Unreadable PDF. Who knew? (An ode to @ecammtweets)

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My son’s school recently emailed me some forms. I was about to acknowledge their receipt when I discovered I could not read them. Instead of seeing the forms they’d sent, I could only view some message about my PDF viewer (Mail and Finder in this case) not being able to display the file.

“If this message is not eventually replaced by the proper contents of the document, your PDF viewer may not be able to display this kind of document.” It then instructed me to upgrade to the latest version of Adobe Reader, a suggestion that in context seemed slightly hilarious as I wasn’t using Adobe Reader in any fashion at the time.

It turns out that some Adobe PDFs have this marvelous property: They can only be read by Adobe software. It took a bit of googlage until I finally found a site that explained the situation. No Adobe, no read.

Fortunately, I have a version of Adobe CS 4 still installed on my Mac, although it’s held together these days by spit and bandaids. Hello 2008. I was able to get Acrobat Pro running and sure enough, I could open the doc in the app and it was readable.

Naturally, I tried to use OS X’s built-in PDF rendering to print to file. Bzzzzzt. That (of course) was not allowed.

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Thank goodness for Ecamm. Instead of printing to “file”, I used my copy of their Printopia extension ($19.99) to print to my Mac instead. Instantly my unreadable PDF file transformed to a readable one. I simply pulled the rendered PDF out of my Documents/Printopia folder and it was ready to use. Printopia saved the day. Thanks, Ecamm. And hopefully this write-up will be googlable for anyone who encounters the same kind of problem with a PDF file that cannot be read in OS X mail.

As a final note, I’m told that you might be able to contact the person who prepared the PDF and ask them to switch the limitation off and resave. This would allow the document to be opened in any PDF viewer. When dealing with low-level administrative staff employed in the public school system, however, you might just want to know about alternative approaches so you can go-it on your own.

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