Resources » Working With PDFs (Basics) » What Is File Conversion? (What Does Convert PDF Mean?) 

What is a file converter? What does it mean to convert a file from one format into another? How do you change a file format?

What It Means to Change a File Format

To understand what file conversion is, you first have to understand what a “file” is. Files on your computer or device will generally contain information in a certain format. The name of the file ends in an extension (usually), which tells us what type of file it is. Examples include .pdf, .doc, .xls, and .jpg. These represent a file’s “type” or “format,” which conveys what applications the file is compatible with.  

A simple comparison might be to think of a computer file as a house (your computer itself might be the neighborhood or region where the house/file is located). 

Like a house, a file contains data or information about what’s inside and what it may be used for. Houses come in several types — apartments, condos, mansions, duplexes, and more. They can be converted into different types (single to multi, multi to single, residential to commercial, one-story to two stories, small to large … you get the idea). Files can be converted too.

A digital file conversion is changing a file format from one format to another, giving it a new use and, therefore, a new way to open and use it.   

What Changes When a File is Converted?

A file converter is a program that can identify the “old” file type and then convert it to a “new” format. In actuality, the file conversion process duplicates the original and gives it a new format. So, when you convert a Word doc into a PDF, you’ll retain your original .doc and have a second file with a .pdf extension.  

A PDF is a type of document that preserves formatting across all devices that use it. Your computer will open a PDF with a certain program like a PDF reader, web browser, PowerPoint, Word, etc. Therefore, to convert your PDF to a different file type is to change the extension, which tells your computer the way to store the file’s data. Your computer will then use a different program to open and view that data. 

The file converter must be able to recognize both the old and new formats. A file converter will specifically be things like PDF to DOC or JPG to PDF. These converters will only be able to accept their respective file formats and will only convert to a specific file type. 

What exactly changes when you convert a file? Well, in the background, the coding of the file changes. Sometimes, the appearance will change and functions will disappear. For example, when you change an Excel sheet to a PDF, you’ll lose the cell-by-cell functions and formulas; this type of conversion delivers a snapshot of a spreadsheet rather than the full functionality.

Why Do You Convert File Formats?

It’s often the case that the way that a file is stored dictates how it will be used. PowerPoint files, for example, are excellent for presentations; however, they are large files that aren’t practical for sharing. Converting a .ppt to a .pdf makes it more shareable. 

JPGs are great for pictures, but you can have only one .jpg per file. If you want to create a digital photo album, you’ll need to convert the .jpg files and merge them into a single .pdf file.

Lastly, you might want to convert a file into a non-editable format, so you can share it without worrying about anyone changing the contents.

In summary, these are the reasons to convert files:  

  • So you can share them more easily
  • So you can work with a file in a different program
  • So you can combine multiple files into a single file format
  • So you can protect the contents of the document from being altered*

*Protecting the format of a document is a complicated process. Learn more about locking and unlocking PDFs.

Are Free File Converters Safe?

File creation apps, like Microsoft Word, allow you to save or export documents as PDFs, which is essentially “converting” your document from a .docx file that’s editable by Word to a PDF. If you’ve got the software installed on your device, you’ll be able to make these conversions for free. 

PDF.Live’s file converters will allow you to upload JPEG, DOC, PPT and XLS files and convert them to PDF file types. PDF.Live’s converter is perfectly safe (and free to try!) but other free file converters may be less trustworthy. Always ensure that a site is safe and look for websites with HTTPS encryption, which is more secure. 

How Do You Change File Format? 

We mentioned earlier that you need a specific file converter for specialized conversions. This can be annoying, considering that there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of possible file formats that you may use. 

You can convert your files in one of three ways: 

1. Save as… 

Using a file’s default program (like Microsoft Word with .doc files), open that file and then select File and Save As. When saving a file you’ll have a list of options, depending on the default program, that you can save a file as. In document editors, this may be more restrictive. But, in photo editors, for example, you may be able to save a photo file as a JPG, TIFF, PNG or other image format. 

2. Use a file converter service

File converter services are third parties that convert your files to other file types for you. File converter services tend to operate in your web browser and will grant you more nuanced conversions by having you drag and drop a file into the converter and downloading that file as a different format. Be cautious when using these, and use only file converter services like PDF.Live’s that are both safe and secure. 

3. Rename the file with a different extension

For the more tech-savvy internet users, renaming a file extension manually may be an option if you want to tell your computer a specific way to open a file without converting it. This won’t always work, as the type of data the file holds will need to be compatible with the app associated with the new file type that you intend to use. Files may not work properly when doing this, so consider a web search on your specific file conversion to find the best available method. 

What Is a PDF Converter?

PDF converters are very common on the web, as PDFs are difficult to modify without the use of a PDF editor. PDF converters change file formats to and from PDFs. For example, you may use a PDF converter to reformat a PDF to a JPG or a PPT to a PDF. The uses will probably be pretty specific, but the converter works similarly to how we outlined above: It translates the data within a file to a different format so that your computer can use a different program to open it. 

Consider checking out PDF.Live’s PDF converters to see a file converter in action.