Print to PDF Basics

You may have heard the term "Print to PDF". PDF stands for Portable Document Format and is most closely associated with Adobe Acrobat software. The PDF format was created in 1993 by Adobe Systems as a way to exchange documents without having to account for the document's original format.

The PDF format allows you to, for instance, take a Word document or a WordPerfect document and write a new ".pdf" version of it that is identical to the original document.

That PDF document can then be shared with anyone, even those users who don’t have the original Word or WordPerfect loaded on their computer.

All a person needs is some form of PDF viewer program, and there are many free ones on the Internet.

In addition, many PDF viewers will allow you to print to PDF yourself. Having this functionally is really helpful if you share documents frequently, and it is a snap to use.

Here's how Print to PDF works:

When you install a PDF printer program, it sets up as a printer in your computer's printer folder. (You won't see any application to run).

All you need to do is print your document as you normally would, and choose the PDF program as the printer you want to use. The file it creates can be named whatever the original document name was named, but it will have .pdf extension instead. Very easy, very helpful.

Recommendations for PDF Writers and Viewers

There are many PDF writers and viewers available for free on the Internet. The original Adobe PDF Reader is free from, but it is a very big file to download, plus it only reads PDF documents. You can't print to PDF with it.

There are other much smaller, easier to use programs that allow you to both write and view PDF files.

Here's just a few I've used:

  • CutePDF: this works without any pop up ads or hawks to buy, which is a great feature. However, it doesn't automatically launch the PDF for you, so you'll need to remember where you told it to write the file. (If you always use My Documents, it will make this easier for you.) I use this one most of the time.

  • PDF995: the free version works well, if you can stand the "Buy Me' windows that pop up every time you use the program. You can purchase it to avoid these windows.

  • Foxit PDF: this is also free, but I don't like it. It installed a toolbar that showed up my Office programs. I turned the toolbar off, but it reincarnated itself every time I started Office. Worse, it always showed up on the bottom of the toolbar window, taking up a whole line by itself, and reducing the size of my Word document view space. I couldn't find any support document to help me. Annoying, so I uninstalled it. If anyone at Foxit wants to tell me how to turn off that toolbar, I'll rewrite this paragraph to share that information.

  • ScanSoft's PDF Creator!: This is not free, but it works very well.

    Wikipedia offers a long list of programs that will create PDFs from a variety of operating systems and software formats. Here's Wikipedia's list of PDF editors and readers.

Print to PDF Tutorial

These step by step print to pdf instructions will work with documents created by familiar software like Microsoft Office:

  1. Install one of the PDF writer programs discussed above.
  2. Open your original document. It can be a Word document, an Excel spreadsheet, a Publisher file, just about anything at all. You could print this webpage to pdf if you wanted to keep it for future reference.
  3. Choose File, Print to bring up a Print dialog box.
  4. Choose the PDF writer (you just installed) as the Printer to which you want to print. (There is no need to select "Print to file" option.) Click Ok.
  5. You will get a Save As dialog box prompting you for a location to write (save) the PDF file. Select a folder in which to save the file (My Documents would be good).
  6. Enter a File name, then click Save.
  7. Go to that folder to find your PDF file.

Just some final facts you might like to know about PDF technology. Adobe Acrobat is the application associated with PDF files, and it can do a great deal more with the PDF format than just print identical documents for sharing.

If you own a copy of Adobe Acrobat Professional, you can create forms from your documents which people can fill out by typing right into the form. You can also add notes and highlight text within a PDF file, and create PDF documents from multiple files. You can take a PDF file and add single pages from other PDF documents to it, or delete pages you don't want without having to recreate the entire file again.

It's really one of the best technologies available for sharing information with people all over the world. (But it's not cheap - Adobe Acrobat Pro will cost you around $460).

That's print to PDF in a nutshell.

Wondering how to take a handwritten document and turn it into a PDF? Click here for my easy Scan to PDF steps.

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