Making PDFs with free software

Making PDFs with free software


Portable Document Format (PDF) files have become somewhat of a de-facto standard for representing fixed layout 2D documents, and their use and versatility have grown over the past decade. Recently, Adobe announced that it intends to release the PDF 1.7 specification for publication by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). As demand increases for this format, many are wondering, what tools can be used to create PDFs with free software?

Fortunately, there are a variety of free software that is available to author PDF files. I'll specifically highlight two packages that are easier to use and require less configuration. While the advantages of the uniform presentation are usually advantageous, I feel that the emphasis should be on the content, not the container.

PDFCreator

PDFCreatoris a GNU/GPL printer capture driver that creates PDFs from any Windows program. All you need to do is select PDFCreator as a printer from whatever application you're using, and it'll take the output and save it as a PDF. In addition, it also allows for the setting ofpermissions and encryption, which makes it favorably comparable to Adobe Acrobat.

Recently, an optional Internet Explorer toolbar has been added to the installation. There has some controversy about whether the included toolbar can be considered spyware; the developers maintain the toolbar is not, and back up their claims with a 100% Clean award from Softpedia. The developers have also included a deployment package that doesn't include the toolbar.

CUPS-PDF

From a Unix-like environment, you can use the Common Unix Printing System(CUPS) to create PDF files by installing CUPS-PDF, a GPL virtual printer. While not as versatile asPDFCreator, it provides the base functionality needed to be effective. Check out the Print to PDF using cups-pdf blog entry for installation and usage tips; read through the comments for some additional use scenarios and other updates.

OtherOptions

The OpenOffice.org Writer includes the ability to export to PDF without installing any additional packages. Another technique is to send a document to a PostScript virtual printer, then use GNUGhostscript to convert the result to a PDF or by using the *nix command ps2pdfwr, but that's unnecessarily unwieldy and impractical for everyday use. CutePDFWriter, a no-cost but proprietary product for Windows, utilizes Ghostscript to generate PDFs. Finally, MacOS X provides the ability for all applications to directly create PDF documents as long as they support the "print" command.

Conclusion

The packages I've described should help take the emphasis off the tools and allow you to concentrate on what's actually in the document. One should consider who the target audience is and the justification ofa particular container format. Sharing a fixed layout document intended for collaboration defeats the purpose, and some people are unfamiliar with the PDF format and don't have the necessary viewer. Remember, just because you've packaged material as a PDF doesn't make the content any better.

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Comments

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I really like Foxit Reader / PDF Creator for making PDFs.... check it out, great for students reading assignments

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Sometimes I prefer PDF files instead of hard copies from the printers, and found PrimoPDF converter very handy. To help consolidate PDF files, I use 'PDF Split and Merge' which is a great open source software.

Ideablogger
http://ablogofideas.net

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Hello
My name is saman. I need a freeware pdf writer(so that I can write on the pdf files/pages.If u have this software plz send to me . My email add is saman1in@yahoo.com.
thank you

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

CUTEPDF.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Adobe Acrobat Reader 7 (free) allows also to create PDF from any document or software. The core of the issue is today that manipulating PDF's file (delete, change, insert, compile) has become "incontournable" and any open source software can do this. A moins que ...... ?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Any Mac application that can print can make a PDF. You can even run Mac OS X on a non-Apple box now . . .

maccampus's picture
Submitted by maccampus on

NO

you can't run OS X on a non-Apple box.

The licence agreement forbits this.
You need to hack the OS to run on non Apple Hardware
You can't use software updates
You can expect unsupported hardware to be present & causing bugs
You aren't supporting Apple , buying Apple Hardware ensures OS Developement
......

Okay , i want a cheap Apple too , but i'dd like it to come from Apple

How about a Mac Maxi based on a Mini but higher, expandable & no crappy video card

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

You can indeed run OS X on Intel boxes. Trying learning via search engines instead of talking out your ass.

Mitch Meyran's picture

You can run MacOS X on Intel baed PCs, true (AMD based ones are more buggy). However, as stated previously, the Mac OS X license says that you are not authorized to run Mac OS X on non Apple computers. It's not a matter of technical incompatibility, it's a matter of 'you don't have the right' - like one can drive a 15-tons ten wheeler if he knows how to drive a car, but he'd still get a huuuge fine for not having the driving license to do so.
---
A computer is like air conditioning: it becomes useless when you open windows.

digitalbrian's picture

I have used all of the mentioned packages and then some, but I stuck with PrimoPDF. it IS the best one out there no question about it.

maccampus's picture
Submitted by maccampus on

Well if you use Mac OS X you can simply print to pdf which is included in the OS itself

On Mac OS 9 (8,7,...) there was a printer driver (Chooser) named Print2pdf which was shareware but unlocked & did exactly the same.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

"GOOGLE!", yet. Google Docs allows import of text/doc/rtf files and allows one to save to PDF.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

You missed this one. Not perfect, but it's the only real competitor to InDesign/Quark Xpress:
http://www.scribus.net/

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

PDF Printer will not only create PDFs, but the links in them will be clickable, you can add watermarks, encryption, security, embed file attachments and compress your PDF.

Click here to visit PdfPrinter.com

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

PDF995 is a good choice too, you can edit PDF files too, However I use PDFCreator

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

PDF995 does not create clickable links. You have to use PDFEdit995 to manually make each link clickable.

That's a slow and not a very efficient use of your time.
You need a Pdf Creator / Printer that creates clickable links for you as well as all the other stuff as well.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

HI
I need to edit my pdf files for this can u plz mail me this software, my emai add is saman1n@yahoo.com
thx

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I also pdf995 is a good choice, you only have to see some ads while the pdf is being generated, but it isn't annoying or intrusive.
nsolutions4u.com - you need it, we make it happen!

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Check out my software at http://naramcheez.paraschopra.com/pdfproducer.php

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Can somebody tell me about a good pdf to html convertor? pdftohtml doesn't work that well as it should. Using Google's view as htnl option makes you loose out on the pics ... any ideas?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Does anyone know of a program, preferably share/freeware, that will merge 2 PDF files into 1. My sheet-feed scanner isn't duplex so when I scan double-sided documents, I end up with 2 files, usually XXXfront.pdf and XXXback.pdf.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

PDF Meld ($29.95) will do this, see www.fytek.com/products.php?pg=pdfmeld

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

There's a number of ways to do this in Linux. At the moment, I think the best (free anyway, that I know of) way to scan documents to PDF is to use gscan2pdf. Scan the front side, flip the whole stack over and scan the backside. gscan2pdf will number them correctly. Look for it on SourceForge.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Yes, there is a great tool called PDFTK that will allow you to merge PDF's easily.

PDFTK
http://www.pdfhacks.com/pdftk/

Here is a sample of merging 3 pdf's:
pdftk 1.pdf 2.pdf 3.pdf cat output 123.pdf

There is another command line tools for PDF's that might interest you.

mbtPdfAsm
http://thierry.schmit.free.fr/dev/mbtPdfAsm/enMbtPdfAsm2.html

Just so you know; don't let the command line detour you from using it. It isn't hard; but just in case you find it difficult; there are GUI (aka graphical) front ends for the two applications listed. I cannot make a recommendation about the GUI's, since I have not used them.

Hope this helps

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

One of the top Google searches is PrimoPDF. That is how I found it and I've been very happy with it.

Can you list it? Are there any pros or cons that make it better or worse than PDFCreator or the others?

Great blog post!!

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Does anyone know of a program, preferably share/freeware, that will merge 2 PDF files into 1. My sheet-feed scanner isn't duplex so when I scan double-sided documents, I end up with 2 files, usually XXXfront.pdf and XXXback.pdf.

Platinum's picture
Submitted by Platinum (not verified) on

Try PDF Blender at http://www.spaceblue.com/pdfblender/download.php

It needs Ghostscript but that is free as well

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Google for JAVA PDF and you'll get the best Java-PDF library one can wish ;-)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I use this one Adolix PDF Converter PRO www.adolix.com/pdf-converter-pro/

Not free, but it has a standard version that is very very cheap.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Google Docs and Spreadsheets web application does it online and exports many other formats.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

http://writer.zoho.com

No formatting options though.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I thought this was *free* software magazine. At least that what the "about" link at the top lead me to believe. It's bad enough that you have pdfcreator which, though free, requires a rabidly anti-free os to use. Then you go on to link to cutepdf and mac os x? The editors should to be ashamed at letting this through. Next week we'll see "The Joys of Microsoft Vista."

Some more:
txt2pdf (non-free)
pdftex
pdftk (pdf manipulator not creator but we're already playing fast and lose)
pdfedit (editor not creator)
itext (java pdf creation library)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

just because the operating system the software runs on isn't "free" (I could argue linux isn't as free as some other operating systems owing to the viral nature of the GPL) doesn't make that software not free. Should X-Chat, Gaim, Gimp, Firefox or GCC be considered non-free software just because they can run on windows?

Do you run binary only drivers in your kernel or X? To be consistent you'd need to avoid them.

Jerson Michael Perpetua's picture

I think, there's just too much confusion regarding what types of freedom Free Software give/s, even to the point that people from the Free Software movement are divided regarding the matter.

It helps to examine what is the problem with the proprietary software model in relation to software development and its implications to the environment it is affecting. Proprietary software is software that is controlled/owned by a specific individual, company or group of companies. This ownership is (evidently) beneficial to that specific subset of the population. Much of the benefits come from its central model of product delivery and its (almost) omnicient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, etc. control over the software; thus, it is VERY profitable (read: Microsoft). Well, one might think that this is all plain and well; this is good business perhaps. But when we look at the other side of the coin, we see the end users; the END users. These are people who actually USE the software; people who MUST be concern with how the software must evolve into something that is USEFUL to them. It is, therefore, important that these end users be able to control the software they are using. To be able to do this, they must also control the software's source code and be able to participate (either directly or indirectly) in its development as WANTED or NEEDED. This is freedom as in Free Software. Notice that copylefted Free Software (i.e. Free Software covered by GNU GPL) doesn't violate this freedom. It excludes proprietary software from taking it and turning it into something proprietary. The whole point is that, copylefted Free Software doesn't TAKE away the freedom from proprietary software developers; they can still modify, improve, derive, etc. from copylefted Free Software. What they are not allowed to do is to TAKE away the freedom they have FROM the remaining of the population. This is similar to the concept of taking away the freedom to kill so that the freedom to live is preserved (only not as horrible).

One final note: I believe that these arguments are pretty much pragmatic and are not necessarily anti-commercial. It helps to read with an open mind. ;)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

www.PDF-TECHNOLOGIES.COM has many wonderful tools to create and edit PDFs. The best part is they are completely free.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I second the comment above about Google docs. I'll never install any PDF writer program again.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I use ZAMZAR.com - Coverts just about anything to just about anything else. And it's online - NO INSTALL!

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

If you're running KDE, then Print to PDF is standard...

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Don't see my favorite mentioned...

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I wonder if anyone makes a simple program that I can install to create PDF out of any page on my website...or a plugin for firefox that correctly formats pages into PDF for free. I'm sure that it is out there, now i just have to find it.

John
http://www.monomachines.com

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

pdflatex and its friends are what the real programmers will use.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

OpenOffice.org Calc spreadsheet & Impress presentation can export directly as PDF too.

PDF useful when sending someone an invoice or a quote.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

What is really cool about PDF Creator is you can you it to print (save as PDF) from any program (ok, it's not the only one, I agree), but also it's great reliability. Last week I created a 6400-pages report (yes, 6400!) from MS Access database I needed to publish in PDF format - it took about 10 minutes on a 4-years old computer, but finally I got a perfect PDF of 17 MB.

Oh, and now that someone asked - you can install a browser plugin to save web pages as PDF. I don't you this feature, though, because not all pages are processed very well.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

html2ps -> ps2pdf

You can easily create pdfs from html files using this to scripts ps2pdf comes with almost all linux distros (I think), and you can download html2ps.

Carlos Mafla
http://devtime.blogspot.com

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Funny, telling people how to use free software to make PDFs when this magazine stopped offering a PDF version.

vivek's picture
Submitted by vivek on

I have tried PDFPrint which was also good. I gives the options the same as pdfcreator all you have to do is to print selectign the pritner as Pdfprint and your document is ready. --byee jollyguyjolly@hotmail.com

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Unfortunately OpenOffice does not properly support OpenType font embedding!

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

There are lots of good tools for creating PDFs. What's missing are tools to manage PDF collections. PDF Explorer is great at this, but sadly it is a Windoze application:

http://homepage.oniduo.pt/pdfe/pdfe.html

Jerson Michael Perpetua's picture

It couldn't be ported by the Free Software community unless its (guess what?) Free Software. Judging from PDF Explorer's website, it's pretty much proprietary. There really isn't anything much we can do with code that are controlled not by its userbase. :(

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I Use PDF Redirect. It can even convert dwg files to pdf.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

The pdftex (http://pdftex.org) variant of TeX is still actively maintained. http://tug.org/begin.html has some resources for getting started with TeX, for anyone who might care to. --karl@freefriends.org

Ryan Cartwright's picture

As demand increases for this format...

Considering the recent (quite heated) discussion in this magazine about PDFs, was there a touch of irony as you wrote this? ;o)

Jerson Michael Perpetua's picture

There are people here who get offended by discussions that concentrate on proprietary software; this is FreeSoftwareMagazine.com after all. I am not requesting everyone to stop from discussing; all I want is a little bit of consideration (even if an absurd one ;). It helps to know that this website is a place for Free Software; you can discuss proprietary software in other websites. It's disturbing to read an article created for a website that advocates Free Software whose comments (almost wholly) suggest proprietary software (not mentioning the proprietary software in the article itself).

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Is there any software that allows us to modify a Pdf file? I have a scanner which allows me to convert the file into a pdf file. But I wish to modify a few contents / delete a few sentences. Are these possible?

Ryan Cartwright's picture

Assuming you mean Free Software and you want to run this on a Free Software platform, have a look at PDFEdit (sourceforge is very handy for this kind of search you know :o) ).
http://pdfedit.petricek.net/pdfedit.index_e

it's still in early stages (0.3.1) but it seems to work.

If you are looking for software to edit PDFs on a non-free platform then you'll probably have to take your pick (and pay your money) from the commercial applications out there.

HTH
Ryan

Ryan Cartwright's picture

As it uses QT3 you'll have great difficulty.

If you are feeling brave enough this http://qtwin.sourceforge.net may help (eventually).

Otherwise if you really need to edit a PDF you can always just put it on a USB key and use a Live CD ( *buntu, DSL, Puppy, PCLinuxOS etc. ) or dual boot or - as I said before..

If you are looking for software to edit PDFs on a non-free platform then you'll probably have to take your pick (and pay your money) from the commercial applications out there.

Ryan

tushargokhale's picture

Well I use CUPS PDF printer on my Linux machine and in Windows I have installed "PDFCreator" all though these PDF writers are good in converting PDF files from any apps... they all lack one major thing... They do not generate any links! :(
So links means say "A direct link from Table of content to actual page cannot be created!" with the most of these Free PDF printers... can someone throw a light on how to do that?

Tushar Gokhale
http://geocities.com/gokhaletushar/

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I like Primo PDF and then I use Cute PDF to do merging only.. I am trying to track down some way to email pdf as an email since I don't know how to write html code. I hate mass email stuff but anything to make a buck right now.

Ryan Cartwright's picture

If you mean mailing a PDF within the body of an e-mail - good luck with that one and be prepared for some backlash if you ever succeed.

PDF is a binary format and unless a specific email client has the option to display the content inline (via a plugin I imagine) then a PDF is always going to be shown as an attachment.

Rightfully so in my opinion but then I am one of the decreasing percentage of people who believe all e-mails should be plain text. :o)

scyon's picture
Submitted by scyon on

My favorite free PDF creation program on Windows is Free PDF Creator (http://www.freepdfcreator.org). On Linux I typically use CUPS or XSane to make PDF files.

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Jon Peck's picture

Biography

Jon Peck is a Zend PHP 4 & 5 Certified Engineer and Staff Developer / System Administrator for ProZ.com. He writes a blog about technology and web programming at jonpeck.blogspot.com.