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What’s the best PDF printer for Windows? We checked 7 of the most popular options to find out.
It’s kind of shocking that printing in Windows 8 doesn’t come with a PDF option; Mac and Linux users have had this by default for years. Windows users still need dedicated software, like Adobe Acrobat Pro, and it’s all of varying quality.
PDF printers let you save any file you can print as a PDF, meaning that any computer on Earth can open it without much trouble. Because these programs disguise themselves as regular printers, you can use them to create a PDF file in any program that lets you print. We’ve shown you how to print to PDF on Windows 8, but such software is by no means new: you can use it on any version of Windows.
As you can see, I installed a bunch of these programs – for science. My results are below. I’ll show you you their dialogues and what the files they output look like.
I decided to use Chris Koentges’ excellent article The Oracle of Ice Hockey as my example document, because it’s fantastic (and because summer is a depressing season, void of hockey and filled with heat).
CutePDF: Simple And Effective
With an easy-to-remember name and a simple interface, CutePDF is a solid option. When it’s time to print, all you’ll be asked is where you’d like to save your PDF. It’s simple, sure, but it’s probably all that most people want.
The resulting files looks exactly the way I expected, complete with embedded fonts.
CutePDF is easy to use – just install it and use it when you need it.
The Downside: Crapware.
So what are the down sides? There’s a small ad in the save dialogue, as shown above. It’s not a big deal, but some might prefer to not see it.
The bigger problem, though, is the crapware CutePDF tries to install during installation.
Be careful where you click or you might end up using Ask.com.
doPDF: A Touch More Control
If you intend to a print a PDF later, you’re going to want high-quality images – if not, you might favour a smaller file. Free app doPDF gives you an easy way to control the PDF size, and you can also toggle font embeds.
The resulting file is going to look a little off if you opt to not embed fonts, of course, but if you wanted to have the options doPDF is your go-to choice.
The Downsides: Not Much.
There’s not a lot to complain about here. There’s a tiny ad in the options box, as you can see above. This program also defaults to not embedding fonts, which might result in some funny-looking PDFs – but this can be fixed by clicking a checkbox.
PDFCreator: With Metadata Control
The above programs let you create a PDF, but what if you want control over the metadata of that file? This is the key strength offered by PDFCreator, an open source PDF printer. When you print you have the option to add author and other information.
There’s also a button for quickly attaching your file to an email, if you happen to use a desktop email client. The files themselves look just as you’d expect.
The Downside: Yet More Crapware
Despite being open source, PDFCreator has a nasty adware habit. You can read the long history on Wikipedia, and be sure to pay attention during the installation process.
It’s also worth noting that PDFCreator uses Ghostscript to output files.
FreePDF: German Website, Effective Software
FreePDF, offered by a German website, works just as well for English users. Use it and you’ll see this dialogue box:
As with doPDF, you can control the quality. You can also export to email, if you like, or save to your desktop. The files look great.
Like some of the other programs here, FreePDF requires Ghostscript to run – but there aren’t really any other major downsides to this one.
GreenCloud Printer: Great Interface, Sadly Not Free
And now for something completely different. GreenCloud isn’t just a PDF printer: it’s a program meant to change how you print completely. The idea is for you to see this window every time you’re intending to print something:
From here, you can easily save to PDF, and even upload directly to Dropbox or Minus.
The software makes some changes to your documents so they’ll take up less ink – at least, that’s the theory. Perhaps because of this, the article I printed didn’t look as crisp as others – the font was replaced with something thinner.
The Downside: Limited Printing, Plus Crapware
I wanted to like GreenCloud, I really did. But the installer for this program just couldn’t take a hint: it tried to install so much crapware I couldn’t believe it. Turn down one offer; see another.
This wouldn’t be a big deal, but it turns out the free version of the software is limited to 10 pages. This is a huge downside to me, and I’d suggest you skip it for this reason alone.
Still, the interface is quite nice – unlike anything else I tried. For this reason, I thought I’d point it out, but be prepared for a crap experience, unless you’re willing to pay up.
PrimoPDF: Lots of Options
Clean and simple this one isn’t: try to print a file to PDF and you’ll see this mess of an interface.
There’s a lot of wasted space, but what is utilized well is giving you all sorts of options. There are presets for varying levels of quality, and you can change the metadata. You can also password-protect your document, something no other program here offers – this might prove useful if you regularly print invoices or other secure information.
So yeah, I complained a lot about the interface, but the fact is it gives you a lot of options. The output also looks great.
The Downside: Requires .NET, Is Ugly
This isn’t a huge deal, but you’ll need to install .NET to install this program. This and the cluttered user dialogue were turn-offs for me, but might not matter to you.
TinyPDF: Simple, but Outdated
TinyPDF is aptly named: the download is only half a megabyte, meaning it’s small. Many users swear by this software to this day, and if you use a 32-bit machine you might want to try it out. I, however, couldn’t.
The Downside: Won’t Work On Newer Computers
I wasn’t able to try this one out, because my computer runs a 64-bit version of Windows – and TinyPDF doesn’t support such computers. This means that, if you bought your computer in the past few years, you probably can’t use it. Don’t be fooled by the app’s website: if you try to install on a 64-bit machine, you’ll be redirected to the website of a commercial program. The free version of TinyPDF doesn’t work on new computers.
So What’s the Best?
You might be wondering: what’s the best choice here? I’d love to know which you prefer, so leave your thoughts in the comments below – particularly if I’ve forgotten something that’s both free and useable.
But if you want me to tell you what’s best, I’ve got to say: it really depends on what you’re looking for. I want a simple way to create a PDF file, so low-frills options like CutePDF and doPDF work best for me. If you want support for PDF security, use PrimoPDF; if you want metadata control, use PDF Creator. If you hate crapware, use doPDF or FreePDF – both are clean. It’s a shame so many of the other apps include crapware, but pay attention during installation and you should be fine.
Oh, and if you’re trying to print a web page, consider using bookmarklets that remove web craplets for a cleaner print. Sidebars don’t look great in PDF files.