Create PDF files with free programs

If you have downloaded many documents from the Internet, you have likely come across many that are in PDF format. Portable Document Format (PDF) has been around for almost 20 years, and has become the de facto standard document format that embeds text, fonts and graphics into the document, such that it will appear the same regardless of the operating system on the computer.

Originally a proprietary format developed by Adobe that required an expensive utility, Adobe Acrobat, in order to create, PDF became an open standard in 2008. While Acrobat was an expensive commercial program used to create PDF files, Adobe Reader has been a free staple included on almost all new computers over the past several years to display documents created with Adobe Acrobat. In the past few years, many free PDF readers have become available that claim to offer some advantages over the original Adobe Reader; my personal choice for a PDF reader is Foxit, with more than 100 million copies downloaded, and available for free from www.foxitsoftware.com.

Until a few years ago, Adobe Acrobat had a virtual monopoly on the ability to create PDF files; over the past several years, other free and commercial PDF writers have come on the market, and PDF creation is now integrally included in many of the newer office suites, without the need of a separate PDF writer. Recently, Gizmo’s TechSupportAlert.com updated its listings and evaluations of free PDF writing software, and corroborated my choices of PDF writers that I have been using for the past few years.

For several years, going back to my obsolescent XP computer, I had happily used a free PDF creator, CutePDF Writer (cutepdf.com). When I first used my Windows 7-64 computer, I had some issues with CutePDF (now resolved with the newer versions), so I tried several competing free PDF writers. As with almost all other PDF creators or writers, CutePDF Writer is installed and used like a printer driver. In order to create a PDF with almost all PDF writers, simply click on PRINT from the program being used to create or display a document, and select the PDF utility instead of a physical printer. The PDF creating software will function somewhat like a printer, but instead of putting the output on paper, it will create the output as a PDF file. The output thus created is “WYSIWYG” (What You See Is What You Get), with the new PDF document being identical in appearance to the one created or viewed.

In addition to being able to print (save) almost all documents as a PDF, I also use my chosen PDF writer to save Web pages. From my browser (usually Firefox) I click on FILE - PRINT and select one of my PDF printers; within seconds I have an exact copy of the Web page saved as a PDF file. I do precisely this whenever I order anything online, saving both a copy of the Web page displaying the item, and a copy of my itemized receipt. I also frequently save as PDF files (print to PDF) news stories, e-mails and other documents that I want to preserve. Basically, anything that can be printed can also be saved in PDF format, precisely preserving color, format, font and other information from the page.

On all of my computers, I am now predominately using the Bullzip Free PDF Printer (bullzip.com) to create PDF files. Bullzip is currently rated by Gizmo as the top rated free PDF writer. It can run on any 32- or 64-bit version of Windows through Windows 7, including XP and Vista. Bullzip offers as user selected options password protection and encryption of PDF files, quality settings, watermarks and the ability to create documents in formats other than PDF (BMP, JPEG, PCX, PDF, PNG, and TIFF). For most users, there is no need to change any of the settings as the default settings work fine.

Now that CutePDF Writer has been revised to better support Windows 7-64 (it always worked flawlessly on XP and Vista), it has become my secondary PDF creator. One simple feature that I like about CutePDF Writer is that when a PDF file is created, the traditional Windows “Save As” window opens, allowing the user to easily select the directory (or use the default) where the PDF file should be saved. CutePDF Writer, as well as many other PDF writers, require that some recent version of a PS2PDF converter such as Ghostscript be installed on the computer. The necessary Ghostscript file (free) is linked from the download page where the PDF writers are downloaded.

Being somewhat of a software junkie, I have several PDF writers installed on my computer. Another free PDF writer that I periodically use is PDFCreator, available from sourceforge.net. PDFCreator is listed as “Unrestricted Freeware” and runs on Windows 98, 2000, XP, Vista and Windows 7 (32bit and 64bit). While simple to use and lacking a lot of options (that most people would never use), PDFCreator could be a good choice for those who want a simple PDF writer. Installation is easy as no separate Ghostscript converter is necessary.

Another good PDF writer that I have installed on my computer is NitroPDF Reader, which includes both a PDF writer and reader. According to its Web site (www.nitroreader.com), NitroPDF Reader can “create PDF files, comment and review, save PDF forms, extract text and images, type text directly onto the page, and more.” NitroPDF Reader also allows the user to type on an otherwise locked PDF form, entering text as if filling out a form, negating the necessity of printing the form on paper and then filling the blanks by hand. Since NitroPDF Reader is both a reader and a writer, and includes many other powerful and useful features, it may be an excellent choice for most users.

With these free PDF utilities, all of which can create PDF files as simply as clicking on the print button, there is almost no reason to spend a lot of money purchasing a commercial PDF creator. All of these creators or writers work just fine when creating PDF files from almost any type of document. 

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