Don’t rely on PDFs

PDFs tend to get overused, despite their many drawbacks.

A graphically designed layout of a left and right page in a spread rests on top of a montage.

Somehow, somewhen, PDFs became sort of lodged in people’s brains as a very serious way of delivering very serious information.

PDFs are fine for print jobs. This is the main way we use them. But PDFs tend to get overused.

The many downsides of PDFs include:

  • not readable on all devices1
  • usually not marked up properly for screenreaders
  • large and slow to download2
  • text is not flowing
  • less findable in search indexes3
  • PDFs evade analytics and reporting systems4

“Research spanning 20 years proves PDFs are problematic for online reading. Yet they’re still prevalent and users continue to get lost in them. They’re unpleasant to read and navigate and remain unfit for digital-content display.”

Nielsen Norman Group


  1. PDF: Still Unfit for Human Consumption, 20 Years Later
  2. PDFs: We need to talk. How to spot and counter the most common excuses for publishing PDFs on the web.
  3. PDFs make your website harder to use
  4. Why you need to stop using PDFs: A non-fiction thriller about a zombie format, a mutant virus, and the promise of beautiful content, quickly.