PDF Files

When should I post a PDF?

The main advantage of using a PDF is that the appearance remains consistent for all users (although even this is only true if the PDFs are properly set up). You should post a PDF if it meets the following criteria:

  • Formatting is critical and must be retained
    If you are providing forms that must be displayed in a specific way due to governmental or other regulations. Examples: scholarship application, letter from the governor

  • Printing is required
    Documents that need to be printed out in an exact manner, such as forms and applications. Examples: program application, human resource form

  • Large documents for download/offline use
    If you have long documents that you want users to save to their device. Note: These should also be available as webpages on our site; the downloadable PDF should be an addition to the webpage, not a substitute for it. Example: student handbooks, program catalogs.

When shouldn't I post a PDF?

Any other time. If the information is important enough to post online, it should be a webpage. Forcing a user to download and browse through PDFs rather than viewing webpages makes for a bad user experience.


  • are smaller in file size
  • are accessible by screen readers
  • offer a centralized navigation
  • are branded as Binghamton University
  • provide user analytics
  • are more search engine friendly

You shouldn't post PDFs of the following:

  • Newsletters
  • Brochures
  • Fact sheets
  • Posters
  • Powerpoints

These were meant to be professionally printed (not displayed on the web or printed by the user) and are time-sensitive (most are outdated within a year). If there is valuable information in these pieces, you should create a webpage to present the data.

It's true that a lot of time has been spent designing the fact sheet, newsletter, poster, etc., and that converting it into a webpage will take a little more time and effort. Sure, it's easy to just "throw a PDF online." However, you shouldn't do that and here's why:

  1. If the content is valuable, it should be a webpage. If it isn't valuable, it shouldn't be posted. If the content isn't worth your time to convert it to a webpage, then it isn't worth anyone's time to read it.

  2. Putting a PDF online isn't as simple as uploading it to the web server and linking to it. PDFs must meet accessibility standards, and it may take a good deal of work to make your PDF accessible.

  3. Designing newsletters and fact sheets that are printed and distributed to a hundred people is a lot of effort for little reward. Instead, focus your efforts building useful webpages filled with valuable content. You'll end up with a better result, with much less effort, and a broader reach.

How to create a PDF

PDFs should be accessible. PDFs should be generated from a word-processing application (Word, InDesign, etc.). Text should be human readable. You should NEVER post a PDF that is simply a scanned photo of a document.

  • Smaller is better
    Aim for 30-40 KB. Most browsers need to download the full PDF before they can render it, so anything larger and your readers may hit the back button and leave rather than wait for it to load. Optimize your images and don't embed fonts. There's an online PDF compressor that may assist you. 

  • Accessibility is key
    Any content on the binghamton.edu site must be accessible to all users. Refer to WebAIM's site on PDFs for more information. 

  • Maintenance is required
    One of the biggest issues the University website has with PDFs is that they are dated. We have newsletters from 10 years ago littered with outdated content, bad links and broken images. Follow the previously mentioned naming conventions and archive any content more than a year old.