Help me create simple, multi-page PDFs that include vector art.
January 27, 2011 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Help me choose the right software to create simple, multi-page PDFs that include diagrams and maps.

I write education resources for a living. A lot of this is lesson plans and student materials that are downloadable PDFs. I want to offer some clients a basic design service for these materials, as a way to extend what I can offer. I don’t intend creating PDFs for commercial printing – all of this will be for single or multiple page A4 downloads. I want to pay the minimum for software that will fulfil my needs. I'm happy to spend time learning new software.

I use Office 2011 on a MacBook, which seems to offer enough layout functionality to create teacher’s notes and worksheets that are indistinguishable from what my copy gets turned into by other design teams, which tends to be simply laid out. I’m using an old version of illustrator for diagrams, maps, graphical page elements etc. and I don’t really like it. If possible, I want a smaller, simpler programme to create the graphic elements I need. I’ve read this post and am aware of Fireworks.

I’m trialling Omnigraffle which seems OK but I’m considering a combination of Sketch and Pixelmator from the Mac App store. Any personal experience of these?

Are there other options for layout and vector art? Adobe software is more complex than I need and too expensive.
posted by dowcrag to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What don't you like about Illustrator? It really is the go-to app when it comes to vector graphics, diagrams, etc. There's also Inkscape, but, since you say you already have Illustrator, I don't see the need of going there. Is it the complexity of Illustrator? It can certainly be daunting. But, I suspect you could ignore a good amount of it, dependiing on how simple you intend to keep things.

Pixelmator is a great app for image editing.

Have you looked at Apple's Pages app for layout? It's a far more flexible page layout app than Word.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:51 AM on January 27, 2011

Total Adobe shop here, so I haven't tried much else, but I've enjoyed working with Pages for simple pdf creation, and I've been tempted by ZeusDraw for their cool vector brushes.
posted by dpcoffin at 9:56 AM on January 27, 2011

Hmm. Is your question about how to create PDFs, or how to do layout? On your Mac, in any program including Word, you can turn the current document into a PDF by going to File -> Print -> PDF -> Save as PDF. So for the PDF side of the equation, you could just put your illustrations into Word, do the layout, and spit out a PDF. You might get a nicer layout using Apple's Pages, which is pretty cheap through the App Store.

But, I feel like I might be missing an aspect of your question -- are there reasons that wouldn't work?

As far as vector art, I don't have a great suggestion, but it might be worth noting that Word itself has drawing tools. If you're persistent, they can do some pretty crazy stuff (apologies for self-link).
posted by jhc at 10:00 AM on January 27, 2011

I strongly recommend reading reviews of Sketch online before you buy it. I would consider it a very immature tool--the last version I tried (maybe only 1 or 2 point releases back) had really buggy Undo, which I would consider pretty much a dealbreaker.

OmniGraffle does a lot of great stuff but it's also missing a chunk of standard features for working with vectors so I usually only use it for diagrams (which, admittedly, is what it's supposed to be used for anyway).

The drawing tools in Pages are very limited and while I like using it for quick page layouts I wouldn't recommend it as an illustration tool.
posted by bcwinters at 10:40 AM on January 27, 2011

Jhc, it's not about how, but what software is good but cheaper than Adobe. Generating PDFs from other programs is historically one of the reasons I use a Mac. Also, wow!

Thorsdad, I forgot to say I've also got Pages. I tended not to use it as the integration with office for windows (what my clients use) caused issues with editing and reviewing.

Illustrator just seems to have too much stuff going on. I'm using CS2 which runs really slow on my Mac and since it's an, er, unofficial use of someone's licence I'm not sure I can upgrade to the new version as I don't have the old license code. And I'd still rather pay less for something simpler.

So it's more about a good, cheap vector art and image editing program/programs really - Word or Pages covers layout and I'm fine with PDF exports.
posted by dowcrag at 10:45 AM on January 27, 2011

If you ever want to go professional with it, it's probably a good idea to pick up a DTP package and start learning. Most shops use Quark or Indesign.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 10:49 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

For illustration, consider looking into Intaglio. If you want something free, try Inkscape.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:05 PM on January 27, 2011

Yeah, if you can't pop for a fresh copy of CS5 (and I really don't recommend it, unless you can get an education discount or something similar), or grab a discounted copy of CS4 somewhere, definitely look into Inkscape.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:56 PM on January 27, 2011

Thanks everyone. I've downloaded Inkscape and ZeusDraw and will have a good play with both.
posted by dowcrag at 2:47 AM on January 28, 2011

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