I have seen this error occur a few times, where a PDF only appears correctly on some computers. Does anyone know what causes this and how to fix it? Is this some kind of encoding error?

  • Could you be a little more specific? Is the same software being used everywhere? The same OS? Do you know what software was used to create the PDF(s) in question?
    – frabjous
    Jan 7 '11 at 3:11
  • @Frabjous: The question is general because I have seen this issue a few times. Sometimes it does seem to be OS related - but not the issue that I saw today
    – Casebash
    Jan 7 '11 at 3:26
  • What did you see today? I really doubt that the question can be answered without more information.
    – frabjous
    Jan 7 '11 at 3:33
  • @frabjous: Characters appeared weird on one Windows computer, but not another
    – Casebash
    Jan 7 '11 at 3:53
  • On what? Adobe Reader on each? Save version? Different versions?
    – frabjous
    Jan 7 '11 at 4:27

The question is too open-ended to be answered as is, but here are several things I've seen which have caused PDFs to render different in different software or different machines.

  1. Fonts are not always embedded in the PDFs (-- usually they are, but not always --) and two computers have different fonts or different versions of the fonts installed.
  2. Different PDF rendering engines are used, which support different features. Few PDF readers apart from Adobe support JavaScript, for example, and certain other features.
  3. Different viewers, or different versions, support different PDF versions to different levels. E.g., there are features of PDF 1.6 not supported by Ghostscript based viewers like MuPDF.
  4. Even for a given engine, sometimes not all components are always installed. Certain PDF elements do not appear correctly in poppler based PDF viewers unless the poppler-data package is installed, for example, and at least as of recently, this package is not installed on Ubuntu and other distros.
  5. Different PDF software react differently to different methods of using basic unis of measurement when it comes to issues that are unclear in the PDF spec; for an example, see here.
  6. Bugs, bugs, bugs!

I'm sure there are more!

  • Thanks, at least now I have a much better idea of what the errors could be
    – Casebash
    Jan 7 '11 at 5:22
  • Also some PDFs are created with ANSI code pages, which don't translate very well when viewed on a different code page. Same reason some web pages are full of ????. There are utilities for the various platforms to let you read documents in their original code page, if you can figure it out. Jan 7 '11 at 5:25

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