[Windows] 11 free PDF creators (aka PDF virtual printers or PDF writers)

If you asked me 5 to 6 years back about how to create PDFs, I would have told you to download CutePDF and use it as a virtual PDF printer (i.e. create a PDF out of any document or page that can be printed). However, today, in the face of the competition, CutePDF is no longer the only choice out there. So we decided to scourge the net to try to find some good PDF creators (aka PDF printers or PDF writers). Keep reading to see what we have found.

11 FREE PDF CREATORS

The following are the free PDF creators we found. Most of them are freeware (i.e. can be freely used for home or business) but some are free for home use only. Check it out:

CutePDF Writer

2013-02-01_191822

PDF reDirect

pdf_redirect

7-PDF-Maker

7-pdf-maker

7-PDF-Printer

7-pdf-printer

PDFill PDF & Image Writer

pdfill_pdf_writer

PDF24 Creator

pdf24

BullZip PDF Printer

2013-02-01_183217

PDF Creator

pdf_creator

Solid PDF Creator

solid_pdf_converter

PrimoPDF

2013-02-01_184250

DoPDF

dopdf

WHICH ONE IS THE BEST?

It is quite hard to pick a “best” PDF creator or PDF printer simply because all of the above-mentioned software mostly provide the same functionality. However, if I were to pick out of the ten shown above, my top four picks are:

  • PrimoPDF
  • BullZip PDF Printer
  • PDF24 Creator
  • 7-PDF-Maker

The first three are all virtual PDF printers while the last one (7-PDF-Maker) is a PDF converter, not a printer.

I like PrimoPDF because a) it is freeware for all and b) it provides all the necessities for PDF creation (create regular PDFs, create secure PDFs, convert links to clickable links in PDFs, etc.) plus easy-to-pick PDF compression settings, a feature that allows you to control output PDF size based upon what you are going to use the PDF for, and the ability to merge PDFs. Plus while PrimoPDF uses Ghostscript, it comes with all the necessary components meaning you do not have to download anything extra. The issue with PrimoPDF, however, is it requires .NET Framework 2.0 or higher and it prompts you to install Nitro PDF Reader during installation, which is a freeware program by the developer of PrimoPDF that is a PDF reader and PDF creator. Plus PrimoPDF’s interface has an ad constantly displaying in its interface for Nitro PDF Reader.

BullZip PDF Printer is another excellent choice; it has all the features of PrimoPDF and more, most notably the ability to add a watermark to output PDFs. The issue with BullZip PDF Printer is a) it is free for home use and commercial use of up to 10 users only and b) BullZip PDF Printer requires you to download Ghostscript, if you don’t have it installed already. That is roughly an extra 9 MB download. Take note that, from what I can tell, 7-PDF-Printer and BullZip are one in the same program… or at least related somehow.

As for PDF24 Creator, out of all the software featured in this article PDF24 Creator is probably the most feature-filled one. It does all of what PrimoPDF and BullZip PDF Printer do but a lot more, such as the ability to split PDFs, extract pages, and copy pages from PDFs. PDF24 Creator can even convert files to PDF in batch (use the ‘PDF Editor’ module to drag + drop the files you want to convert, then save them all). The best part is PDF24 Creator uses Ghostscript, yes, but it comes with all the required files — no need to download anything extra (although it should be mentioned PDF24′s file size 4x larger than PrimoPDF and BullZip, nullifying the fact that you don’t have to download Ghostscript). PDF24 Creator is free for all uses.

Update: I made a mistake in my original analysis. I said PrimoPDF, BullZip, and PDF24 all preserve clickable links when converting to PDF. That is only partly true. All three programs preserve clickable links as long as the link is in the text, i.e. not a hyperlinked word but the actual link starting with ‘http://’. Any word that is hyperlinked is not preserved. Sorry about that! For what it is worth, 7-PDF-Maker does preserve hyperlinks, but only when converting from Microsoft Word.

Lastly but not least, 7-PDF-Maker is the only program on this list that isn’t a PDF virtual printer. Rather, it is a PDF converter. You don’t print documents or files to create PDFs with 7-PDF-Maker but rather convert documents and files to PDF via 7-PDF-Maker’s main program interface. (It adds an entry to the right-click context menu for easy access.) According to the developer, 7-PDF-Maker supports “80 file and image formats”; any file format not specifically supported by 7-PDF-Maker will not be able to be converted to PDF.

7-PDF-Maker has all the basics of PDF creation, plus ability to create encrypted/password protected PDFs and clickable hyperlinks (when converting from Microsoft Word). There doesn’t appear to be the ability to add watermarks, though.

The advantage of 7-PDF-Maker not being a PDF virtual printer is a) it does not require Ghostscript and b) 7-PDF-Maker can create PDFs in batch but you must use the commandline version to do batch conversions. Plus, 7-PDF-Maker has a portable version although that portable version is not a “real” portable program but is rather via PortableApps.com and the portable version is shareware not freeware. Also take note 7-PDF-Maker comes bundled with third-party software; during installation you will be asked if you want to install a third-party program. The good thing is the bundleware is not opt-out but it isn’t opt-in either — it is in the middle; you must explicitly accept or deny the third-party program.

Conclusion

This post lists 11 free PDF creators, most of which are PDF virtual printers. While I did highlight what I feel are the better ones of out the list, it is key to note all of them will create PDFs for you, and most of them all have the ability to generate secure PDFs plus some compression capabilities. Indeed there is very few differentiating the products and anyone of them will make you happy. Hit up the download links below to grab the programs, and be sure to let us know in the comments your favorite one.

PDF reDirect homepage (7.1 MB)

7-PDF-Maker homepage (53 MB)

7-PDF-Printer homepage (4.4 MB)

PDFill PDF & Image Writer homepage (11.3 MB)

PDF24 Creator homepage (16 MB)

BullZip PDF Printer homepage (4.6 MB)

PDF Creator homepage (16.2 MB)

Sold PDF Creator homepage (13.5 MB)

PrimoPDF homepage (7.2 MB)

doPDF homepage (4.04 MB)

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33 comments

  1. storageman

    WHAT a page. I have been a longtime fan of PDF24 but in the last 24 hours have noticed the result of printing to PDF24 was not what I expect. I use Firefox after discovering Chrome was way to cpu intensive. It has been a long time (maybe a year?) since using Chrome.

    When I find a page I want to print like today’s dottech.org, I print to PDF24. Normally I do not open the PDF, just save it.

    I opened the pdf and was very disappointed to notice the page was no where what I expected.
    As an experiment, I opened the same page in IE, printed to PDF24 and opened and it contained what I expected..

    This had me start installing ALL 11 of the virtual printers and testing in IE. Most are OK including my PDF24.

    So here is the question to any one reading.
    Why the different output for the same page using the same pdf writer and the only difference being the browser?

    Has anyone else experienced the same issue? I have to switch my browser to IE as I like FF much better, but it appears that I need IE if I want to print to PDF and create a usable output?

  2. JuanK

    PDF24 is definitely superb, create PDF with permissions control for each action (copy, paste, print, etc), signatures and watermarks, but not only PDF creation, PDF24 allow PDF edition such as delete pages, drag pages to other files, merge multiple files PDF, inserting blank pages, export pages as images, etc. And all with excellent quality.

    My recommended are:
    Minimum number of features: Doro PDF Writer (installer 8.7 Mb )

    Comparison: Doro as DoPDF are equivalents, both get the PDF file directly without more, but Doro allows encryption to prevent sensitive material being copied. Doro have 64bit support, nice and simple interface with no advertising. DoPDF though without GhostScrip is quite good, no doubt, but his level of compression in high quality is very low and in each interface carries advertisements.
    In this category I not recommend PrimoPDF, this have his mess with Open Candy (explore you the .exe with 7-Zip and you’ll see) and each time it generates the PDF, displayed their advertisements.

    Median number of features: Bullzip PDF Printer (installer 11.5 Mb)

    Large number of features: PDF24 Creator (around 15 Mb installer)
    This is definitely the best tool, installed PDF24 not exceed 41 Mb.

    Today, if you install a pdf creation software must have additional features respect to office’s packages. Excuse my bad english

  3. Alex Nelson

    [@Craig Chilton]

    Still didn’t answer the question … So which one fools the Coupon Printer software?

    But the answer you did give … “you cannot alter the expiration dates on coupons that have barcodes printed on them” … ??what?? … ALL the coupons have barcodes printed on them … so ?

  4. john

    My best salute to you Ashraf. You are simply the best. No wonder you are no.1 in GOTD.
    I have one query for you. Is there a PDF freeware software which can make PDF files viewable in other pc’s through USB but cannot be copied by other users. The other users can of course view directly the file which is without any password but the only thing is he cannot copy the said file for it is protected by the original owner. Thanks

  5. Tag Rezac

    Never did see an answer to “can any of these fool coupon printer software”? I’m not trying to print extra coupons, but want to convert the coupon to a pdf so I can email it to myself and print on another PC that has a printer but doesn’t allow installation of the coupon software.

  6. PixelWizard

    @jacal:

    Clarifying my test of ‘Print pages to PDF’ in light of your comment, “Some web pages are not designed to be printed and a virtual pdf printer can’t do much about that.”

    While I think that’s true in general, the specific pages used for testing are my own and have been printed many, many times. A large number of pdf printers have been used; results varied when it came to element placement and such. But no other printer simply omitted the photos.

    Over the last year or so I’ve also tested a number of schemes for downloading all the pages of the site in question [my site] and joining them into one .pdf document or an e-book (sorry, an .maff won’t work) – even tested this same add-on, in an earlier version. Apparently it’s a tall order. The document never turns out to be all that good. Again: this time was the only time the result was photo-less.

  7. jacal

    Some web pages are not designed to be printed and a virtual pdf printer can’t do much about that. For saving web pages I recommend the mozilla archive format (maff), which is also future-proof (a zip file).
    As a pdf printer I use PDF Creator. The very generic name shows it is old and well tested, stable and powerful. It does try to install a toolbar though.
    PDF-XChange viewer can add comments etc. and edit metadata.

  8. PixelWizard

    Followup:

    OK, so today I ran the Firefox add-on “Print pages to PDF.” I did the same thing several times, using a variety of settings on the same set of open tabs. It was quick; it did convert all the open tabs and merge them into a single .pdf file. But no matter what settings I tried, it simply wouldn’t capture the graphics (photos) embedded on those web pages. It replaced each picture with a tiny empty rectangle.

    Web design varies, and I suppose that for other web pages this disadvantage might not apply. But I need THESE web pages, so for me, the add-on wasn’t useful – unfortunately.

  9. cpusrvc

    I have been using DoPDF, which I have liked. However, accurately duplicating web page layouts seems to be a problem for many PDF print drivers. Because I use Firefox for most things, I installed the add-on “Print pages to PDF”, which seems to duplicate web pages with much more accuracy.

  10. FrancisV

    Hey Ashraf,

    Tks for your analysis and all the testing you perform on freeware. The only kind of software I can afford ;-) as I try to survive on a (too) small retirement allowance. Well let’s say for 99%.

    I don’t know whether you might be interested, but here are some more “creators” I picked up these last few years. Not tested, though: I don’t have your expertise…

    Sumatra PDF Portable @ http://sourceforge.net/projects/portableapps/files/Sumatra PDF Portable/Additional Versions/SumatraPDFPortable_2.2.1.paf.exe/download?use_mirror=heanet&r=http%3A%2F%2Fsourceforge.net%2Fprojects%2Fportableapps%2Ffiles%2FSumatra%2520PDF%2520Portable%2FAdditional%2520Versions%2F&use_mirror=heanet
    i2pdf (Image to PDF), a program to build PDF files from scanned images @ http://web.newsguy.com/lmgava/ (2 versions for either 32 and 64 bit systems).

    There’s also PDF Writer for Windows 8-1.0.1.2200 @ http://www.windows8pdf.com/index.html, but the fully functional trial version stamps an Unregistered watermark on all generated PDF files.

  11. Craig Chilton

    @Craig Chilton:

    I added this during the “edit” mode of my previous post, but it didn’t take. And it’s an important point:

    Figure that you cannot alter the expiration dates on coupons that have barcodes printed on them, because those coupons usually already have expirations built into those codes.

  12. Craig Chilton

    @Craig Chilton:
    One more tip when using the copied coupons — if there’s more than one cashier working, go to the youngest one. He/she would probably be the least likely to be nitpicking. But as I said before — No one has yet turned down any of my copied coupons.

    One thing to keep in mind, though — if making a copy of a coupon that says “no copies accepted” on it — make your copies on the same type/quality of paper that the original is printed on.

  13. Craig Chilton

    @Souter Johnny:

    That’s a vakewalk! Just print the coupon, and make as many color copies of it as you want, on your printer! And with any word-processing program, you can even print new expiration dates to paste onto your original as you go. I do this all the time, and haven’t had a coupon turnd down yet! I’ve done this for several years now!

  14. Souter Johnny

    He’s being a very naught boy. Some websites provide money off coupons, but you can only print them once. He’s wanting to create a PDF of the coupon and print off as many as he wants.

  15. stilofilos

    Apart from the compression that was needed in computer-prehistoric times when memory was expensive, I have never understood why people want to use such a stupidly crippled format in the first place, especially while there are so many far more efficient notes managers around. I never use pdf, and never missed it…
    As you have to make your documents in an other, decent software anyhow, why convert them to this, if afterwards the only thing you can do with them without additional software is sit down and stare at them…
    Also, to find your way in a bigger document, bookmarks are essential, but in the time when I searched for a (free) tool that could handle their creation and management, I only found one and it was malware.

  16. PixelWizard

    @Ashraf:

    First I had the source in a folder full of writings, and I set the program to always store its output on the desktop. No.

    Then I set the program to always ask me where to store the output. It didn’t.

    I have uninstalled 7-PDF-Maker, because even though it may work on your system, on mine it’s garbage and I have no motivation to fuss and fuss with it. I have a hundred other pieces of freeware that don’t work so poorly regarding this type of basic stuff!

  17. PixelWizard

    What I’m really looking for:

    A program that easily converts a web page that’s currently loaded and live in my browser (Firefox, usually) into a .pdf file, with the live links – with any type of prefix, or none – carried over as live.

    And the user should not have difficulty in getting a decent page makeup outputted, i.e., a wide-format web page design must not have its paragraphs truncated or anything like that. (At most, choosing between ‘Portrait’ or ‘Landscape’ should be all that’s necessary.)

    So far, BullZip’s been the closest to ideal – only lacking the link preservation.

    Others that fit the bill for sure?

  18. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @PixelWizard: I’m not sure why that is happening to you but it lets me store the output PDF wherever I want. I even just tested it right now (after reading your comment) to make sure. I had the source in My Documents and stored the PDF in Desktop.
    What do you have selected under ‘Settings’?

  19. PixelWizard

    @Ashraf:

    Just now I test-drove 7-PDF-Maker. *FAIL.*

    I am not speaking about its behavior with links. It refused to store the created document anywhere except in the same folder as the source file, even though I chose other settings. Yet when I rechecked my settings after closing/reopening the program, the settings were just the way I put them.

    I tried a universal target folder – NOPE.

    Then I tried to get it to ask me where to store its output every time – NOPE.

    To me this – failing to observe its own settings – indicates poor quality; if it can’t perform basic stuff, I can’t trust the program with my work.

  20. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @PixelWizard: @Ashraf: Nevermind, I made a mistake! All three programs only preserve links that start with http:// — not hyperlinked words. I’ve updated the post to reflect the correction. Sorry about that. Look at 7-PDF-Maker if you want to preserve clickable hyperlinks.

  21. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @PixelWizard: I’m not sure why it isn’t working for you but I did a quick test to make sure it does work. I used a Word file with a link it in -> PDF with PrimoPDF, BullZip, and PDF24; all converted it into a clickable link. I don’t know of any specific settings you need to trigger — it should do it on its own.

  22. PixelWizard

    …………………….. { apologies } …………………..
    ……………………{ corrected text }……………….

    I’ve used a few of the virtual printer type programs over the years and settled on BullZip as my favorite years ago. It’s sturdy and gives good output documents where others sometimes mess them up.

    Here you mention BullZip has “all the features… and more” of PrimoPDF, which implies it can “convert links to clickable links in PDFs” like PrimoPDF.

    But – help! – I never see links preserved as live and don’t see any relevant settings. Can somebody provide detailed instructions on this in BullZip? (I’d rather not switch to a different program.)

  23. PixelWizard

    I’ve used a few of the virtual printer type programs over the yard and settled on BullZip as my favorite years ago. It’s sturdt and gives good outpur dciumetns whre bothers sometimes mess themn up.

    Here you mention BullZip has “all the features… and more” of PrimoPDF, which implies it can “convert links to clickable links in PDFs” is included. But – help! – I never see links preserved as live and don’t see any relevant settings. Can somebody provide detailed instructions on this in BullZip? (I’d rather not switch to a different program.)