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How do I make a PDF?

If you own Acrobat (the full commercial product, not the free Reader) you can create PDFs from virtually any program that can print. Once you've installed Acrobat, you'll find that you have a new printer driver called AdobePDF.

Note: Earlier versions of Acrobat installed a driver called Distiller. AdobePDF is, for all practical purposes, the updated verision of Distiller.

To give it a quick trial run, open any document, choose the AdobePDF driver and print. It will ask you to supply a name for your PDF file. Give it one, click OK and you've made a PDF.

Details may vary depending on the version of Acrobat you own and on whether you use a Mac, PC or other system, but that's basically how it works.

You can also convert any valid PostScript (PS) file to PDF using Distiller manually. For example, you may have a DOS program that can't print to Windows printer drivers but does include its own PostScript driver. Use that to print to a PS file, start Distiller, choose File, Open and choose the PS file you want to convert. Voila. PDF.

If you don't have Acrobat
These free or moderately priced programs also create PDFs:

  • Soda PDF from LULU Software is free, and offers MUCH more than just a printer driver that makes PDFs. It comes with the Soda PDF Reader, an attractive alternative to Adobe's Reader that includes the ability to create PDFs from most applications (after a free, fast registration process) and also installs PDF-making add-ins directly into your Office programs, if you have them. Inexpensive upgrade versions of the product add even more features, bringing them into the Adobe Acrobat feature range, at a fraction of the price.
  • PDF Creator from pdfforge is a free open-source project with quite a few similarities to Soda PDF. It also includes a free Reader-like program, PDF Architect, that you can add modular features to. When you install it, we strongly suggest the Custom option; it wants to add browser plug-ins and other "crapware" that has nothing to do with its core functions. Accepting the default install option may not give you the opportunity to refuse these. Don't let that scare you off, though. It's good, solid software, very well-regarded (particularly by the developer community, since it includes a programmable interface).
  • A different PDF Creator, this one from Jaws Systems, makes it simple to print directly to PDF files from Windows apps. Fully functional demos available for Windows and Mac. PDF Creator is extremely fast and is easy to use. It's equivalent to the Distiller and Distiller printer driver portions of Acrobat. It lets you print to PDF files or convert Postscript or EPS to PDF, just as you can with Distiller.
  • Nitro PDF Express is an inexpensive (around US$50) PDF-making program. There's also Nitro PDF Pro for around $100, which adds the ability to edit, combine and do lots of other useful things with PDFs once they're created.
  • Angus Johnson lists several other PDF-making utilities and other interesting related software here
  • The free GhostScript/GhostView can create PDFs from PostScript files much the way Distiller does. There's a more detailed description of GhostScript and download links at PS-related software.
    Free PDF XP acts as a printer driver, and helps bridge RedMon and GhostScript, which you'll also need to download and install. That link actually goes to a download/review site. The product site itself is in German. (but there's a English link at the top left under the logo that leads to a machine-translated version of the site. The program itself can be switched to English, if you click on "Konfigurieren" and an English manual is available on the website. It also requires Ghostscript to be installed first, a link is provided on the Download site. For help with setup, try The Official Free PDF Support Site.
  • PStill by Frank Siegart is available in various commercial/shareware/free versions for Windows, MacOS X, NeXTSTEP/OpenStep, Linux, Sun Solaris, SHI IRIX, HP UX and IBM AIX.
  • Free PrimoPDF uses GhostScript "under the hood" to produce PDFs and as its name implies, the price is right
  • PDF995 is yet another option - their free PDF converter also uses GhostScript; they also have pdfEdit995, which lets you do some of the same sorts of tricks as you'd normally do in Acrobat, and Signature995, for encrypting and signing PDFs. Very inexpensive.

There are also several GDI- or non-PostScript applications (ie, like PDFWriter) that can create PDF:

There's good info about PDF-making tools and lots more on Hans Le Roy's site. Take time to explore the rest of the site while you're there. It's a gold mine.

Directly from your applications

Some graphics and DTP programs can create PDFs either through a background distillation process or directly.

  • Microsoft Office 2007 (PowerPoint, Word and Excel) and later can save directly to PDFs
  • Adobe PhotoShop and Illustrator can both save files directly to PDF.
  • Adobe's InDesign creates PDFs directly.
  • Corel Draw 9, 10 and 11 and Ventura Publisher 10 include a very capable Publish To PDF feature.

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