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 requestor37 (not verified) on 11. November 2011 - 16:43  (83115)

Could you include a comparison of the speed of these products in generating a pdf?

This is one of the most important capabilities for me, as I often have to generate pdfs from very large web reviews, and don't always have a fast computer to do it with.

I realize there are many variables to be considered. For me, just 300 dpi generation with no encryption etc would be good. I think this is what most people use.

Thanks for providing this excellent review page!

by SH (not verified) on 17. November 2011 - 14:02  (83427)

It would have been nice in your review to have a category, example

Computer type: Desktop

or
Computer type: Desktop / Server( API or COM)

So we would know which products can be used
as a COM or API on our server.

Thanks

by hexe (not verified) on 24. November 2011 - 4:15  (83810)

Downloaded PDFill from the cNet link and ended up with a file that contained malware, per ESET's warning when I scanned it before installing: "a variant of Win32/InstallCore.D potentially unwanted application was identified"

It appears that this is becoming somewhat common with downloads from cNet, if a web search is any indication--so perhaps a warning should be added anytime a cNet download link is provided for a program...

by MidnightCowboy on 24. November 2011 - 4:46  (83812)

This is in fact our site policy but somehow this one slipped through the net. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. I have now added a warning to the page details. This is our own information page:

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

by Anupam on 28. November 2011 - 19:00  (84061)
by pedja (not verified) on 15. December 2011 - 10:31  (85061)

I would divide with you my experience. Very often I work in with Oracle Developer 6.0 report buider aplications that generates reports from the 20,000 pages that I need to backup in pdf format. I tried
BullZip PDF Printer
PDF24
NitroPDF Printer
PDF Creator
PrimoPDF
PDFill Printer

and ONLY and again ONLY CUTE PDF WRITER can do the job.

all others are maybe good for word and some fansy staff, but industry strength and stability is only cute pdf writer.

by pxxstein (not verified) on 15. December 2011 - 22:04  (85089)

Which of all these pdf drivers product searchable pdf docs?

by bl (not verified) on 20. December 2011 - 4:54  (85341)

I am suprised that pdfRedirect didnt make this list. You can merge documents and it comes with a printer driver too. Most importantly, its free. Otherwise cutePDF is my fav.

by earthsound (not verified) on 28. December 2011 - 17:24  (86129)

Bullzip's download page states "FREE for personal and commercial use up to 10 users". The 10 user limitation means that it isn't free for us (we have ~50 users), so you may want to either mention that since it's not "unrestricted freeware". It shouldn't be a problem for most home users, but in an office with more than 10 users, you can't use it for free.

Also, PDFCreator can produce PDF/A documents.

by earthsound (not verified) on 28. December 2011 - 17:50  (86130)

PDF24 has the following in its License Agreement which should preclude it from being listed here as "unrestricted freeware":

"1.5 The PDFPrinter is provided only for the use and distribution in the area of the European Union."

"2.1 The PDFPrinter can be used by the end user for 6 month, starting from the date of its installation. This period starts again with every installation of a new program version (updating). The PDFPrinter is automatically deactivated at the end of the 6-month time of use. However, it is not deactivated if no new updates were published."

1.5 precludes using it in most of the world. 2.1 implies that it needs network access in order to keep it running more than 6 months.

by Rick_S (not verified) on 28. December 2011 - 21:31  (86138)

I do not think that a limit of more than a home would use qualifies as a paid program for this web site. It is primarily for individuals. Companies and corporations have different priorities, as well as tech support needs. :)

by earthsound on 28. December 2011 - 23:04  (86140)

I agree that companies have different priorities & tech needs, but this site's stated aim is to "help you select the best freeware product for your particular needs". If your needs are more than a typical household's, then BullZip isn't free.

by Australia (not verified) on 29. December 2011 - 3:22  (86149)

"Perfect PDF 7 Master" looks interesting as a free PDF writer
Written by the same company that produces "Perfect PDF Reader" which is highly recommended in the TechSupportAlert - Free NonAdobe Reader section.
"Perfect PDF 7 Master" doesnt seem to need additional files such as Ghostscript, although this isnt clearly documented.
Could this be reviewed ?

by CJRERuss on 29. December 2011 - 23:21  (86192)

do any of these products enable the combining of multiple .PDF files into one - without marking or watermarking the output? that would be sweet when doing rebates...

by Australia (not verified) on 1. January 2012 - 1:44  (86299)

You mean how to you merge/joint PDF documents.
Go back to Freeware Categories, "HOME AND OFFICE" section. Then "Best Free PDF Tools" - and the section "General Tools - Merge, Split, Reorder & More". The main options are described. I use PDFTK Builder

by rahman (not verified) on 7. January 2012 - 9:35  (86751)

I have tried several pdf creators. Among of them cute PDF and PrimoPdf. Cute PDF provides the simplest way to create PDF. Yet, it is lack of sophisticated features such as protecting file outputs. In my experience, PrimoPDF is the best PDF creator out there. The GUI is beautiful and easy to use. PrimoPDF also can be used to protect file such as disable of copying text and even printing the text. However, you must be careful with it since the software also install low adware OpenCandy during the installation process. To get the most of this software, just install Windows Security Essential. It will wipe out the adware and you can enjoy it.

by Russ Adams (not verified) on 15. January 2012 - 17:31  (87211)

I started installing PDFCreator and ran across the terms and conditions that clearly state you are giving them permission to install tool bars and re-direct searches to their sites and partners.

There was no checkbox to skip that part of the T's and C's, so I stopped the installation and did further investigation.

It appears there are lots of folks unhappy with PDFCreator... here's a sample from sourceforgenet's own rating:

"Posted by LoriS — 2011-11-04

Stay away from this formerly good software. It drops malware during the installation process!!! It appears to do so as part of an automatic update process. For those who say it's incumbent upon the user to check for malware during installation -- hogwash. That's lousy reasoning. Instead, be on your guard against any software maker that sinks so low as to do this. The makers of PDFCreator have proven how low they're willing to sink. Shame on Sourceforge for carrying this bearer of crapware."

Just sort the reviews on sourceforgenet by thumbs down to see all the complaints.

I won't be installing it.

Russ

by ollehi (not verified) on 16. January 2012 - 12:24  (87242)

PDF file created by Bullzip PDF Printer now can searchable!

by Anupam on 20. January 2012 - 8:22  (87457)

It contains no malware. The installer clearly gives an option, not to choose the installation of pdfforge toolbar that is included. Other than that, I can't see any problem with the software. I just installed it on my system.

by MidnightCowboy on 20. January 2012 - 8:42  (87460)

Please let us know if it tries to connect out and update, and if so what comes back with it. :)

by Anupam on 20. January 2012 - 8:57  (87463)

Does not do anything of the sort :). No attempt to update. What will it update anyway :O

by MidnightCowboy on 20. January 2012 - 10:05  (87466)

Just reacting to memory which in my case is always a risky operation :D I remember though something about u-torrent grabbing toolbars unannounced via its update process.

by Anupam on 20. January 2012 - 10:20  (87467)

Whoa :O

by MidnightCowboy on 20. January 2012 - 11:13  (87469)

See post #11 and beyond on this page:

http://forum.utorrent.com/viewtopic.php?pid=548222

by zeke7 (not verified) on 20. January 2012 - 19:22  (87493)

"Choose different levels of output quality (All but CutePDF had this ability)" -- I don't understand why that statement is made: I go into the Advanced settings of the CutePDF Writer printer driver from the Print menu of any program and under Graphic - Print Quality get eight different dpi settings to choose from: 72, 144, 300, 600, 1200, 2400, 3600, & 4000. Isn't that what's meant by "different levels of output quality"?

by Mahmod (not verified) on 7. February 2012 - 5:08  (88428)

Thanks for the excellent info. I have been using PDFCreator for a while. The only problem I have is that the top and bottom margins of PDF documents created from Word are significantly wider than the original. I looked at all the settings I could find but could not fix the problem. Anyone has an idea?

by Omar Naser (not verified) on 8. February 2012 - 13:48  (88499)

"the terms and conditions clearly state you are giving them permission to install tool bars and re-direct searches to their sites and partners"

Thank you so much for sharing that. maybe that is why there are no restrictions on the use of this software!!!

by Roderunner on 15. February 2012 - 21:16  (88920)

I have been following your recommendations with great success until I started using a Standard account about a week ago. The top 2 items in this list can only be used on an Admin account.

by Aaron J (not verified) on 27. February 2012 - 1:02  (89549)

Hi Gizmo friends! I just wanted to alert you to the following warning regarding PDF creator. I have used this program in the past and I wonder if some of my computer problems came from this...

PDF Creator - SourceForge-hosted PDFCreator Trojan/Toolbar Warning

http://www.mularien.com/blog/2009/03/24/sourceforge-hosted-pdfcreator-trojantoolbar-warning/

by Aaron J (not verified) on 27. February 2012 - 1:25  (89550)

Of course, it looks like it is only the toolbar that's affected. I like PDFCreator so I'm going to continue using it while being careful of where I download the program from as others have noted.

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