Create PDF files for free

Brenden Schaaf / April 27, 2009

Most people think that creating PDF files (aka Portable Document Format) requires the purchase of software like Adobe Acrobat at a cost of several hundred dollars.  This is not the case.  While Adobe did create the PDF standard as a proprietary file format, there have been other programs available for some time that will allow a person to create and even manipulate PDF files and the file format has been released as an open standard for more than a year now.

One method I have advocated in the past has been to use Ghostscript and Redmon to set up a “printer” in Windows (let me introduce the caveat here that everything that follows is for Windows only…if you have a Mac or Linux there may be other solutions but I don’t know what they are) that sends output to a file and the process will prompt a user for a filename and create a pdf file on a user’s hard drive.   My old method is still detailed online and it works rather well, but it is complicated for an average user to set up and one small error like a missing space or an extra punctuation mark causes failures (with no error messages that really explain what you did wrong).  Additionally, sometimes choosing different postscript drivers (or even the same postscript driver on different machines or versions of Windows) would cause documents, especially the colors, to not appear correctly.

Thankfully, there is a piece of software called PrimoPDF that is nothing more than some software that automates the messy process of setting up Ghostscript while still using it as the foundation for creating PDF files.  It is free to download and use and as long as you don’t mind seeing some advertisements (see image below) on your screen when you create a PDF file it just “seems to work.”  Installing PrimoPDF will create a printer on your computer called, conveniently, PrimoPDF and when you select that as your printer you will be presented with the following dialog box:

Dialog box presented when you print to PrimoPDF 4.1

You can enter a path and filename into this dialog box and once the PDF file is created (in a second or two) it will open up in your default PDF viewer (usually Adobe Reader) and from there you can email it or just close it, depending on your needs.

If you need to edit/manipulate PDF files (like if you want to create fillable forms) then you will still need to obtain some additional software to do so.  I’m certain that the folks that give away PrimoPDF are hoping that you will return to them when you have this need and purchase one of the products for which they charge a fee (that is what the advertisements are for)…and of course Adobe Acrobat is also available for this pupose.

But most people that I know just need/want a way to create PDF files so that they can send those to people instead of sending an Excel, Word, or PowerPoint file.  For those purposes, PrimoPDF works great!

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