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)

 
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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
 
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 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 Wolfram Volpi on 13. February 2014 - 17:39  (114455)

I need to fill in form fields in a printable pdf file that my insurance company emailed me.
What is a suitable pdf editor for such a task?

Thank you.

by MidnightCowboy on 13. February 2014 - 19:13  (114456)

We are unable to respond to individual support requests in the comments sections. Please post details of your query and operating system here in our forum. MC - Site Manager.

http://www.techsupportalert.com/freeware-forum/general-computer-support/

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 AJNorth on 9. August 2013 - 10:50  (110012)

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)

by sicknero on 2. June 2013 - 18:59  (108223)

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.

by hy_tek on 23. March 2013 - 16:39  (106496)

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.

by mr6n8 on 23. March 2013 - 20:53  (106497)
by Nnyan on 20. March 2013 - 16:22  (106412)

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.

by MikeR on 7. March 2013 - 11:41  (106015)

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!

by jspirited on 7. March 2013 - 17:32  (106026)

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. :-)

by texastechy on 13. February 2013 - 15:32  (105374)

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.

by texastechy on 26. February 2013 - 20:00  (105778)

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

by Jojo Yee on 2. March 2013 - 6:29  (105876)

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.

by jspirited on 2. March 2013 - 5:41  (105875)

hmm. not that I am aware of. I have seen pdf converters doing that from word or wiki pages.

by jspirited on 13. February 2013 - 17:37  (105376)

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.

by robertcollier4 on 2. February 2013 - 10:44  (105053)

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.

by jspirited on 3. February 2013 - 4:56  (105067)

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

by emanresu on 21. January 2013 - 1:45  (104682)

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.

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