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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 Aaron J (not verified) on 27. February 2012 - 1:31  (89551)

Maybe not, I see another person at the download site had problems with it just yesterday. Not worth the risk. Bye bye PDFCreator...

by MidnightCowboy on 27. February 2012 - 5:43  (89558)

Thank you for the post. Our editor will check this out himself and amend the review text if and as appropriate.

by Pete (not verified) on 27. February 2012 - 19:02  (89600)

Beginning with version 7.2.0.1320, Bullzip PDF Printer requires Microsoft's .NET framework software. For me, and many others, that is a showstopper!! I avoid all software that's built on the .NET framework.

Please update this review to show that Bullzip requires .NET software as a prerequisite.

by Bob_g (not verified) on 6. March 2012 - 20:07  (90021)

Cutepdf will not allow Adobe Reader X to print to any printer, Adobe reader shuts down & generates an error report, I had to deinstall before it wouild work again. Bullzip works.

by DES_Toronto (not verified) on 6. March 2012 - 22:59  (90028)

I tried installing CutePDF today and immediately uninstalled it. After installation, it told me that it would not work without installing yet another program from the same company (some kind of converter). I don't like such surprises, so I'll move onto another choice.

by ChadjFinch (not verified) on 9. March 2012 - 3:09  (90111)

Thanks for this! Never knew how PDFs were really made :P

by iva (not verified) on 11. March 2012 - 15:06  (90232)

there is another free pdf creator. u can try it as well.

http://www.girdac.com/Products/PDF-Converters/Free-PDF-Creator/Info/Features.htm

it has no ads, popus, and absolutely free.

[Moderator's note : Link changed to point to the product page, rather than the download page.]

by Jeff Glenn (not verified) on 18. March 2012 - 2:12  (90776)

I've used some of these (doPDF, PrimoPDF, maybe some others) and stopped because they had some limitation of annoying feature. I am using PDF reDirect (v2) and it works pretty well. It can merge which might be useful, but I don't need it. The one annoying limitation is you can't create a new folder to save your new PDF. I end up saving it in another folder, like the parent, and then having to use Windows Explorer to create a new folder and then move my PDF. I'm going to try PDF24.

by Anonymouse (not verified) on 26. March 2012 - 7:09  (91168)

As good as Bullzip is, it has one major flaw, it does not retain UTF-8 filenames.

This is a deal breaker, as I have to rename the files after the PDF has been created.

So, reluctantly, I have to keep on using PDFCreator.

PDFCreator has worked well for me, but each release recently seems to be getting worse, adding more junk that we don't need and now coming bundled with a toolbar.

by Anonymouse (not verified) on 26. March 2012 - 8:02  (91173)

Actually, there seems to be a problem universally. For some reason, all the different PDF Printers are doing the exact same thing. All Chinese characters are stripped from the filename and replaced with underscores.

If anyone knows how to fix this on Win 7 Ultimate 32-bit English, please let me know.

by tpg on 2. April 2012 - 11:13  (91567)

Many of them DO have the ability to save into a new sub-folder, but it's just a little to see at first glance. For example, in BullZip, when the dialog box opens for location, on the LEFT side (where medias are located, just right click and select NEW to create a new folder. While I didn't test them all for this capability, as this is generic to Windows, I'd bet most support this feature.

tpg

by A_n_onymous (not verified) on 2. April 2012 - 15:18  (91575)

PDFcreator worked great for a long time but no longer works at all. I use it with Office 2003.

by Anupam on 2. April 2012 - 16:00  (91579)

What problems are you facing?

by Ilmais Toive (not verified) on 7. April 2012 - 11:28  (91742)

I think that the biggest problem with all these free pdf-file-printers is that they can't include hyperlinks of web-page in output pdf-file. They just make those underlined text, without hyperlink.

I would like sometimes to print web-pages, like lists of most usefull software with hyperlinks of their home webpages, as pdf-file, but those free pdf-printers make pdf without those hyperlinks.

All those free pdf-printers support pages explain that it is not possible, but still most of the non-free pdf-printer versions can include hyperlinks.

Or, does somebody know any free pdf-printer that can include hyperlinks in output pdf-file?

by PeteSimson on 14. April 2012 - 22:20  (92103)

You can install the iweb2x addon for Firefox to save web pages to PDF

https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/iweb2x/

The addon will generate a PDF with working hyperlinks online and give you a URL to download the file in a new tab of your browser. Often you can select a Printable version of the page to give the PDF a better format.

A second option is to cut and paste the selected part of a web page into Libre Office Writer and then export to PDF.... This also will generate a PDF with working hyperlinks.

by PeteSimson on 14. April 2012 - 22:50  (92105)

Wikipedia states that Win 7 and Vista support this by default...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help:Multilingual_support_%28East_Asian%29

But that is small comfort to you if there is an issue with your computer...

I found this post... see if this will help....

"The trick is to change the system locale to Chinese (PRC) and then changing the system locale back to English (United States). I can now see the Simplified Chinese characters correctly in my buddy list as well as in browser titles. I've attached a screenshot of the menus to get to the system locale. Basically go where you changed your input method and follow the screenshot below:

http://www.twitpic.com/18uhgc

This is a bug with the IME, I think, but nothing a few changes and reboots won't fix! Good luck!"

If the above fails...
I would look into installing the Asian language packs...
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/972813

Here is a guide for users of Vista and XP users who may be having similar issues

http://newton.uor.edu/Departments%26Programs/AsianStudiesDept/Language/v...

by ~J~ (not verified) on 6. May 2012 - 14:36  (93117)

It also requires PDF Forge which for several of the computers I've installed it on, has caused severe breaches of security with spyware and malware etc. The program also cannot turn more than roughly 75 pages into a PDF document, and has caused the file sizes to be anywhere around the 1 gig size.

by ~J~ (not verified) on 6. May 2012 - 14:37  (93118)

Also, occasionally every so many files, the PDF document will come up as jibberish, savings the file as 0kb.

by irwanwr on 12. May 2012 - 21:39  (93396)

Perhaps you could give this one a try;
http://www.printfriendly.com/

it may be placed onto your bookmark bar or some kind.

by Random Name That Doesn't Belong To A Registered User (not verified) on 21. May 2012 - 9:19  (93789)

Why on earth would you avoid software build using .NET?

by JJBrown (not verified) on 16. June 2012 - 7:24  (94939)

CutePDF (free version) installs ASK.com toolbar which is very annoying.

by Edu (not verified) on 18. June 2012 - 22:25  (95078)

I recently installed Bullzip and it looked quite good but now I am really disappointed for not being able to include hyperlinks in output pdf-file.

Before I was using freepdfconvert.com and it works fine but the (huge) problem is the limit of 15 conversions per month with a minimum of 30 min of interval.

I need the hyperlinks feature to print a word doc, and not a web-page, so some of the suggestions given do not work for me. Does anyone have any other solution?

Thanks a lot.

by Jojo Yee on 19. June 2012 - 1:49  (95084)

Try this Edu if that's what you're looking for "Convert Various Formats to PDF".

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.

by NickTek (not verified) on 29. June 2012 - 8:05  (95518)

Only if you forget to untick the "Install Ask Toolbar" checkbox.

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 Shellie (not verified) on 4. July 2012 - 18:01  (95732)

I DID unclick the "intall ask toolbar" and it STILL installed! I'm not happy about it. I hate it, don't want it there, but to remove it means removing the cutePDF Editor, which is very useful to have. I can't seem to find a way to use it if it is gone from my task bar. ugh I have used Cute PDF for years at home, but never had the option before to rearrange pages, delete, etc. Now that I have it, and need it occasionaly for work, I hate to let it go. But with the toolbar I have no room for anything else. Any suggestions?

by Laurie Williams (not verified) on 4. August 2012 - 9:25  (97199)

I have been using a free version of PDF reDirect for several years. Lack of ability to create a new folder within the conversion interface is never a problem if files are already well organised before conversion and the new pdf is stored in the same folder as its source file, which is the logical way to do it, rather than have a separate folder for pdf files just because they're pdf files.

Same reasoning as never using dedicated music, photos or video folders, but deleting them (assuming that Windows doesn't force them back again), and putting the relevant material in whatever place is appropriate.

You don't keep all your chairs in one room, just because they're chairs, and all your tables in another room, just because they're tables.

I have found two faults in PDF reDirect. Minor one is that it does not remember page setup setting, always starting at "Letter" rather than A4 as chosen, although it keeps the setting while Word is still running. That minor problem seems to be a property of the GhostScript converter that PDF reDirect uses.

Bigger fault is that if source documents have more than a small amount of graphics on a page PDF reDirect will not print all of them properly. Again, that could be a fault of GhostScript.

by Laurie Williams (not verified) on 4. August 2012 - 9:33  (97200)

One other point, related to destination folder - logically, any PDF writer should by default show the location of the source file as the initially suggested saving location, but PDF reDirect does not, and always starts at My Documents, necessitating navigating to the desired location, even if it has been used only a short time before to create a pdf in an other location.

I'm sure that I'm not the only one who often wonder whether programmers ever ask family members or friends to try their products before releasing them.