Brenden Schaaf / April 28, 2009

Create PDF files for free, part 2

After writing my previous post promoting PrimoPDF, I upgraded to the latest version so that I could provide a current screenshot.  I then realized that the PDF files created with version 4.1 (even when choosing eBook or tweaking other settings that should make the file size smaller) were quite a bit larger than those created by other software.  So I decided to do some testing…

I used my class syllabus from spring semester (a file created in Word 2007) for this test.  It is a fairly simple file in that it has no images, but one page (of 8 pages total) is an embedded Excel file.  Here are the resulting file sizes of PDFs created using various means:

  • 58kb = Bullzip (Quality setting = Default)

    Bullzip dialog box isn't as pretty as PrimoPDF
    Bullzip dialog box isn't as pretty as PrimoPDF
  • 59kb = Ghostscript 8.63/Redmon
  • 60kb = Adobe Acrobat
  • 91kb = Bullzip (Quality setting = Printer)
  • 175kb = Word 2007 (using Save As PDF)
  • 189kb = PrimoPDF 4.1 (Quality setting = Printer)
  • 189kb = PrimoPDF 3.1 (Quality setting = Printer)
  • 190kb = PrimoPDF 3.2 (Quality setting = Printer)

Not wanting to make any judgements using only one file as a source (but happy to pass judgement upon using two files!), I then chose a large PowerPoint file and created handouts as PDFs from it using various methods.  Here are the results:

  • 733kb = PowerPoint 2007 (using Save As PDF)  this one looked better than the others
  • 1,182kb = Bullzip (Quality setting = Default)
  • 1,189kb = PrimoPDF 4.1 (Quality setting = Screen)
  • 1,212kb = Ghostscript 8.63/Redmon
  • 1,284kb = PrimoPDF 4.1 (Quality setting = eBook)
  • 1,292kb = Bullzip (Quality setting = Printer) this one screwed up the orientation
  • 1,351kb = PrimoPDF 4.1 (Quality setting = Printer) this one screwed up the orientation too
  • 2,192kb = PrimoPDF 4.1 (after screwing with the settings to make the file size smaller…oops!)

So if the file size is important, I guess you’ll need to experiment to see what works for your needs.  Microsoft Office 2007 has built-in PDF conversion (well, not quite built-in since you do need to download and install a small bit of software) so maybe that is all you need.  For my PowerPoint handouts this method created by far the most readable slides, at least on the screen.  I suppose to truly test things I should actually print each of these out since presumably the larger file size of some of these might result in better looking printouts (that’s a reasonable assumption, eh?), but since each application is unique even those results would only apply to one particular situation.

Bullzip Output Formats
Bullzip Output Formats

In my opinion, PrimoPDF still seems to me like the easiest to install/use if all you need is a way to print to PDF format, but Bullzip is free for personal use and has the added benefit of some additional features, such as watermarking.  Bullzip also allows you to output to other file formats such as PNG, TIFF, or JPEG and that can be handy at times.

Plus the file size of the resulting PDFs from Bullzip seems smaller in my limited testing than those created by PrimoPDF.

I’ll probably stick with my Ghostscript/Redmon printer that I configured manually because it has worked for me for so long and there aren’t any settings to screw with so I can’t accidentally create really large PDF files.  I really don’t think you can go wrong with any of these options especially when you consider that this is one case where you actually do get MORE than what you pay for.

Brenden Schaaf / April 27, 2009

Create PDF files for free

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!