How to Create Password for PDF Files
By Shelley Hoose
To password-protect a PDF file, use Microsoft Office 2013, which can open and convert PDFs or Adobe Acrobat, the gold standard.
Alternatively, use one of several PDF utilities available on the Web. These alternate tools vary widely in feature set, quality, price and dependability -- some may be downright dangerous and will install unwanted programs or even viruses on your system. Two highly rated tools are PDFescape, an online PDF editor, and PDFCreator, which you download to your computer.
Adobe Acrobat XI
If you are lucky enough to have the full power of Acrobat, it's likely your first choice for full-featured password and encryption protection. Click Tools from the top menu bar to launch the Tools sidebar, select Protection and click Encrypt. Check the box Encrypt with Password to open the Password Security settings window. Select the check box Require a Password to Open the Document and enter a password.
This dialog box also provides customized options for setting such permissions as allowing the user to copy the content or to print; these permissions require a separate password.
Microsoft Office 2013
Any Office 2013 application supports the ability both to create PDFs and to password-protect them. Word's PDF encryption feature is an option available when exporting a Word document to a PDF. Open your document in Word and choose Export from the File menu. Select Create PDF/XPS Document in the left sidebar, and then click the Create PDF/XPS button to open the Publish as PDF or XPS dialog. Don't click Publish yet -- first, select Options and check the box next to Encrypt the document with a password. In the Encrypt PDF Document dialog, set your password.
If you have an existing PDF instead, open it in Word by right-clicking the document in File Explorer, selecting Open with and choosing Word (desktop). At that point, switch to the File menu, choose Export and follow the same procedure.
PDFescape is an online PDF editor, so there is no need to download or install software; just upload your PDF to the PDFescape website. The free version limits file sizes to 10MB and 100 pages, while the paid version has no file limit at $20 per year as of publication.
Navigate to the PDFescape website and select the Edit your PDF Now button. While you can download and install a desktop version, click Continue to PDFescape to use the online version. Click Upload PDF to PDFescape. (To use PDFescape to first create the PDF, choose Create new PDF Document instead.)
Follow the wizard's prompts to browse to and upload a PDF from your computer. When a PDF is loaded, the main interface launches. Select the Lock icon in the top menu to open the Document Security pop-up, check Encrypt and set a password. Save and download your document.
PDFCreator by Pdfforge is a full-featured PDF utility that offers encryption and password protection in addition to its many other features. You can restrict access to your PDFs using a password, and also limit printing or modifying your document. Either set your application preferences to always require a password for any PDF documents created by PDFCreator or set a password "on the fly" for individual documents.
Download and install PDFCreator. The free version is fully functioning but displays ads. For a small fee ($5 per year as of publication), you can install the paid version, PDFCreator Plus, on up to five computers. When you install PDFCreator, it also automatically installs PDF Architect, but you don't need this to password-protect PDFs.
In order to setting your preferences to always enforce encryption, launch the program, select Profile Settings and make sure that PDF is selected from the left sidebar (this is the default). Select the Security tab, check Require a password to open the PDF document and then click Set Passwords to define a password. To set a user password for opening documents, you must also set an owner password for editing. After you've set these preferences, open a PDF, select Print from the File menu and choose PDFCreator as the printer. Click OK in your Print dialog, which then launches the PDFCreator dialog.
To enforce encryption for an individual PDF, open the PDF, enter Ctrl-P to print and choose PDFCreator as your printer. Click OK to launch the PDFCreator dialog. Choose Settings at the bottom to launch the same dialog available from within PDFCreator. Again, ensure that PDF is selected from the left sidebar and click Security. Proceed to set a password for this document.
Many disreputable companies offer PDF tools on the Web, so be careful. For example, some install software that will change your browser settings without your permission or introduce pop-up ads. Many don't have security certificates. Never install anything that is not highly rated on a reputable website such as PC World or CNET.
Lynne Pettus has worked in the communications field for more than 20 years, most recently as a technical writer and editor in the software industry. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from USC.