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Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF) is now the industry standard format for electronic distribution of printable manuals. PDF provides a high level of formatting fidelity. Layout and appearance are "fixed", and unlike HTML it is not dependent on the quirks of browsers.

It is also a compact, single-file format that is now supported by all major computer platforms as well as Windows. Navigation can be quite good but it is less flexible for on-screen viewing and navigation than HTML Help. The domain of PDF is printable manuals with clearly-defined layout and formatting that do not change on different systems. It is suitable for downloading but not for online viewing on the Web as users must always download the entire document, even if they only want to view a single page.

Features and pros and cons of Adobe PDF:

File extension:


PDF version:

The PDF output conforms to version 1.2 of the PDF specification and can be viewed with version 3 and above of Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Reader.


One .pdf file containing all text and graphics


All major computer platforms and operating systems

Typical use:

Print manuals distributed in electronic form, electronic books

Table of contents:

Yes, integrated in the PDF file. Hyperlinks are supported for on-screen viewing.

Keyword index:

Yes but limited, just page number references at the end of the document.

Full text search:

Yes, in Adobe Reader

Context-sensitive help:

Support for links to topics, page numbers and PDF template sections with named destinations


No support for popups. Popup links are displayed as normal text.


No multimedia support.

Printable by user:

Yes. The PDF format is ideal for printing and providing a printable version of your manual.


Printer orientated format supporting precise layout with specifically defined page sizes, margins, headers, footers, etc. Highly customizable with Help+Manual using print manual templates.


Requires the Adobe Reader viewer but this is free and installed on almost all computers. Many other excellent viewers are available. Not appropriate for application help because of the lack of context-sensitive features. Not suitable for Internet access because the entire document must be downloaded to view anything in the document.

Other information:

All the topics not included in your project's Table of Contents are excluded from PDF output and printed manuals. This is by design because PDF is treated as a print format. By definition, there is no place in print-style documents for topics that are not included in the TOC, which are only designed to be accessed with hyperlinks.

If you want to include information from topics not included in your TOC you need to use Help+Manual's conditional output features to make alternative content for the PDF version.

See also:

Adobe PDF (Configuring Your Output)

Adobe PDF (Configuration Options)

PDF and Printed Manuals