Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"Paperless" Step 1: Print to PDF

Print to PDF for Genealogists
Yesterday Dick Eastman published an interesting article about going paperless, or more specifically, "paperlite." If you'd love to reduce the paper in your house but aren't sure where to get started I'd really recommend it. It talks about reducing paper in your home, not just in your genealogy life. "Going Nearly Paperless - How to Get Started" is available on the Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter (EOGN) website.

There are several links in Eastman's article including one to a post on How to Geek and this was what I was interested in sharing, specifically. There are a number of ways to prevent paper from arriving at your home and the EOGN article covers many of the first steps to take. Sometimes we're causing our own problem, though. There are times when you need to "print" something for your records. The paperless solution? "Print to PDF."
I have been using this solution for years but I know many people have problems figuring out how to do this. It is actually extremely simple and may already be set-up on your computer. If it isn't, you can get free software to allow you to print to PDF.
And if you're wondering, yes, all you have to do is "print" the document but instead of selecting your paper printer, you choose the PDF printer. How to Geek has a post about installing a PDF printer on a Windows computer with several options presented. This isn't a direct link in the EOGN post but a link from one of those links.

There are additional options instead of printing to PDF when you are saving a document to your records but printing to PDF is a fantastic option for sharing information with others. For most of my filing needs I actually save webpages using Evernote's web clipper (that's a whole different post I'll write if I ever have time). If you want to email a document you created or need to send a webpage, but not as a link, printing to PDF is likely your best option.
If you email something like an MS Word document your formatting can get a little crazy. Sometimes this isn't a problem but I prefer not to risk it when printing to PDF is so simple. A PDF document will also solve most issues when sharing from PC to Mac or Mac to PC. Printing to PDF is also an option for those Adobe PDF forms that allow you to fill them out but not save the filled-in version. Obviously you can't edit the "printed" version so you can't partially fill in the form and come back to it but if you want to email, or just retain a copy of, the completed form, this will solve your problem.
A genealogy specific use of printing to PDF is the ability to print charts on a single "sheet." You can select the paper size just like a paper printer but you aren't limited by an actual physical printer. Sometimes it is possible to print on an oversized page just to get everything on one sheet but then print a paper copy (for example, 11x17 can be printed on letter size with minimal distortion or you can specify 22x17 for a page exactly twice letter size). If you're striving for paperless, this is a nice way to see everything without page breaks on your screen.
It is also easy to have a PDF printed at a local copy store (FedEx Office, Staples, Office Depot) on paper larger than your home printer can handle. If sending the file electronically won't work for you, simply place the PDF on a flash drive and take it to store where you can select from the paper options available. At home or at a store when you print from a PDF the standard options include "shrink to fit page," "fit to page," etc. so you don't have to do any math to determine how to print on an available size paper. Once again, this will also allow you to print a formatted document, like a Word document, from another computer without your formatting being distorted. If you've carefully crafted your footnotes and made sure they didn't run onto the wrong page or break across pages, you absolutely need to print to PDF before opening your carefully edited document on another computer.
For genealogists, there are lots of uses for print to PDF and it is extremely simple to use, and free. Print to PDF will allow you to reduce the paper in your life and also control your shared or printed documents.