two additional ones essential to the legal professional’s toolkit: Bates numbering and redaction. While Bates numbering’s use lies primarily within a litigation or discovery-heavy practice, all Missouri lawyers must already comply with redaction requirements concerning confidential information in court documents.

Starting July 1, 2023, the public will have access to public court records from personal electronic devices, per a Supreme Court of Missouri rule change approved last year. As a result, the stakes for legal professionals knowing proper redaction techniques are heightened.

If you need to redact a document, you must do it properly. Often, lawyers end up in the news for inadvertently disclosing sensitive details. To prevent this from happening to you, ensure you’re using a program that can correctly redact information. Many PDF editing programs have two versions - a professional version and a standard version. The difference between them is often the software's ability to properly redact and Bates number. If your tool isn't explicitly labeled “redaction,” it isn't the right one.

Often found on a protection or security ribbon, proper redaction takes two steps. First, mark the appropriate text or area of the PDF for redaction. Then, apply the redaction. When applied, redaction burns a digital hole in the document. Once redacted, the removed content is unrecoverable, no matter what software someone has.

To prepare for July 1, head to the Remote Public Access and Redaction Resource Center to learn more about the coming rules change, compare available PDF software, and watch redaction tutorials for Adobe Acrobat Pro, Foxit PDF Editor Pro, and Kofax Power PDF.

For Windows users, the following products offer both Bates numbering and redaction features: Adobe Acrobat DC Pro, Fox PDF Editor Pro and Editor Pro +, Kofax Power PDF Advanced, and Nitro PDF Pro. Even if you need only redaction, purchasing or subscribing to a redaction-capable PDF product also gives you Bates numbering tools.

For Mac users, the following products offer both Bates numbering and redaction features: Adobe Acrobat DC Pro, Foxit PDF Editor and Editor Pro +, Kofax Power PDF Standard for Mac, and Nitro PDF Pro for Mac. On the Mac side, Apple’s free Preview app, included with macOS, and Readdle's PDF Expert offer redaction, but not Bates numbering.

Do you need additional help selecting the best PDF software for your needs, or wish to discuss redaction options on mobile devices? Missouri Bar members can schedule a free consultation through the Ask an Expert page or by emailing