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.

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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 qualityn

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 (inluding 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
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 2000/ XP/ Vista/ 7/ 8

 
Editor

This software category is in need of an editor. If you are interested in taking it over then check out this page for more details. You can then contact us from that page or 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 jspirited on 19. December 2012 - 21:08  (103771)

thanks. Will try it out.

by mtarini on 5. December 2012 - 17:33  (103380)

I opted for "Bullzip PDF Printer" and installed it.
The pdf it produces are quite dull: they cannot be searched for a word and text cannot be selected or copied to clipboard (apparently, at least).

In its website, dopdf claims to do better (but I didn't check).

Edit: the info was there, in the table (but, not in the discussion?).
I wish I had noticed it!
Installing and de-installing stuff grows my system older.
(Why 1st prize to Bullzip?)

by jspirited on 5. December 2012 - 18:06  (103381)

Hmm.. I am able to search, copy/paste just fine. Perhaps you can provide more detailed info on which version and give a sample of a web page where you tried this and didn't work for you.

by Remo IBNZ (not verified) on 26. November 2012 - 11:55  (102931)

Please remove PDFCreator from the recommended list as the Claro Search malware get's installed. Manual registry edits were needed to get rid off Claro Search.
[Commercial reference removed]
Malwarebytes, CC cleaner, Avira, Norton could not remove Claro Search.

by Anupam on 26. November 2012 - 12:36  (102933)

Where did you download PdfCreator from? Are you sure Claro Search came from PdfCreator? Were you absolutely careful during the installation of PdfCreator, and gave attention to the different screens that appeared?

I just now downloaded PdfCreator, and tried to install it. In the license agreement, towards the very end, they mention that the software is bundled with OpenCandy, and that has been duly mentioned in the review. So, no mention of Claro Search. Although Claro Search might be as a part of the recommendation by OpenCandy, but I didn't get it.

Somethings to be careful during installation. Select "Expert Settings" checkbox on the first screen. That way, you have more control over the installation.. but without that too, there is not much of a difference.
On the screen where is shows various components to be installed, deselect images2pdf and pdfarchitect, as these are just another programs by the same company and not required for function of PdfCreator. Then, finally, just before the install button screen, OpenCandy will show two windows for suggestions of third-party software. You have to be careful in declining them, or not accepting them. If you were careful, then those software will not install on your computer, but if you were not careful, then they will.

Sadly, iClaro Search is now being reported with some of SourceForge products, but I doubt it with PdfCreator. It maybe a part of suggestion of OpenCandy, so don't know for sure... atleast I did not get that. To be careful during the installation is the key.

Lastly, why are you using SpyHunter? Its site is rated red by WOT, means dangerous, and if you read on internet, it's considered mainly a rogue, or suspect program. You are putting your system at risk by using this program. Why not stick to Superantispyware, Malwarebytes, which are more trusted, and are quite sufficient.

by Alex Lee (not verified) on 21. November 2012 - 3:14  (102649)

Do NOT install PDFCreator. The current version 1.5.1 includes an installer for iClaro Search adware/spyware. I end up reinstalling my computer to remove the spyware!

by jspirited on 21. November 2012 - 4:54  (102652)

Thank you Alex. I will check it out and update the article accordingly.

by texastech (not verified) on 9. November 2012 - 19:24  (102074)

This one should be on your list. TinyPDF, their website is the same name. It has a very small memory footprint and is very fast. It's perfect for most simply print to pdf needs and creates smaller size pdf files.

by Jimbo (not verified) on 21. November 2012 - 3:45  (102651)

Doesn't support 64 bit OS. Directs you to a trialware option.

by jspirited on 9. November 2012 - 19:29  (102075)

Yes. It is on my to-do list. Thanks for bringing this up.

by AK (not verified) on 5. November 2012 - 11:56  (101906)

There's a sentence in the review that doesn't quite make sense:

"[doPDF] provides a minimal feature set but does have the ability to choose different levels of output quality which PDFCreator and doPDF do not."

by jspirited on 5. November 2012 - 17:55  (101921)

Thanks AK. I have updated the article.

by Fredrik (not verified) on 1. November 2012 - 14:57  (101690)

Grate tips BUT:
Tested: Bullzip and PDF24 form now

There are a huge difference how Internet Explorer and Firefox/Chrome handle this. For IE it works grate but not for FF or Chrome. The result in FF/chrome looks like a bad OCR scan.

by jspirited on 1. November 2012 - 16:36  (101694)

Fredrik, could you elaborate a little on what you tried? I tried printing a web page with Bullzip using firefox 16.0.2. The output pdf file looks fine to me. Comparing against the same output generated from IE 9, I don't notice significant difference in text. The pdf generated from IE retains more icons/images, however. Is that what you are referring to?

by Fredrik (not verified) on 1. November 2012 - 15:12  (101691)

hmm, it migt only have been the default start page in FF

by Scootergal (not verified) on 19. October 2012 - 23:15  (101080)

I just attempted to download PDF Creator. It now requires that you also download AVG Security Toolbar or you cannot download PDF Creator. Needless to say, I am going to explore the other options to PDF Creator. Gizmo Tech Support Alert should update its site to reflect this change.

by MidnightCowboy on 20. October 2012 - 2:43  (101087)

Notice about the bundled software is already given in the Quick Selection Guide.

by Scootergal (not verified) on 20. October 2012 - 18:11  (101112)

Ahhhh....missed that. Thank you.

by MidnightCowboy on 21. October 2012 - 3:31  (101128)

No problem. It's not immediately obvious unless you are already familiar with our publishing layout. You could make an argument about including this stuff in the review text, and indeed some editors do elect to do it both ways. The main issue though is time when multiple adjustments are needed across the site and this is best achieved by altering the entries in the Quick Selection Guide.

by Tonyxxx (not verified) on 10. October 2012 - 10:29  (100574)

For "files created by Bullzip PDF Printer may not be searchable" such as Excel, do the editor means open the PDF file in PDF reader, and then search a word? Or search under Windows Search?

Coz I tried to search the result file which is from an Excel file, in the PDF reader, it is fine for both English and Chinese words.

For Windows Search, all Bullzip, PDF24, Nitro do not searchable.

by Anonymous_Joe (not verified) on 4. October 2012 - 5:29  (100221)

CutePDF Writer is now adware/spyware. creates some temp file, generates a "Machine ID" of your computer and then connects to:

http [COLON] //ak [DOT] pipoffers [DOT] apnpartners [DOT] com

to start the adware/spyware process.

by puput (not verified) on 30. August 2012 - 16:22  (98520)

thanks for you share about article i'very use for all people

by JTH (not verified) on 19. August 2012 - 17:56  (97970)

[Commercial references removed]

Decided to give Bull Zip a try. Nice clean simple installation and I was able to do a word search of a printed web page using PDF-Xchange Viewer

by ani.b on 29. August 2012 - 19:28  (98472)

Hey

Thanks for the comment! I am just trotting these out myself,and making notes so that I can pick up where others left off.

Let me know how the product works for you as you use it.

ani.b

by petitlou60 (not verified) on 4. August 2012 - 15:24  (97211)

Hello,

if you want to install pdf creator without any adware
folloow the following:

1) save install on any directory
2) disconnect from internet
3) install with advanced options and discard any proposal of addons
4) reconnect to internet

WARNING
pdfcreator is bundled not only with open candy, install perform hidden acces to internet to retreive several adwares which are silently installed, so with cutting internet during install no addons can be installed
best regards

by ani.b on 29. August 2012 - 19:31  (98473)

Hey-

I am a new editor around here, and will be working with these installations. I noticed that two of the main programs downloaded with some 'extras.' I have been making notes which of them try to sneak tool bars and the like past you as they install.

I hope to update the material to include the latest information on this problem.

Thanks for the comments!

ani.b

by Larry B (not verified) on 29. June 2012 - 21:48  (95556)

I used to really like PDFCreator, and we installed it on all the PCs in my company. However, now, itg has two terrific flaws. First, it tries very, very hard to install "extra" stuff (toolbars, etc.) and some you cannot avoid. Second, it will NOT load/install on many, many Windows 7 machines. Sad, really...a great piece of software being corrupted so thoroughly.

by ani.b on 29. August 2012 - 19:35  (98474)

Hey-

As a new editor, I am working with the information previously given, and will update as I find these issues. As I do not run Win 7, (and frankly do not like it for the tendency to disable hardware and drivers on older equipment), I appreciate the input. Look for updates on the software coming soon.

ani.b

by John Litzinger (not verified) on 28. June 2012 - 20:19  (95483)

OpenCandy Warning

The PDFCreator Installer now comes bundled with OpenCandy as well as two other spyware programs. Unchecking the installer check boxes doesn't prevent the spyware from installing. The way to prevent it's installation is to click the "decline" button, even though any normal installer would stop installation by just unchecking the spyware selections. I feel that this trick goes beyond reason, and would therefore suggest that this otherwise great PDF writer should be removed from the list, or at least have a stern warning attached to the download link.

by MidnightCowboy on 29. June 2012 - 3:44  (95501)

Thanks for pointing this out. I'll check the program myself later and update the article as necessary.

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