TWT Newsletter NG – Issue 69 – Become a PDF pro, snip your screen, cook cracking cuisine and more! – Top Windows Tutorials

Is PDF the future and are scanners the new printers?

Even back in the early days of computing, when computers were so slow and basic that many tasks were more tedious sat at the screen than doing them by hand, a printer was still a much sought after peripheral. Even the rudimentary word processors on early computers could give you an advantage over the other kids at school when writing reports or essays. Especially if you needed two or more copies of your document, or if, like me, your handwriting was always scruffy enough to provoke the ire of the teachers.

Flash forward to modern times and now, not only are there printers, but scanners too. Most of you should be familiar with the concept of a scanner, it’s basically a printer in reverse. Scanners are machines that can take a hard copy and convert it into a computer document, usually a format called PDF. More traditional scanners, sometimes called “flat bed” scanners worked on a single page at a time, which was placed onto the bed for digitisation. These scanners are still useful for certain types of documents, but document scanners are becoming increasingly popular too. A document scanner really IS like a printer that works in reverse and indeed at first glance many people mistake them for printers. Here’s a typical example of a desktop document scanner:-

(can’t see the picture, click here).

Just like a printer, you feed in paper at one end, but unlike a printer, the paper is converted into a computer document, rather than having an existing computer document printed on it.

What did we mean when we said “Are scanners the new printers?”. In an age where everything is increasingly done digitally, it can be more desirable to digitise your paper content and convert it to PDF, than create more paper content and clutter. As we move away from paper documents into this brave new world, perhaps scanners will replace printers as the most desirable computer peripherals. Then, perhaps one day we won’t need either of them, since everything will be done electronically? This brave new world is probably some way off, but you can still make your life easier by learning to work with PDF documents, even if you decide not to take the plunge and buy a document scanner.

Becoming a PDF pro

PDF files are a special kind of file that’s similar in some ways to a word or text document and in others to a photo or picture file. Unlike a word document, a PDF file aims to keep the formatting and look and appearance of the original document it’s based on. PDF files are often invoices, legal certificates, brochures or anything where the original formatting must be preserved accurately wherever it’s viewed. In this way they’re like picture files since they more accurately represent the original object or document. Unlike a picture file though, PDF is designed for documents containing text, rather than pictures of kittens, your children, your holidays, etc etc.

Here are a few ways PDF files can make your life easier.

Print to PDF – The Print to PDF option was added to Windows 10 as a standard feature, and can be added to Windows 7 and 8 by downloading CutePDF Writer.

Printing to PDF is a great way to save important e-mails, websites, word documents or anything you need to send to someone else or archive, without creating more paper clutter. Saving to a PDF means that all formatting will be preserved, just as if you had printed it out to paper.

To print to PDF, simply select “Print” in your application like normal, then when the print dialogue window appears, choose the “Microsoft Print to PDF” as the virtual printer. Hey presto, instead of ink on a dead tree, you will get a perfect digital copy.

Tax documents – If you run your own business, or live in a country that expects you to submit your own personal tax return, then saving every invoice and receipt can often be necessary. Keeping all that paperwork where you can find it is a bind, and many businesses will now only provide you with an electronic invoice. 

If you’re finding it difficult to organise these electronic invoices, choose an accounting package like Xero. When you save a transaction in Xero, you can save the PDF receipt with it as a file attachment. This means you can see the invoice/receipt with the relevant transaction easily and quickly. No more rummaging through piles of print outs.

With a document scanner you can even go fully digital and do away with paper receipts altogether, though you may still want to keep paper copies as a backup, or if the tax office in your country/jurisdiction requires you to do so.

Faster and safer form filling – Have you ever needed to complete a form or document? Chances are, if you’re over the age of 16, the answer is guaranteed to be “Yes”. After death and taxes, bureaucracy is another near certainty of adult life. 

The PDF pro doesn’t fear filling out forms (well, perhaps not quite as much as other folks!). First of all, armed with your document scanner you can take a digital copy of a form. Now, if you make a mistake on the form, you can simply print another one. This works for many documents you might need to complete, however some official documents, like passport or driving license documents may require you to use the original copy only.

For forms you scan in, or that are sent to you digitally, you can use various software to edit the PDF files on screen, rather than writing them out by hand. This is often less tedious, especially if you need two or more copies of the paperwork. Note that the default PDF reading software does NOT allow you to edit PDF documents. To do so, you will need software such as Adobe Acrobat or Abby Finereader. Unfortunately, these applications are not cheap, though if you need to regularly work with PDF files they can definitely be worth the cost. 

For those who only occasionally work with PDF documents, the free PDFescape Online PDF editor, which runs in your web browser, is a good solution.

Archive your old documents – Never sure if you should throw out that old bank statement, instruction manual or letter from the tax office? De-clutter while still keeping your original documents by simply scanning them using a document scanner. Then, if you ever did need to refer to the information, you still can.

Remember to back up – While paper can get lost at the back of a drawer, PDF documents can simply vanish overnight if you don’t back them up. Hard drive failure can be sudden and fatal, even on a new computer. Always make sure you back up your important PDF documents. For documents relating to tax or legal matters, consider a secure cloud based solution or an encrypted backup. There are lots of tips on planning your perfect backup strategy on our website.

As you can see, PDF documents are extremely useful and learning how to use them can simplify your life and even de-clutter your home. By understanding this useful file format you will become an even more productive Windows PC user!


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Alice AUSTIN is studying Cisco Systems Engineering. He has passion with both hardware and software and writes articles and reviews for many IT websites.

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