Here’s the situation: I was going through some files of my late father, who was an avid environmentalist in the 1960s, when I came across personal letters to him from South Dakota’s U.S. senators and governor. I wanted to share them with my brother, who lives in South Dakota.
So naturally I scanned them on my cheapo printer/ scanner with the intention of emailing them. But several letters had multiple pages, and I wanted to combine the JPG files for each multipage letter into a single PDF.
So what did I do? I did what I always do in this sort of situation: I assumed there would be a website that would allow me to do this easily—and for free.
And that’s what I want to share with you this month: Always begin by assuming there’s a free tool online that will do what you need.
In this case, it was Smallpdf (Smallpdf.com). It couldn’t have been easier. I simply dragged and dropped the JPG files onto the conversion space in the order that I wanted them to appear in the PDF. Then I clicked to upload. In seconds the PDF had been created, and then I clicked to download it.
JPG to PDF is just one of about 10 different PDF-related conversions the website offers, including converting PDF files to editable Word documents. Other operations offered include merging and splitting PDFs, as well as deleting specific pages.
The site uses a typical ploy: it gives the impression when you first go there that to take advantage of their offering you need to sign up for a seven-day free trial. But if you click on the link for any specific tool, you’ll see that you can do two free conversions a day—no signup necessary.
And another recent situation: One of my trail cameras captured an animal zooming past so fast that it was impossible to identify. So I wanted to use slow motion on the clip to get a better look. I knew that Apple’s free iMovie would allow me to change the clip to slow motion, but the file needed to be either MOV or MPEG, whereas my camera creates AVI files.
Again, I did what I always do: Assumed there was a free tool online. The first site that came up in Google was CloudConvert (CloudConvert.com), which offers up to 25 free conversions per day and can work with over 200 file types. It was quick, easy, and free. (I found out later that I could use iMovie itself for the conversion, but CloudConvert is simpler.)
Online-Convert (Online-Convert.com) is also a good option. Like Cloud Convert, it offers free conversion of a large range of file types.
Another need I’ve sometimes had is sending large files to others, since email services often limit attachments to 20MB. When I want to send a much larger file, I use WeTransfer (WeTransfer.com). You simply select the file, enter the person’s email address and your email address, and then click Transfer. The file uploads to the internet, you receive an email alert that it was sent to the recipient, and then an email alert when the person downloads it. The free service limits the file size to 2GB.
On rare occasions, I’ve needed to extract text from an image file, such as a JPG. For that task, I use Soda PDF Online (SodaPDF.com/ocr-pdf). Their easy-to-use optical character recognition (OCR) lets you drag and drop an image file and then converts it to text that you can copy and edit.
Why would one need OCR? Suppose I wanted to post online the text of some of the letters my father received. I could use this service to convert the JPEG files to text.
For sending emails to groups of people, an excellent choice is Mailchimp (Mailchimp.com), which I use regularly. The free version lets you send to up to 2,000 contacts. I had tried a couple other services, but Mailchimp seemed easiest to use.
And a final example. Suppose you have a nice photo of yourself, but you’d like to remove the unsightly background. A quick search using the keywords “remove photo background” turns up RemoveBG (Remove.bg). You simply drag and drop a photo to upload it, and the website immediately removes the background. Then you click to download it. (This free site requires you to sign up, unlike the others mentioned above.)
Of course, there’s always some risk of malware when downloading a file from a website that has been tweaked by them. But typically it’s easy to find sites that look highly professional and that offer a freebie in hopes you’ll sign up for their premium service. It’s a good bet these are safe.
So next time you need something, assume there’s a free tool online to help.
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