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Creating PDFs with PDFCreator

By Scott Nesbitt on December 25, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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For many Windows users who want to create PDF files, Adobe Acrobat is overkill. Acrobat has more functions and features than they'll generally use, and with a price tag of $299 ($449 for the professional edition), Acrobat costs more than many people want to spend. Luckily, Windows users can create PDFs from any application using the GPL-licensed PDFCreator. Built on top of Ghostscript, a popular free PostScript interpreter, PDFCreator is fast and configurable. For most purposes, it's a great alternative to Acrobat.

You can download the installer for PDFCreator from its SourceForge.net project page. You can get the installer as either a Windows executable or as a Microsoft Installer package. The Windows executable comes in two versions -- one with Ghostscript, one without. After downloading the installer, run it and follow the prompts.

One version of the PDFCreator installer bundles AFPL Ghostscript version 8.54. If you have another version of Ghostscript -- such as the GNU or EPS variants -- installed on your computer and want to use that instead, you can do so by clicking the Ghostscript option and selecting your preferred version from a dropdown list.

While you can start using PDFCreator right out of the box, you can (and should) tweak the settings to produce better PDFs. To configure PDFCreator, click Start -> All Programs -> PDFCreator -> PDFCreator, and then select Printer -> Options.

PDF options
You can configure many of the same options that are available in Adobe Acrobat. You can, for example, select a compatibility level (to ensure that your PDFs can be viewed in both newer and older versions of PDF readers), set the resolution, and make sure that the file opens and displays as quickly as possible when posted on the Web. As well, you can tell PDFCreator how to compress the text and graphics in a PDF and whether to embed all system fonts or just the fonts that are used in your document.

Based on my experience with creating PDFs (using a number of applications, both in Windows and Linux), I've found that the following configuration works well:

  • Set the Compatibility to Acrobat 4.0.
  • A resolution of 600 dpi is good for on-screen viewing. If you plan to have the PDFs printed, then set the resolution to 1200 dpi.
  • Use the ZIP option for all of the Compression settings. ZIP compression nicely balances making your PDFs smaller while maintaining their resolution.
  • Since you can't always be sure that the person viewing your PDF has the same fonts as you, select the option to embed only the fonts that are used in your document. Embedding all fonts will bloat your PDF.

PDFCreator also enables you to protect your document's content. You can set it to ensure that no one can copy the text and images in your file, modify the document, or print it. You can also password-protect your PDFs.

Creating PDFs

To create PDFs with PDFCreator, open a document in any Windows application and select File -> Print. Choose PDFCreator from the list of printers, then click OK or Print, depending on the application. A dialog box appears, where you can add or change the metadata for the PDF -- its title, author, the dates on which it was created or modified, and keywords. This dialog box also contains a button to configure PDFCreator, overriding any global options that you have set, and another for emailing the PDF. When you're ready, click Save. In most cases, PDFCreator writes PDFs faster than Acrobat does; you should have a PDF file within a few seconds.

In addition to PDF, PDFCreator can also save documents in several bitmap graphics formats, Postscript, and EPS.
PDFCreator is easy to use, but how do the PDFs that it creates stack up against those generated using Adobe Acrobat? With many documents, PDFCreator has the upper hand; with others, Acrobat produces better results.

While working with PDFCreator, I converted a number of different kinds of documents to PDF -- word processor files, spreadsheets, diagrams, and Web pages. The documents varied in length from two to 15 pages, and contained images. The PDFs generated by PDFCreator from the documents and spreadsheets were smaller than those generated by Acrobat. Depending on the size of the source files, they were anywhere from 10 to 50KB smaller and they didn't contain any fuzzy fonts or distorted images. Why even worry about the size of files when storage isn't very expensive these days? A smaller PDF opens a lot faster in a reader, regardless of which reader you're using. This could be a factor is you're posting your PDFs on the Web.

When it came to Web pages, PDFCreator and Acrobat performed equally well. The sizes of the PDFs I created was comparable -- within a few kilobytes in size. But when it comes to PDF versions of diagrams, Acrobat has it all over PDFCreator. I created a number of diagrams using Visio and the Windows version of Dia. The PDFs generated by PDFCreator were consistently larger than those output by Acrobat -- anywhere from 50 to 100KB larger, sometimes more.

PDFCreator has some other problems as well. It doesn't do that great a job of preserving links within a document. Most of the time, links in tables of contents or to other sections in a document don't work. And I've never been able to get PDFCreator to include bookmarks.

Using PDFCreator on a network

In addition to working as a desktop application, PDFCreator can be installed on a server using its network install option and produce PDFs from any computer connected to the network.

I tested PDFCreator on a small home wireless network, which has four notebooks connecting to it at any time. Using the Windows Add Printer Wizard, I connected to PDFCreator on the server. If you're going to do this, make sure that 1) PDFCreator is running on the server, and 2) you select the network printer option in the Add Printer Wizard.

When I first tried to print a PDF from one of the notebooks, I was puzzled why it didn't work. It turns out that you need to have the PDFCreator program running in the background on the server for this work. Once it was running, PDFCreator worked exactly as it did when I used it as a local printer -- the only difference is that the printing process took a few seconds longer.

PDFCreator does a solid job of producing PDF files from most Windows applications. The PDFs are perfect for archiving, emailing, printing, or posting on the Web. Most Windows users -- from the average home user to someone with a small office -- will find that PDFCreator packs most of the features that they need from PDF software.

While a dedicated Linux user, Scott Nesbitt has a number of Windows-using friends he introduces to the joys of FOSS.

Scott Nesbitt is a freelance journalist and technical writer based in Toronto, Canada.

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Comments

on Creating PDFs with PDFCreator

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PDFCreator

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 26, 2006 12:10 AM
Does PDFCreator generate Section 508 compatible pdf files, or is it ust generating image pdfs?

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Re:PDFCreator

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 26, 2006 02:01 AM
In essence it is just a printer driver, which, instead of outputting PS, it outputs PDF.

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Re:PDFCreator

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 26, 2006 04:30 AM
There's no information about this at the Web site. But maybe you can email the author of the program, or post something in forums at the PDFCreator Web site.

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Re:PDFCreator

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 26, 2006 11:36 AM
Not sure about 508, but PDF Creator will let you save the PDF as text...I tried it with an image PDF and had an empty file.

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Re:PDFCreator

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 27, 2006 01:12 AM
I use Open Office to create PDFs and it does a pretty good job of it for my (simple) needs.

Al Canton
Jaya123: Run your business on the web for $15/mo
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Re:PDFCreator

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 27, 2006 11:51 AM
You can select and copy text out of the resulting PDF files. They are not 'image' PDF files.

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The author forgot something

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 26, 2006 10:29 PM
One of the best parts of PDFCreator is:
<a href="http://prdownloads.sourceforge.net/pdfcreator/zPDFCreator-0_9_3-AD_DeploymentPackage-WithoutToolbar.msi?download" title="sourceforge.net">http://prdownloads.sourceforge.net/pdfcreator/zPD<nobr>F<wbr></nobr> Creator-0_9_3-AD_DeploymentPackage-WithoutToolbar<nobr>.<wbr></nobr> msi?download</a sourceforge.net>

Yes, proper<nobr> <wbr></nobr>.MSI package. You can roll out the PDFCreator to thousands of workstations doing roughly 5 minutes of work. That is really valuable feature for corporations.

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Vista

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 28, 2006 12:40 AM
PDFCreator does not work with Vista and the maintainer has no timeline as to when it will be working.

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Re:PDFCreator under Vista

Posted by: rhfritz on January 21, 2007 11:03 AM
I installed PDFCreator under Vista and figured out it's the PDFSpooler component that appears to be the problem.

The reason some of us are using PDFCreator is that the other common way of generating PDF's involves a setup procedure which uses Redmon (a port redirector) & Ghostscript. See here: <a href="http://www.stat.tamu.edu/~henrik/GSPSprinter/GSPSprinter.html" title="tamu.edu">http://www.stat.tamu.edu/~henrik/GSPSprinter/GSPS<nobr>p<wbr></nobr> rinter.html</a tamu.edu>
But Redmon doesn't work under Vista.

When I examined the printer port settings for PDFCreator I discovered that it is also a port redirector (redirecting to its Spooler). While for reasons I don't understand Vista won't allow you to change the PDFCreator port configuration, I was able to use Regedit to locate and change the PDFCreator configuration key.
In short, I changed PDFCreator to redirect to Ghostscript using the configuration settings for Redmon.
Note: Locate the PDFCreator key by searching in your registry for "PDFCreator Redirected Port".

The only difference in the way this functions under Vista vs XP is that the filename dialog pops up on the service desktop (new in Vista).

All you'll have to do when the Vista version of PDFCreator comes out is to uninstall the current version and reinstall the new one. If the install script works properly the registry keys will be deleted and recreated.

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Uninstall PDFCreator under Vista

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 17, 2007 05:10 AM
Is there a possibility to remove PDFCreator 0.9.3 successfully from Vista?

The normal way via "msiexec<nobr> <wbr></nobr>/x *.msi" is not working. The deinstallation-routine results in "There is a problem with this Windows Installer package. A program required for this install to complete could not be run. Contact your support personnel or package vendor."

Thanks in advance for any hints to remove this version.

Christian

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Re:Uninstall PDFCreator under Vista

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 18, 2007 03:32 AM
Today I've found the solution. Remove of PDFCreator is possible if the UAC is deactivated.

Solution:
1. disable UAC
2. restart system
3. msiexec<nobr> <wbr></nobr>/x *.msi
4. enable UAC
5. restart system

Regards,
Christian

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Re:Uninstall PDFCreator under Vista

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 21, 2007 09:43 AM
So I get that idea that a regedit change is needed, but what should I change the registry key to?

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Re(1):PDFCreator under Vista

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 85.81.113.131] on January 25, 2008 09:57 AM
OK - I've found the registry key, but can you tell me, what exactly should be changed ?

Erik Sten

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Which windows versions?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 30, 2006 05:58 AM
As someone else stated, Vista version isn't available yet. Does the version that includes Ghostscript work with Windows 98SE? With MS banning Vista virtualization for the home version, I and many others will be using Windows 98SE virtualized on Linux rather than blowing money upgrading to Windows XP or Vista Pro just so I can virtualize an instance of the OS.

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