Efficiency Ninja Part 3: A Tablet, a Stylus, a Man, and a Plan

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PDFPen for iPadPDFPen for iPad

Give me a personal scanner and everything becomes a PDF. I love the PDF format for a lot of reasons, with one important one being that PDFs work great with the iPad. I’ve had mixed success with Word documents — formatting is often a big gamble, and since most of my publishers have different styles and templates associated with the chapters I turn in, I can’t always edit or even read them properly on my iPad unless I first convert them to PDF. (The rumored Micrsoft Office App for iPad may be on the horizon or years away, but Word 100% compatibility continues to alluded me.)

For some time now, my go-to app for PDF access has been GoodReader. I love GoodReader. It does everything, including making me waffles. Okay, not waffles. But seriously… GoodReader lets you view everything — mpegs, jpegs, tiffs, PDFs. It even plays mp3s and will open .doc files (not perfectly, but I’m not convinced this isn’t so much a GoodReader issue as it is a Word bug). It probably does more stuff that I don’t need (yet), but you get the point. GoodReader is a pretty useful app to have if you’re an iPad user. Like I said, up to now it’s been my go-to app. But… change is good, right?

Lately, I’ve been using an app specifically designed for working with PDFs — it’s called PDFPen for iPad. It. Is. Outstanding.

First, the obvious — PDFPen for iPad (PDFP from this point forward) lets you open and view your PDFs. You get a 95% unobstructed view of your PDF document with only a small toolbar at the top. The toolbar disappears when you touch anywhere in the document and comes back with another tap. The toolbar may look simple, but there are a lot of features tucked away that only show up when you pick a specific tool or option — everything is context sensitive and only makes an appearance when you need it. It’s very intuitive. You can highlight, underline, doodle, draw boxes around… and all of these things can be modified in both color and thickness of line. There are even proofing symbols (I’ve forgotten most of the actual meanings) for those who still prefer to markup the text old-school and don’t want to type actual text in an existing PDF (“Misspelled Geek here.”)


You can also create new PDFs easily — and since PDFP supports the ability to add graphics, the quality of your final PDF is really only limited by your skill at layout and design. I can easily create a quick PDF invoice with my company logo added to the top and a few other bits of text that I use often — these can be stored as custom elements in PDFP so you can always access them fast and easy. Oh, and instead of a blank page for a new PDF you can choose a lined or graph paper option or even a photo as the background!

For me, I store all of my scans from my personal scanner in a specific folder on Dropbox — they’re held here until I get some time to organize and throw them into specific subfolders. What I love about PDFP is that I can immediately link to my Dropbox folder and pull in PDFs for editing, creating copies… whatever. The same support is available for Evernote and Google Docs. I’ve not had any reason to use the FTP, iTunes, or WebDav support, but it’s also there if you need it. And once you’ve got a PDF pulled in, you can display it in either Portrait or Landscape mode. You can also print directly from PDFP if you’ve got a printer supporting AirPrint. No printer? There’s an option to share it — send it out as an email attachment, copy it to any of the previously listed services (such as Dropbox), or even open it in another app on your iPad that might have additional PDF editing/viewing features (like GoodReader).

A few days back I pointed readers to David Sparks book, Paperless, for advice on reducing clutter and moving to an all-paperless lifestyle. Well, Mr. Sparks has kindly put up a free screencast that shows you everything I’ve described above plus a lot more (including PDFPen for Mac, a laptop version of the software with a lot more features than the iPad version). If PDFPen for iPad sounds interesting to you, be sure to check out his 45 minute long screencast that pretty much covers every feature of PDFPen for iPad. (Yes, every feature — I did say it’s 45 minutes long.) You can view that screencast here.

Now let me tell you why I find PDFPen so extremely useful in my line of work.

First, I write books for a living, so I often have anywhere from 2 to 10 new chapters in progress as well as 2 to 10 chapters in various stages of editing. While I prefer to do all of my writing and editing on my laptop, there is one particular time in the book writing process that I prefer my iPad — it’s the final author review and it’s when my publishers send me the PDF files that will be sent off to the publisher. It’s my last chance to read it over and look for any glaring errors. For this, I love PDFPen for iPad. I can read the chapter out on the deck, at the car wash, and during my son’s school play (kidding). I can add my own notes — for those familiar with editing a PDF, I can add those great little yellow balloon notes that, when clicked, open to show my more detailed notes. They’re like little word balloons and they’re awesome as you can see below.


Second, I’m always signing contracts… W-9s… NDAs… the list goes on. Most of the time, a digital version of the signed document is good enough, so I take full advantage of the fact that PDFPen for iPad has a saved (custom) image of my signature (set to transparent) that I can add to any PDF. Boom. Done. Send’n it back to you!

In the image below, I’ve zoomed in on the signature line so I can fine-tune the signature lining up on the space provided. You can use standard controls on the edges of an embedded image to resize or move it around. My signature looks blocky here, but when this is printed out or viewed in standard size, the signature looks just fine.


Third, I find myself using a stylus more and more. And PDFP just works great with a stylus. Highlighting, circling things, adding a quick sketch… it’s all easy with the stylus and the results look so much better than when I use my fingertip. (Notice, also, in the figure below that any PDF that is stored on your iPad can be opened by tapping and holding the document until the Open In… screen appears. Then simply choose PDFPen!)

There are many more reasons I enjoy PDFP, but let me tell you why my 5 year old son enjoys it. I’ve written previously about how I use a scanner to scan in activity books for my son so that he can do them over and over on the iPad. When I wrote that post, I was using an app called Doodle Buddy (and I still use it for some of my two sons’ activities on the iPad). With Doodle Buddy, my oldest was using his finger to solve mazes, color in coloring pages… that kind of stuff.

But he’s doing actual worksheets for school now. Addition, spelling, etc. And even though he’s using a pencil now for his writing, I can still provide him with activities on the iPad instead of lugging around activity books whenever we travel. To do this, instead of converting activity book pages to JPG files, I now convert them to PDF and use PDFPen for iPad to import them. My son can use the stylus for more control when it comes to writing and drawing. He can still change the thickness of the line and color — and because I import the activity pages from Dropbox, if he saves his scribblings on a sheet and forgets to Undo it, I can simply delete the sheet and import the sheet again, minus markups. (Don’t grief me — I’m not in favor of replacing a pen/pencil with a stylus, but it is useful at certain times to have an iPad full of activity sheets and a stylus!)


All in all, I’m quite taken with PDFPen for iPad. It’s earned its place on my iPad’s primary home screen. As a PDF reader, it’s perfect. As a PDF creator, it’s got more than enough bells-and-whistles to justify its price tag ($14.99) and the word on the street is that Smile Software (the app’s developer) is top-notch when it comes to customer service as well as a number of other great apps. (I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve heard the TextExpander app is an outstanding one, and it’s also heavily featured in the Paperless book.) And as a PDF editor, PDFPen for iPad is ridiculously easy to use whether you’re signing, editing, circling, or merging. I don’t have a large number of apps that I can say I use daily, but PDFPen is definitely one of the apps on that short list.

Tomorrow: Efficiency Ninja Part 4: Old School and New School Play Well Together


Efficiency Ninja Part 1: Go Paperless

Efficiency Ninja Part 2: Bills, Bills, Bills… Bye, Bye, Bye

Note: I’d like to thank Maia and Smile Software for providing a copy of PDFPen for iPad for this review.








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