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An idiot's guide to making PDFs

By Charles Duckworth. Published: 25th Jun 2006, 02:26:08 | Permalink | Printable

RiScript and Ghostscript put through their paces

Adobe's PDF format is a bit of a Godsend for RISC OS users. We can open PDFs sent from friends and collegues, and now we have several ways of creating them from our desktops to give to others. They can be filled with plans, illustrations, articles and documentation, all using our favourite DTP and artwork packages. Some existing solutions can be fairly tricky to set up, so having battled against several applications, Charles Duckworth now presents his idiot's guide to PDF authoring on RISC OS.

PDF authoring on RISC OS motifFirstly, I feel well qualified to write this as I know I must be addressing people who know far more about making PDFs than I do. My only real excuse is that if it is possible to get it wrong I will, qualifying for the title 'idiot', so hopefully others won't.

Recently I needed to convert some Impression Publisher files to PDF for a course at Oxford University and tried using GhostScript 7.03 (GS7). The various bits were easy to download onto my PC and transfer to my stand-alone StrongARM RPC with RISC OS 4.02. My Windows XP PC has VirtualA5000 running RISC OS 3.11 with HostFS, and now VirtualRiscPC-SE.

I could not get GS7 to convert any Publisher files with VA5000. There were a number of problems which later turned out to be great sensitivity to a 'broken' font and lack of memory - VA5000 can provide up to 16MB of emulated RAM. There were a number of suggestions from the comp.sys.acorn.apps newsgroup that RaFS might help, but HostFS can handle large numbers of files like RISC OS 4.02. I managed a little better on my RiscPC converting a few files with GS7, but I was rescued by Alan Calder who converted most of my work for me using RiScript.

Over the past few weeks I have downloaded GhostScript 8.53 (GS8), and bought RiScript. Neither the process of downloading them, nor that of setting them up was simple. The details are as follows.

GhostScript 8.53
Running on Virtual A5000

This was very easy to download to the PC, and hence to VA5000 as a singe 8MB file, but very difficult to transfer to my stand-alone RiscPC. I eventually achieved this by using Roxio on the PC to burn a RiscPC friendly CD-ROM.

Other files and programs needed:
SharedUnixLib (details)
•PoScript2 (A printer definition file in the Generic folder in this zipfile, from this webpage)
!PrintPDF 0.32 or !PrintPDF 0.41 or !ps2pdf
!PDF 1.17 or !Gview

First install SharedUnixLib into !System, as per its instructions. Unpack Ghostscript to a convenient location on your hard disc, and then 'boot' it by making sure the RISC OS filer has seen it, or by double-clicking on the Ghostscript icon.

After unpacking !PrintPDF to your hard disc, run it and it should appear on the icon bar. Install PoScript2 into !Printers version 1.53 or higher by clicking on menu over the !Printers iconbar icon, selecting 'Printer control', and dragging the printer definition file to the window that opens. Release 1.64a of !Printers can be found on the riscos.com website. Next, in the 'Printer control' window, highlight the Postscript printer entry by clicking menu over it and then select 'Connection'. In the settings window that opens, set the output to print to file, click on the menu icon next to the writable icon, and drag the EPS icon from the pop-up save box to !PrintPDF on the iconbar. An EPS file is a document in an intermediary format, namely Postscript, that is used to represent the document in between its conversion to a PDF.

From left to right: The printer control window, from which you can set up the Postscript driver; the menu opened when you click menu over the Postscript entry; the pop-up save box from where you drag the EPS file to the PrintPDF iconbar icon.

A tweak to the 'paper width' from 209.9 to 210.0mm should cure the annoying message window which later pops up. To do this, click menu over the !Printers iconbar icon, select 'Edit paper sizes', and then make sure you're editing 'A4 (Generic PS)'. If you want colour output, click menu over the !Printers iconbar icon, select 'Printer control', then click menu over the Postscript entry in the window that pops up, and select 'Configure' from the menu. This opens up a settings window for the Postscript driver. Once you've set this up, you need not go through this fuss again.

The default memory requirement of !PrintPDF is 8MB, but this can be reduced to 4096KB in the application's 'Choices' menu, otherwise there will not be enough memory to process any files. All non-essential applications can be removed from the iconbar to increase free memory - even !Printers if you then print from the application used.

The Impression DTP document, or any other file you wish to convert, is then dragged to the PoScript2 printer icon and after a short conversion to EPS, the output PDF icon appears in a window. Dragging the PDF icon to the destination directory starts the conversion from EPS to PDF.

Files larger than half a megabyte, usually those containing graphics, are likely to crash VA5000 due to a lack of free memory. This is why I decided to buy Virtual RiscPC-SE.

Running on Virtual A5000

The first thing I did was write to ask the RiScript authors in Holland, via their web site, if RiScript would run on VA5000 - but no reply was forthcoming.

Having decided I would upgrade to VRPC-SE anyway, I paid for RiScript and waited for the email with the download code, and waited, and waited, and emailed again, and waited some more. I eventually got an email stating I had ordered RiScript, but there was no download code.

After some seven days had passed, I got an email plus an attachment containing RiScript from developer Jeroen - about one hour after the drobe.co.uk news desk had emailed the RiScript team to ask what was hold up. I also had one offer from a source in Holland who had waited for one month before he received his software; he offered to send me his version of RiScript until I received my unlock key. I thanked him and said I would wait. Three days later I got my unlock key from Jeroen.

Initially I was very optimistic as the size of the application is smaller than that of the hefty GhostScript port. But, when I unpacked the archive I thought I was seeing things - five files appeared, but after a split second the RiScript and RiTerm icons vanished before my eyes. Highlighting the contents of the directory showed they are still there but invisible, and clicking on one crashes VA5000.

From left to right: The RiScript 5.02 archive; the application is copied to the hard disc; where have my files gone? Highlighting reveals their magic trick.

I then tried this on a desktop PC running Windows XP Pro and VA5000, instead of my laptop PC running XP Home, with exactly the same results.

GhostScript 8.53
Running on VRPC-SE

Initially I was not able to get this to work, either by extracting the files from the original GS8 archive, or by copying the working version from my VA5000 partition. I went through the process of looking for the !iSVPatch file and didn't find it in the suggested folder.

There is an assumption on the part of the programmers who use the Acorn newsgroups that the average customer is as well versed in the structure of the software as they are. I buy and download software in order to use it, not tinker with it, and think I have a right to expect it to work without me taking it to bits first and without criticism for not knowing what to do. Otherwise I might just as well change platform, as I suspect many have for exactly this reason.

You must have a filing system that can handle more than 77 files in a directory, ie: RISC OS 4 or greater or something like HostFS or RaFS, before you can use Ghostscript. You also have to watch out for an iSV patch that might be installed, which prevents Ghostscript from running - see the GS8 !Help file for more information. Once you've got all this sorted, then you can follow the above instructions.

GhostScript 8.53
Running on a StrongARM RiscPC and RISC OS 4.2

It was difficult to copy GS8 to a stand-alone RiscPC, and I eventually managed by burning archives onto CD-ROM using Roxio software on a PC, before following the instructions above.

GS8 works much better on a StrongARM RPC and exhibits exactly the same characteristics as when running on VA5000, but is able to complete its conversion as there is plenty of RAM available. However, the same problems remain and it is upset by 'broken' fonts, and occasionally fails to convert EPS files that RiScript has no trouble with.

Generally the PDF output works well, but some adjustment of the file type is required on the PC side. For some reason RISC OS PDF files get the suffix ,adf when they are copied to a PC directory which means the file type has to be changed to .pdf before programs such as Adobe Acrobat can recognise them automatically. So setting the filetype as PDF on the RISC OS side ends up as ,adf when copied to the PC side. I would name a file thus 'MyWork/PDF' and transfer to it to the PC side where it becomes 'MyWork.PDF,apf'. I would then use rename to get rid of the ,adf and then it becomes a proper PDF file automatically recognised by Adobe Acrobat etc.

The two great advantages are that GS8 is free and that only two simple drag and drop operations are required.

Running on VRPC-SE

This is what I wanted, a laptop running RISC OS with the ability to reliably convert files to PDF format. RiScript is completely self-contained so no other programs are needed, and installs easily. RiScript often succeeds where GhostScript (GS8) sometimes fails, but it is not all plain sailing.

Once you have got your copy of RiScript, the first thing to do is to add PoScript2 to !Printers and configure output to the EPS file 'Printout' in a convenient location. I use a large RAM disk for this.

Next load !RiScript to the iconbar, but it will load automatically if one double clicks on the 'Printout' icon.

Dragging the EPS file 'Printout' onto the RiScript icon can provoke an 'error' window with the following message inside: Internal error, no stack for trap handler: Divide by zero, pc = 00064EC4: registers at 0001F10C. Pressing the 'Cancel' button, and then repeating the process usually displays the file correctly in an RiScript window. If there is a way of getting RiScript to process a file dropped onto or printed to PoScript2 automatically, I have not found it yet.

The output options are: save as an EPS file, or export as a Draw file. Dragging the EPS file 'Export' to a filer window creates the final PDF file. As usual this can be renamed before or after the drag and drop. An impressive array of options and permissions are possible for those wishing to restrict the use of their files in the PC world.

Now that I have removed the broken fonts from my system, documents are converted reliably and very quickly to PDF files, whereas GS8 is much slower. I'm not entirely sure what I would do without it.

Viewing PDF files

PDF files can be viewed with !PDF, !Gview and RiScript, or Adobe Acrobat on the PC side. !PDF does not display all the fonts in a PDF document properly but !Gview, RiScript and Adobe Acrobat do. !PDF seems to have one default font and seems unable to display any other fonts. This seems odd to me as Adobe Acrobat is able to reproduce the characters of RISC OS fonts which are somehow coded in the PDF files, but !PDF is not.

To get files to display on the PC side some adjustment of the file type is required on the PC side. Working the other way, files passed to the RISC OS side need to have their filetypes changed to PDF, and removing the /PDF suffix is optional.

Wish List

On my wish list for GS8 and RiScript: I would like to see the option to keep the input filename when output is it to a different directory, with a safeguard dialogue to prevent overwriting the original file.

I would like one simple drag and drop operation. At present GS8 requires two: one, Print to PoScript2, and two, Save PDF file. RiScript requires three: one, Print to PoScript2, two, Drag the Output file to RiScript (or double click on Output), and three, Save the PDF file.

I would like to see GS8 work as fast as RiScript. I would like to be able to configure RiScript to open with a window size larger than 70 percent - it does not respond to attempts to change the file default size.

However, as I said, I don't know what I'd do without RiScript in general, but at least Ghostscript is free and supports drag'n'drop.


How successful are you with PDFs on RISC OS?
PrintPDF - includes a Readme that also explains how to set everything up Another way to create PDFs on RISC OS

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Wow! What a process just to get PDF on RISC OS.

For me to attempt any of that, I would have to be placed into the Complete Idiot category. Is it that difficult or such an event to get a PDF creator programme to work on the Windows side of the planet too?



 is a RISC OS UserSawadee on 25/6/06 6:48AM
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Wow, this does sound like hard work but perhaps it is partially due to using VA5000 and thus the odd limitation - be it memory, or simply the old OS for A5000. I must applaud you that you did manage to sort all them tweaks out. Just for those interested in trying: When I tried theses things a while ago on IYONIX pc it worked with no hassles. Formerly with my Risc PC I used !ps2pdf, the Ghostscript frontend, and that worked too whereas RiScript was no use until it got clipping.

As for the file name something.pdf,adf. You might want to look into the MimeMap settings or the like to include the pdf files there so that then the filer enaming on Windows or the file type setting on RISC OS is not needed.

 is a RISC OS Userhzn on 25/6/06 7:29AM
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On my Iyonix the process is no where near as complex. a) Copy !Ghostscript into a directory, place !PrintPDF in the same directory. b) Then put a PostScript Level2 driver in printers. Using Configure give it a name (I use PDF) then in connection ensure File is selected, with ScrapDir>.PrintPDF.printout/ps in the writeable section alongside.

Want a PDF? Ensure PDF is the selected driver, print document, wait until window pops up to give the file a name and where you wish to save.

This works even for larger documents (up to 120 pages with many colour illustrations) in my case. The files are suitable for a non RISC OS printer to produce finished work from.

The only problem I've encountered so far has been with corrupted images or certain JPEGS causing memory problems. Replace the images and the problem seems to go away.

The 120m page document can take quite a while to do the first stage of processing (before the save as window appears, and then to actually produce the finished PDF file but it does work.

 is a RISC OS Userrmac on 25/6/06 9:19AM
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Sawadeee, hzn: Don't be too put off! Charles has written a very comprehensive article, but I think there's so much detail in there that it's easy to only see the problems. For instance, he talks a lot about using VA5000 (an obsolete product) and tranferring files to PCs (where he has issues entirely unrelated to the PDF process).

A "typical" user might be more interested in just one of his many scenarios - for instance the "GhostScript on RPC" one. If you remove the irrelevant detail from that section, you're only left with an observation about broken fonts (I've never come across this, I wonder if it's common?). The equivalent set-up section is only two paragraphs long and hardly complicated :)

 is a RISC OS Useradamr on 25/6/06 9:28AM
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Iyonix - really easy and no problems - does exactly what it's supposed to see my school website www.fieldheadcarr.leeds.sch.uk None of it touches a PC!

 is a RISC OS UserDaveW on 25/6/06 10:20AM
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I hope I have achieved my original intention which was to identify pitfalls and offer some support for those with original RPCs or Virtual Acorn on a PC. Knowing what to try and what not to try may help. I am quite happy to try to support anybody attempting PDF conversion for the first time. It is worth getting one or both of the programs working. Since writing the above I am on a different project - writing a book on antiques with several photos (sprite files) on each page. For this I have swung in favour of GS8 over RiScript for the following reason: RiScript can't handle publisher documents with sprites larger than about 1.5Mb in size. It converts a certain amount of the sprite file and just stops. GS8 has no trouble and gets there in the end. There are a few other little niggles that I will write to Drobe about unless folks want me to post them here.

 is a RISC OS UserDuckers on 25/6/06 11:33AM
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"I would like one simple drag and drop operation. At present GS8 requires two: one, Print to PoScript2, and two, Save PDF file." I don't think this is correct: if you use PrintPDF as the front-end, it requires just one step. Starting a print-job to the "PDF Printer" opens a save dialogue allowing the PDF file to be draged to disc. There is no way to simplify this further without including dedicated support into individual applications (eg. ArtWorks and EasiWriter).

As for "I would like to see the option to keep the input filename when output is it to a different directory, with a safeguard dialogue to prevent overwriting the original file.", that's doable for PrintPDF/GhostScript when converting an existing PS file, but less easy to do when printing direct as there is no original filename information available (it gets lost as the file passes through the RISC OS printer driver in most cases). I can't speak for RiScript, but since it's also based on output from the PS printer drivers, the same limitations will probably apply.

It's usually a good idea to email application authors with feature requests like this, too, as we can't always be relied on to spot such comments in forums. :-)

 is a RISC OS Userstevef on 25/6/06 12:17PM
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My experince of emailing authors in the past has been: No reply. Don't bother me, use the forums and I will pick it up.

I have to be completely honest and say that I did get a very positive and hlpful response from you on a previous occasion.

I should, however, like to point out that the article is entitled 'An Idiot's guide...'. I did comment on the difference between what PC users can expect from software publishers and what RPC users can expect. I have not been a programmer since BBC'B' days and these days simply rely on the documentation which programs come with.

Gotta go out.

 is a RISC OS UserDuckers on 25/6/06 12:41PM
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As a certified idiot it's interesting to see this article as I had similar frustrations a while ago. I'd thought to use PDF as a useful way to distribute documents between friends (linux), work (Windoze) and home (good old RISC OS). Sadly I did not have the patience demonstrated here and gave up for fear of taking out my frustration on my otherwise beloved Risc PC with a pick axe.

To date I stick to just reading PDFs.

Considering the fact that I am a user of the system and don't know the minutae of coding could I ask a stupid question? If something like Impression X ever sees the light of day please can we just have an "Export as PDF" option?

 is a RISC OS Userwrankin42 on 25/6/06 1:50PM
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"As a certified idiot it's interesting to see this article as I had similar frustrations a while ago... To date I stick to just reading PDFs." Have you tried installing a recent version (GhostScript 8.50 or 8.53)? Installation with these versions is a lot simpler than it was with 7.03, as everything required comes in a single archive. In addition, you just need a front-end, and you're away; if you go with my PrintPDF, the documentation for that comes with full installation instructions to guide you through getting GS set up as well. You do need to be using RISC OS 4 or 5, with a hard disc format that supports long filenames and more than 77 files per directory. That includes all post-Acorn hardware, virtual machines (HostFS) and any RiscPC which has had its disc reformatted, so it isn't a major problem now.

 is a RISC OS Userstevef on 25/6/06 4:17PM
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Has anyone tried Taborca? It is made by the same company who make RiScript, but I think it is supposed to be a demo version of RiScript, so it will only print the first couple of pages, which is ok if you are just converting a small document. Also it is alot easier to set up, with only one install file. I have used it on a number of occasions and it just installs itself on the Iconbar as a virtual printer. Sometimes the install file doesnt work, (like in my case) so you may have to manually set it up by installing the pdf printer driver and putting the application !Taborca somewhere where it can be 'seen' by the filer. the link is: [link]

 is a RISC OS UserOliverB on 25/6/06 7:29PM
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By the way ignore what it says about it only working with RISC OS 4 !Printers, it will also work with the latest version of !Printers (1.72) from Castle.

 is a RISC OS UserOliverB on 25/6/06 7:31PM
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On the back of this article - downloaded latest ghostscript and PrintPDF.

Install was just a matter of reading the help files.

Used an old problematic document (a draw file with some less than standard fonts) - created PDF & it displayed perfectly on a windows XP machine


 is a RISC OS UserROHC on 25/6/06 8:32PM
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forgot: OS is RO5

 is a RISC OS UserROHC on 25/6/06 8:34PM
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I think all the problems with VA5000 spoiled the focus of the article, more information how well certain types of graphics are embedded and font translation issues would have been useful.

VA5000 is only for running legacy software (mainly for schools), the problems with such a system and the pitfalls of RISC OS 3.1 are just off the horizon of developers these days, who will be expecting RO4.02 as a minimum for running new software releases. Anyone still persisting with anything older after all these years will have to help themselves.

Incidentally if using VRPC the PDF files can be used from either RISC OS or Windows without renaming as long as VRPC is given a file type mapping between &ADF and .PDF, which can easily be done from the settings dialog.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 26/6/06 9:24AM
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Duckers: "I did comment on the difference between what PC users can expect from software publishers and what RPC users can expect."

I don't think that's entirely fair. I've no experience with Ghostscript on any other platforms other than RISC OS, but I can't imagine that it's much simpler on there, and RiscScript is a doddle to install (once ypu've managed to get the key). The only shortfall in the installation is that it doesn't make clear that it won't work on the Iyonix (and probably VA500).

I agree with other comments that several of these problems should've been kept separate from the general content about PDF creation on RISC OS, because they unfairly colour the whole experience (in the same way as having difficulty with a Windows application on a RiscPC's second processor might).

 is a RISC OS UserSimonC on 26/6/06 10:11AM
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Taborca works so well and easily for my purposes in creating .pdfs. I usually make 1 page .pdf documents. I hope RiScript can be made to work as easily. The only app that I can't 'print' a .pdf directly from is !Sibelius. For this I export a drawfile and make a pdf from that.

 is a RISC OS Userwebmonster on 26/6/06 10:17AM
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