Generating PDFs With Adobe Acrobat Distiller

Adobe Acrobat Distiller first shipped as part of Acrobat in 1993 as a way to transform PostScript files to PDFs that preserve the appearance of documents and were cross-platform.

Though there are other programs for generating PDF files, Acrobat Distiller was the primary one. Some page layout software programs can generate PDF files from within the program, but sometimes they are simply acting as a front end for Distiller, which must also be installed. Today, most people use a "Print to PDF" function to generate PDFs—through a printer driver—instead of manually converting a given file into a PDF type.

If all you want to do is look at a PDF file, you can do it for free with Adobe Acrobat Reader or the macOS Preview application.

This information applies to Adobe Acrobat Distiller DC.

How to Create PDF Files With Distiller

Acrobat Distiller

Distiller works only with PostScript files. In your original program, save the document as a .PS or .EPS file. You can then drag it into Distiller from the desktop or load it through the menu.

As part of the process, you must set the Adobe PDF Settings from the top half of the window. In general, you'll pick Standard, which offers a regular, modern, desktop-optimized PDF. Some specialized uses of PDFs require specific PDF versions, however. Many large-scale commercial presses still use the PDF/X structure, so you'd pick PDF/X-1a:2001 or whatever your prepress documentation requires.

The middle of the screen shows the PDFs converted in the active session; the bottom of the screen shows the logfile for the Distiller process.

Weakness of Distiller as a Standalone Application

Distiller requires a PostScript file to generate a PDF. Not all software programs offer .PS or .EPS as an option, and those that do often require that the user be familiar with all the complex PostScript options to make the right choices.

By comparison, the printer driver that mostly replaced Distiller works with any document that can be printed, and the process is as simple as printing the document to a PDF filetype.

Adobe Distiller Server

A related product, Adobe Distiller Server, was released by Adobe in 2000. It provided high-volume conversions of PostScript to PDF formats using a server. 

In 2013 Adobe discontinued Distiller Server and replaced it with the PDF Generator in Adobe LiveCycle.