How To Convert Almost Everything To PDF

The Internet is full of questions like "How to convert this or that to PDF?"… Fortunately, for 99% of users the answer is quite simple: "Find a software called a PDF printer, install it, and print what you need into a PDF file." Here are some explanations done in simple language:

A PDF printer is a kind of virtual printer. A virtual printer is a computer program, that emulates a physical printing device, that is this software pretends to be a printer for other programs, but instead of printing something on paper it writes the output into a file on hard disc. So, a PDF printer is a virtual printer that writes its output into PDF files. Practically it means that any file that can be printed down on paper, can be also converted into PDF through a virtual PDF printer.

Some programs, like MS Word or OpenOffice, have build-in virtual printers. The others, like many image processing software, do not. In this case you need to find a stand alone PDF printer and install it.

Happy MS Windows users enjoy at least several dozens of virtual printers of various kinds: free and paid, big and small, old and new, professional and amateur, infected and clean (just joking), etc. I am not going to recommend any of them, though just mention PDFCreator as a good choice to begin with. Why? Because it is free, it is open source, it has a decent set of features (including creation of multi-page PDF files), it has some history behind, it has FAQ and documentation, it is popular enough to find support on the Internet forums.

When a PDF printer is installed, you need to open your file in its default application and to hit the "Print" button as usual. When print dialog box appears, just select the newly installed PDF printer instead of physical one, then hit "OK", and get a PDF file as a result. This is rather generic rule, and for more specified instructions you should read the user manual which must come along with the printer of your choice (if your printer does not have any manual at all — it is better to forget about such piece of software).

Of course, the quality of the resulting PDF will not be that high. But it will be acceptable enough for the most tasks. In any case, you can try several printers and choose the one that suites your needs best.

The same solution is true for the Linux users. In modern desktop-oriented distributives virtual printers seem to be installed just out-of-the-box. Some programs have build-in export directly to PDF. For image files ImageMagick is also at hand at any time:
# convert sample.jpg sample.pdf
Multi-page PDF can be assembled from single pages with pdfjoin.

The users who are still not satisfied with the output should look for more elaborate solutions, like, say, purchasing Adobe Distiller, or converting to PostScript and then to PDF, and the like. But these methods are beyond the scope of this article.


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