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Best Free PDF Writer Software

 
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.

  Read this article in Spanish (Español)

 
In a Hurry?

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
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

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+
http://www.bullzip.com/
10.1.0.1871
7.6 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7/8

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.
XP/Vista/7

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.
Windows 98/2000/XP/Vista/7(x32 & x64)

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
http://www.dopdf.com
7.3 Build 393
4.0 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 2000/ XP/ Vista/ 7/ 8

 
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

by rogdias on 15. April 2015 - 4:37  (121865)

I've been using BullZIP for less than a month, and it was working OK.
But then, after a while, my network actual printer stopped being seen. Furthermore I could not install it again, in fact not any printer, it gave a message saying that the local spooler wasn't running. But there was no way to make it function. I've tried do restore a checkpoint and even that failed. I began uninstalling recent software tryng to solve that. I used Revo Uninstaller to uninstall some recent softwares to no avail. BullZIP did not appear in the list of installed softwares. It was only when I used the Windows uninstall that it did appear. I uninstalled it and voilà everything went well after that.
I am telling this to help somebody who could have the same problem, probably not common, but it was making me mad seeking a solution.

by EldonW on 22. March 2015 - 13:38  (121533)

An update on PDFCreator.
The latest is version 2.0 which does support Windows 8.
It no longer supports Windows 98/2000.
The download is 26.5 MB (it includes Ghostscript).
It only supports 'saving' to PDF/JPEG/PNG/TIFF. Previously it save to 13 different formats - including PS/EPS.

by Anupam on 22. March 2015 - 17:28  (121534)

I used to use PdfCreator long ago, because it was open source from Sourceforge. But, in the later years, it started to be bundled with adware, and that too weird one, which used to contact home, and the program took sometime to respond. So I moved on to Bullzip, which I like.

Does PdfCreator still comes with bundled adware?

by EldonW on 23. March 2015 - 2:00  (121537)

Anupam, I just scanned PDFCreator 2.0.0.695 with Malwarebytes Anti-Malware and Avast Antivirus (I have Avast set to maximum, including PUPs) and both found nothing. The latest version is 2.1.0.807 and the file size is the same at 26.5 MB. That means nothing extra has been bundled.

by Anupam on 23. March 2015 - 14:50  (121545)

Did you install the software yet?

I downloaded and installed the software in Sandboxie. Like other software which are installed with OpenCandy, PdfCreator too, during the installation showed a screen for installing extra software. Checkboxes are available by unchecking which the extra software can be avoided.

Also, during the first installation screen, there is the checkbox for "Expert settings", which is the same as custom installation. You have to check that box, to avoid the extra bundled software, otherwise I don't think there will be any screen shown to avoid the extra software.

Also during the installation, I noticed checkboxes for Image2Pdf and PdfArchitect (costing space around 65MB), which are not necessary for the function of the software from what I guess.

All in all, I will continue to avoid PdfCreator, and keep using Bullzip Pdf Printer.

by EldonW on 24. March 2015 - 4:07  (121553)

I installed PDFCreator on 8 December 2014, and don't remember everything about the install. But, no OpenCandy installed. I always use "Expert Settings". That allows you to not install the extra language files, Image2PDF and PDF Architect. The later is not included in the setup file. I am NOT connected to the internet when installing programs, therefor it didn't install. Image2PDF is less than 1 MB. It allows you to create a PDF of multiple images. The complete install is 30 MB.

What I like about PDFCreator is the "merge documents" feature. You can open a document in Word, a spreadsheet in Excel, a presentation in PowerPoint, etc. and save the lot as a PDF.

Also, it allows you to send the 'print job' to a second printer, or to your email client as an attachment, or both. In a nutshell, you can set PDFCreator to auto-save the document in a pre-selected location without opening it in a PDF reader, print it with your actual printer, and open it as an attachment in your email client. It doesn't get much better than that.

TIP. Do not install a program while connected to the internet. Read everything in every window. Choose advanced/custom install. That's how I avoid the junk.

by Anupam on 24. March 2015 - 5:26  (121554)

You were not connected to the internet while installing and that's why you did not get the screen where they offer extra software. Still, that thing is there, and therefore, PdfCreator remains bundleware, and so will advise people to be careful during installation.

I did not say it was bundled with OpenCandy, but something similar.. which shows software recommendation during install.

by EldonW on 25. March 2015 - 1:30  (121569)

"and so will advise people to be careful during installation."
Agreed. That's part of what I like about Gizmo's Freeware and MajorGeeks. Not everyone is an experienced PC user. Unfortunately, more and more freeware are becoming bundleware. I will continue to use programs like PDFCreator and IZArc, but even I no longer go click-click!

You should give PDFCreator a try and experience the features as per my last post. And, advise users to disconnect from the internet prior to installing a program.

by bawldiggle on 21. March 2015 - 0:52  (121513)

Free PDF-XChange Editor (and Viewer)
- do not come with adware, in my recent 2013 and 2014 experience.

PDF24:-
- I just tried to create a PDF from a DOC file, PDF24 could not find the app
- I only have MS-Word Reader installed, and use other 3rd party word-processors as default DOC reader/editor.

by yemulss on 7. March 2015 - 14:05  (121327)

I came across a requirement where-in my client wants to send print command to physical printer and they want a pdf file as well created. So instead of issuing print command twice, they want it done in single print command to send print command to two printers.

I am a developer but the software being used for this printing is developed by some other company and they are not responding this requirement. If it was through coding, I would have sent print command to two printers when print is clicked.

I just wanted to know if there is any facility or utility be used to create pdf as well as send print command to printer in a single print command. There is one its commercial. I am searching freeware or opensource.

by EldonW on 23. March 2015 - 13:10  (121541)

You can do that with PDFCreator. I just did a test - saved a document as a PDF and printed the document. Have a look at Profile Settings > Actions.

by de37cel on 26. February 2015 - 17:33  (121241)

Hi -- I downloaded Bullzip today on recommendations from this page. I did see that the ASK toolbar would be installed. So I searched their web page and they state that they removed the toolbar. Here's the verbiage and the link:

2014-01-09 (10.2.0.2141)

Toolbar removed from free version.

http://www.bullzip.com/products/pdf/info.php

I have just downloaded and so have not had time to evaluate whether any adware was able to sneak on my machine. Hopefully not!

by Old Mike on 4. January 2015 - 11:58  (120386)

Does anyone have a recommendation for bulk jpg to individual pdfs? I use PEF creator and its great but have to open one file at a time. With more than 300 files at hand, that is not an option. Plus, I am looking for 1:1 conversion instead of many to 1 pdf file. Any suggestion?
Thanks in advance.

by BG Davis on 5. February 2015 - 3:23  (120963)

Try free program "FastStone Image Viewer." It is actually a viewer AND converter/editor.

You can Save (Ctrl-S) to various formats including PDF. There is also a bulk processing option (Batch Convert). I use this all the time. Works great.

This is also excellent for many editing functions.

by Debasish Ghosh on 11. December 2014 - 18:41  (120083)

I use doPDF but it always produces an extra blank page as the last page. If I command for 1 page it gives me the page No. 2 as a blank page. If I command for all pages in my file, it will produce an extra page! Why? Is there any setting to fix it? Please help.

by Jojo Yee on 12. December 2014 - 1:54  (120086)

At my end, I get exactly the same number of pages in PDF created with doPDF as in the source file. Can you try other source files if the issue persists Debasish Ghosh?

by Anupam on 3. May 2014 - 15:31  (116012)

I was using DoPdf till now, and it worked great. But, with the recent release of version 8, I don't think I will be using it anymore. Although the installer is of a smaller size now, but when you start to install, despite my unchecking the option to download novapdf add-in for MS Office, it still downloaded, and after the install, the total size of DoPdf was 160 MB. Too much for a pdf writer. I will have to look for another pdf writer now.

by sicknero on 28. June 2014 - 20:10  (116997)

Hi Anumpam, I tried DoPdf v8 today as well, and on first install I found the same as you with the Office add-on being installed. On second try though I looked a bit closer and found that the tick-box for that is actually a very pale grey tick on a white background which is extremely difficult to see. Having made sure that was deselected, DoPdf did install without the add-on.

After all that I didn't like it much anyway, it seems extremely slow and resource-intensive so I tried a few others and wasn't much impressed with any of them, they all seem to take forever and most of the ghostscript ones crash at about 99% as well for some reason. I used to use DoPdf and Bullzip quite a lot, I don't remember having such problems before.

The only one I might keep is PdfCreator which seems to work ok and produce good results without topping out my CPU for ages, although this one does use ghostscript too. As far as I could tell there's nothing bundled with the installer (I got v1.7.3 from the website) except for two other programs by the same vendor ... Pdf Architect which is a payware trial version, and Images2Pdf which is freeware. Both of these can be deselected in the "Components" stage of the installation.

by Anupam on 29. June 2014 - 17:37  (117012)

Thanks for sharing your experience.

Generally, I am quite good with spotting the bundled software, and opt-out choices. However, I might have missed this one, as you point out. I will try downloading and installing once again. However, I am not interested in the software anymore. I downloaded and installed Bullzip and it seems to work well, with a test file that I printed.

I used to keep PdfCreator in my toolbox as it was open source, but since they began bundling software with it, which made the installation process too slow a few times, I gave up long ago on it. With much lighter options like Bullzip, I don't think I will try it again.

by cruiser2000 on 1. April 2014 - 3:50  (115428)

Good recommendations,
Note
Adobe in not in favor of password protection files. Say they are too easily hacked.

by gzmhanu on 28. March 2014 - 4:57  (115358)

I just did some testing.

BullZip - Free version now limits graphics in PDFs to 150dpi. Did not install.
PDFCreator - Works, but be careful when installing. Bundled installer will try to get you to install junkware, but you can 'Cancel' out of it and return to regular installer.
PDF24 - Also works, but output was identical in size and appearance to PDFCreator. Looks like the same PDF engine is used.
doPDF 7.3 - small installer. In my tests generating a PDF with no graphics, produced a file 1/4th the size of the above two programs. I'm sticking with doPDF.

by mariola on 16. January 2014 - 16:32  (113656)

Bullzip PDF Printer has introduced in its last version 10.2.0.2141 some limitations of the free edition, mainly that when printing with more than 150 dpi it adds demo watermark.
Previous version (10.1.0.1871) is without such limitation.

by samintoronto on 29. August 2013 - 3:40  (110385)

I don't know why/how anyone can recommend Bullzip. The version I got (from Cnet) came with it's own virus. On top of that, it downloaded programs I did not want or agree to. Finally, and worst of all, it just didn't work. Every time I tried to print, it would crash the program I was working in. Absolute junk as far as I'm concerned.

by innn on 29. January 2014 - 8:23  (114055)

please do yourself a favor and never again download installers from cnet they are filthy as in very dark sided and all their installers are customized to their taste to deliver us extra "goodies" as evidenced by the way icon of the downloaded program displays which is not the icon of the original installer. hope nobody else falls in this trap. order of sourcing for programs should be: author site and just a few handful of other that reviews them for us. this site here is one of them and cnet never was never will. PS also do yourself a favor and check all you download and is under 64 MB size at virustotal_dot_com. sorry editors for taking this liberty to refer to said site if inappropriate please delete.

by MidnightCowboy on 29. August 2013 - 4:38  (110386)

This is why we do not recommend cnet as a safe download source and also published an article explaining why. MC - Site Manager.

http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/cnet-downloadcom-wrapped-install...

by meatlump on 25. August 2013 - 14:58  (110313)

Why is PDF writer under the System Software category?
Wouldn't it fit better elsewhere, like Home & Office?

by evdan on 15. June 2013 - 0:02  (108534)

Hello,
Question for Freddyflint10.
After searching for a while for a “safe” PDF printer, I choose CutePDF and installed it on all of my systems. I have not seen any unusual traffic or redirects.
How can I tell if it overrode my proxy settings as you suggested above?
Thank you in advance.

by freddyflint10 on 14. June 2013 - 2:45  (108513)

CutePDF v3.0 now comes with ASK.Com installer. Be Warned - It *WILL* override your internet proxy settings, regardless of deselecting the ASK.com installer and I don't know why. A support query has been submitted, will advise when and if I get a response.
For the time-being don't install this product.

Yee-Be-Warned
Fred

by MidnightCowboy on 14. June 2013 - 5:14  (108515)

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

by bawldiggle on 21. March 2015 - 1:30  (121514)

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"

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