Best Free PDF Writer Software

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Introduction

All of the PDF writers in this review are programs that function by creating a pseudo printer on your system. When you want to create a PDF document from pretty much any application, you just choose to print it to the PDF printer and it creates a PDF document. The thing that distinguishes one product from another is the number of available options.

One problem with this approach is that you need to have a program that is able to open the file on your system. If someone sends you a file created with a program you do not have, then you won't be able to open that file; therefore, you will not be able to print it. Since you can't print, you can't convert it to a PDF using a pseudo printer technique either.

The two online products in this review do not suffer from this problem, but are limited only by the file formats recognized by the online vendor.

I've selected the best free products in this review by eliminating those PDF writers, suggested by readers, that were either not free or were limited time trials and basically adware (the product was free but forced the user to endure various ads as a punishment for using it).

These are Bullzip PDF Printer, PDF24, PDFCreator and doPDF

Which one of these is the best? Well, that really depends on the options you need.

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Go to details...  Go straight to the Quick Selection Guide

 
Discussion

Recommending the best product for all users is not always easy because of differing user requirements. For example, most of the recommended writers have many options and while this is a plus for advanced users it is a minus for those who only want a simple PDF writer. Presently, I am most taken with BullZip and PDF24, but all of these programs have their individual strengths and weaknesses.

BullZip in its latest version is a very solid program that has, over time, proven to be a top performer.

Key features of Bullzip PDF Printer include the ability to:

  • Password protect your PDF files (PDFCreator also has this ability)
  • Use either 40 or 128 bit encryption on the file (PDFCreator also has this ability)
  • Add a watermark (PDFCreator has a limited ability to add watermarks)
  • Append or prepend files (PDFCreator also has this ability)
  • Choose different levels of output quality (All but CutePDF has this ability)
  • Add or change metadata (PDFCreator also had this ability).

PDFCreator in its latest version is another strong choice and has all the features of Bullzip with the exception of a 64 bit version and more limited watermark abilities. The help files are available only in English, French and German.

However, it does have one unique feature among these products: it comes with both a standalone and a server installer. In a company setting this gives you the ability to install the printer driver on a server and make it available to all the workstations on the network without doing an install on each one of them. This may make it a preferred choice in business situations if you don't need the other options that products like Bullzip offer. Version 0.9.8 of PDFCreator did a great job printing a web page to a PDF. Warning: The PDFCreator installer is bundled with OpenCandy. See our information page here for more details.

doPDF is comparable to TinyPDF in terms of features. It provides a minimal feature set but does have the ability to choose different levels of output quality.

The most commonly asked question by readers has been about the size of the output file. Please refer to the table shown below:

PDF writer Output from small test file (without graphics) Output from large test file (including graphics) (600 dpi)
Bullzip   48 KB    34 MB
PDF24   83 KB    39 MB
PDFCreator   25 KB     N/A*
doPDF   35 KB    53 MB
 
Other PDF Writers

These are a number of other free PDF writers which were brought up in comments here or noted from other sources. As they are not rated in this review, I am listing them here with brief descriptions and links to their sites for ease of reference.

  • PrimoPDF, a lag of several seconds from the time I selected the printer until the screen with the Primo interface opened. On my fast computer it worked reasonably well but is still much slower than all other products.
  • NitroPDF Printer has both writer and reader capabilities, supports annotation, text extraction, but full feature set only found in the paid version.
  • PDF Redirect has both writer and reader capabilities, can merge PDFs, offers encryption, multi-language support, no adware, but a full feature set is only available in the paid version.
  • PDFill PDF and Image Writer, many options and stable. Warning: Downloads from Cnet (Download.com) now require the use of a proprietary installer. This can install additional components you might not want.
  • PDF XChange comes with a tabbed interface and zoom-in feature, supports notes, annotations and export options. It has several restrictions, ads supported and installs the ASK toolbar unless you opt-out during setup.
 
Related Products and Links

You might want to check out these articles too:

 
Quick Selection Guide

Bullzip PDF Printer

5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Complete set of options and very stable
PDF file created may not be searchable, requires GhostScript 8.64+
10.1.0.1871
7.6 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Built using Visual Studio 2012. Supports both Microsoft.NET Framework 2.0 and 4.0. v10.1.0.1871 released 8 October, 2013 View the version history here

PDF24

5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Supports document merge, allows scanner input, drop and drag interface, digital signing, selectable quality settings
Limited editing
6.0.1
15.44 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
v6.0.1 released 28 October, 2013 View the changelog here

PDFCreator

4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Standalone install and a server install, digital signing and encryption, smart file naming
All versions bundled with OpenCandy installer. Limited watermark abilities
1.7.1
3.7 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
v1.7.1 released 16 July, 2013

doPDF

4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Small, simple, different PDF qualities
Basic PDF writing
7.3 Build 393
4.0 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
 
Editor

This software review is copy-edited by Jojo Yee. Please help edit and improve this article by clicking here.

 
Tags

pdf virtual printer, pseudo pdf printer, print pdf file, print to pdf, best free pdf writer, top free pdf printer

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Comments

Thanks for letting us know. I've now added a note to the product description. MC - Site Manager.

FREE CutePDF does not come with uninstall.exe

Took me about 2 hours to tidy up leftovers after uninstalling with Revouninstaller.
CCleaner did not find any Registry but I did by searching/trawling thru registry.

Found left over files with free "Everything.exe"

On their page for CutePDF Writer, Softpedia's Editor gives it five stars, with the following caveat heading the review (dated 2013.06.27):

Note to Softpedia users: We are well aware that Acro Software released a newer build (version 3) of CutePDF Writer. We do NOT intend to update our listing to this version, as it installs ASK Toolbar WITHOUT offering users the option to uncheck it.

(http://www.softpedia.com/get/Office-tools/PDF/CuteWriter.shtml)

CutePDF now offers option NOT to install Ask Toolbar.

I've been a fan of DoPDF for a long time, it's always been my favourite print-to-pdf program for various reasons ... speed, lightness, no ghostcript, and more recently the addition of a convert-to-pdf dialogue so that I don't even need to open a print dialog for some tasks.

However, today I went to check for an update and was disturbed to find that their download link now goes to a site called Soft112 which has an orange traffic light from WoT. I downloaded and installed anyway and there was nothing extra installed with DoPDF, also the site gets a green light from BitDefender Traffic Lights, so I can only assume that the site itself has a poor WoT rating for some reason.

It's a real shame as a poor WoT rating will put many people off this excellent program, not to mention it getting itself an automatic ban from being recommended on sites like this one.

Does BullZip PDF Printer have the ability to merge multiple pages such as scanned pages at once? It seems like you can only merge two pages at a time which is only good for smaller jobs. Can you recommend a free program that has this capability if not? From the demo video it seems you only have the option to add the new merged page at the top or bottom of the file. There is no ability to insert it in the middle of several pages.

Bullzip now includes AVG Toolbar and AVG secure search as default search and homepage options. At least it's up front about it and allows you to uncheck it. It is also ad sponsored but I selected the optimized for business download and did not see any ads (just a notice that you were using the freeware version) but I don't know if ads will show up after a certain number of prints.

Performance on windows 8 x64 Core i7 PC was good (few seconds delay), not the fastest but good enough, not sure on slower systems.

Not sure if I'm missing something here, but so far in my admittedly brief experience of running the two together, Bullzip leaves PDF24 dead in the water.

I've used Bullzip for years, never had a problem with speed or quality or reliability. But I thought I'd download PDF24 because of its mention here. However. . .

I can't get PDF24 to do its work simply, quickly, and easily. With Bullzip, I click on print, select Bullzip, and Bullzip then starts processing and asking me where I wish to save the output file. Easy peasy.

With PDF24, I click 'print' and that's it. No sign of the program doing anything. Where is the output file? No sign of that, either.

I then have to go to the program, open it, and wait for the recently printed file to appear in the preview screen. Then I have to wade through the steps of 'saving as'. Finally, finally. . . I have an output PDF that's taken at least 5 times longer to acquire than would've been the case from Bullzip.

I've tried PDF24's preferences to see if one can create a default folder of one's choice into which an output file is placed. So far, I haven't found one.

I'm guessing I must have missed something really obvious about PDF24, because it wouldn't rate even 1 star in my book if this truly is the time-wasting way it manages a simple PDF job.

Rather than blame PDF24, I'll blame me -- but it would be helpful to know just what, exactly, I can do to have PDF24 performing with the same speed and ease as my much-loved Bullzip. Thanks!

PDF24 has delivered mixed results.
eMail most PDF results are blank pages.
WebPages: some results are incomplete

Bullzip looks promising.

My experience with PDF24 differs a lot from what you described here. It has worked just as well as bullzip for me. I wouldn't be so hard on yourself, however :) . At most I'd blame your computer. Kidding aside... I think most likely there's something installed on your system that's conflicting with whatever PDF24 is depending on, or something is not allowing PDF24 to continue with whatever it needs to do. If you have time to investigate this further, you might want to check your application error logs to see if there's anything recorded there. Another possibility is that the install itself wasn't really successful in the first place. You may want to uninstall and reinstall again to see if there was any complaints during the install process. I am sorry that PDF24 hasn't worked out for you, but at least bullzip gained a supporter. :-)

Just had to comment on this and maybe I'm missing something. but Bullzip doesn't seem nearly as good as PDF24. I recently needed a bit more features than what TinyPDF was giving me and PDF24 did the job, it let me add pages, delete them, change page order and more with a simple drag and drop interface that was very easy to use unlike slightly clunkier tools like PDFill Tools. I know we're talking pdf writer here only but PDF24 cuts my print to pdf creation time down with the added features.
I'm splitting hairs but to me Bullzip doesn't deserve 9 stars. Just saying.

Thanks to jspirited for maintaining this section. appreciate your time and Gizmos is often my first stop when I need software ideas.

are there any pdf writers that create links inside the pdf? guess i was thinking they all did but only if the link is in url format

A virtual pdf printer will usually not preserve clickable hyperlinks and bookmarks as a pdf converter normally does. If you need that feature, see Convert Various Formats to PDF.
hmm. not that I am aware of. I have seen pdf converters doing that from word or wiki pages.
Thank you texastechy for your comments. I think you have a very good point here. Both bullzip and pdf24 are very good that's why they both have 9 stars. I think it does involve a subjective element here and comes down to individual user to decide which one suits his/her needs the best. If I could, I would tag both as 'best' as they are both very solid and feature rich in providing the 'pdf writer' capabilities. I will check with others and see if some adjustment in rating should be made here. Thanks again.

In the output file size comparison - for the large file why have you compared doPDF 600dpi vs CutePDF 300dpi large file? The comparison should be the same DPI otherwise it is invalid. It would be nice to see a valid file-size comparison for a large document between doPDF and CutePDF same DPI.

Also - CutePDF requires Ghostscript to be installed - whereas doPDF does not, which I feel should be noted. This makes total installer size of CutePDF actually larger than doPDF.

Thank you very much for your comments. I have made edits to the article based on your feedback.

i tried to install BullZIP the other day and it said it needed NET 4.0 Framework - is that true? should be mentioned in the writeup and the synopsis.

also, it seems that many of the anti-virus and anti-malware companies are no longer flagging Open Candy as PUP (Potentislly Unwanted Program) or adware any more. we need to accurately list which programs are including Open Candy and "BetterInstaller" etc etc. this article needs to be updated and cleaned up.

Developers tend to migrate from one money making set of bundled components to another quite frequently. Our volunteer editors try their best to keep up to date with program changes but as I'm sure you can appreciate, short of re-testing every program every week this is not always possible. Regarding OpenCandy, we are more interested in how our readers wish us to categorize this, rather than what an antivirus vendor might choose to do with it. MC - Site Manager.

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