Working with PDF Files

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What Is a PDF File?

PDF stands for Portable Document Format. PDFs are usually used for documents that are only intended to be read, not edited. These files will have .PDF at the end. These are different from .DOC files. .DOC files come from word processors and can be opened, changed, and saved again. The image below shows a “File Explorer” screen with a few different file types. In this screen the Motion and Notice of Hearing files are PDFs.

File Explorer screen with a few different file types

Click here to enlarge the image.

Making a PDF File or Splitting a Single PDF Into Multiple Documents

Many of the documents created by Michigan Legal Help Do-It-Yourself tools are PDF files. This means that, often, documents that you create using these tools will be ready to download as a PDF file. Read the section above to learn how to find out if a file is a PDF.

You may also have a Word document, photo, or other file that you need to make into a PDF. In other situations, you may have a single PDF file with several pages that you need to split up into separate documents. There are a few ways you can do these things.

Print as a PDF

Many computers have an option to print as a PDF file. You use the “print” function as if you are going to print a document on paper. In the menu where you can choose a printer, instead of choosing a printer, select the print to PDF option. This will not actually print the document. Instead, it will save the document as a PDF. The computer you are using may prompt you to name the documents. Give them file names that will make sense to you later so that you do not get confused later.

If you need more detailed help, you can try doing an internet search for “print to PDF.” Insert the name of the kind of computer you are using for the best results. You can also contact customer service for the company that makes your computer or the software you are trying to print from.

If you need to split a single file into more than one file, you can also use the print as PDF option to help. When you are printing as a PDF you can choose to print only specific pages from the print screen. For example, if you have a 15-page document, and pages 1-2 are the Complaint and you need just the Complaint as a separate file, you would select the option to print pages 1-2. 

Use a Scanner

If you have a paper copy of your document, or if you can print one, you can use a scanner to make it into a PDF. Many scanners will create documents in PDF form. If you need access to a printer or scanner, a library near you may have them. You can also visit our Self-Help Centers page to find out if there is a legal self-help center near you. The Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Centers all have printers and scanners, as well as navigators who can help you use them.

Scanning is also an easy way to split a single document into multiple documents. Take only the part of the document that you need, and scan that as one file. Repeat as needed.

Use a Smartphone or Tablet App

Some apps can use your phone or tablet camera to scan photos or documents into PDF files. These include Adobe Scan, CamScanner, and Genius Scan. Michigan Legal Help does not recommend any specific software, and the courts do not require you to use these apps. You can use other methods to create PDFs as well.

Recent versions of Apple, Android, and other smartphone and tablet devices also have built-in scanning capabilities. In iPhones and iPads, this feature is located in the Notes app. When you open a new note, there is a camera button above the keyboard that you can use to select a “Scan Documents” option. Android devices use photos. After taking a photo of a document you can go back into the photo and print it as a PDF file. For more information about how to do this on your specific device, you can do an internet search. 

If you are using a phone or tablet camera to scan, you will need to make sure that people can read the final document. If the scan is too dark or blurry, it will not be useful. Here are some things you can do that will help:

  • If there is handwriting on the document, make sure it is in dark ink and that handwriting is neat.
  • Try to keep the paper in good condition without folds or wrinkles. This can make shadows that make the words hard to read. If your document is wrinkled and it is not possible to get another copy, do your best to smooth it out before scanning with the camera.
  • Take the photo in a well-lit room on a dark background such as a dark tabletop. 
  • Pay attention to what else might be in the background of the photo. Make sure that there are not other things in the background that you might not want others to see.
  • Get the camera as close to the document as possible, while still keeping the full page in the frame. Do not use the camera’s zoom function. Physically move the camera close up to the document.
  • Look at the scanned document before you send it. If you can’t see it clearly, the person you are sending it to will not be able to see it either. If the document is dark or blurry try a new location with different light.

Use a Computer Program

There are programs you can download that will turn various file formats into PDF files. Some of these include Smallpdf, LibreOffice, and Adobe. Michigan Legal Help does not recommend any specific software, and the courts do not require you to use them. You can use other methods to create PDFs as well. 

Michigan Legal Help does not have information about how to use these products to split files. You can visit the product pages or do an internet search for more information.