TechRepublic Tutorial: Create your own PDF files for free with CutePDF Printer

Create PDF files with CutePDF Printers

If you regularly send documents to your colleagues or clients via e-mail attachments, chances are good that you probably struggle with saving the document in a file format that everyone can use—regardless of the system or software being used. As you know, Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF) is the universal format used for distributing electronic documents on the Internet.

Although Acrobat Reader—Adobe's software for viewing and printing PDFs—is available for free, its software for creating PDFs isn't. Wouldn't it be nice if you could save your documents in PDF format without having to shell out $300 for the Adobe Acrobat Standard package or $450 for the Adobe Acrobat Professional package? Well, now you can with a free program called CutePDF Printer from Acro Software. When you install this program, it sets itself up as a printer subsystem. As such, you can create PDF files from any application’s Print dialog box.

Why use PDF format?
In addition to being a standard that anyone can view with the free Acrobat Reader, which is available in more than 20 languages, the PDF format offers another big benefit: security.

Acrobat Reader is available on a multitude of platforms, including:
  • Palm
  • Pocket PC
  • Symbian
  • Windows 3.x
  • Windows 9x
  • Windows NT/2000/XP
  • Macintosh 7-10
  • Linux
  • Sun Solaris
  • HP-UX
  • OS/2 Warp

While the security angle of the PDF format isn’t played up very much, it's a very important benefit—especially if you’re using the Microsoft Office applications Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. As you may know, the electronic versions of the Microsoft Office documents may contain hidden metadata that can inadvertently leak confidential or proprietary information to your company’s competitors or colleagues. However, when you convert an Office document to PDF format before distribution, you won’t have to worry about any potential security leaks. (For more information on the dangers of metadata, see my articles “Clean potentially harmful metadata from Office documents with ezClean” and “Keep Microsoft Office documents clean with iScrub.”)

A basic feature set
Of course, CutePDF Printer doesn’t have all the bells and whistles you'll find in the Adobe Acrobat package, but it does provide you with enough features to create pretty standard PDF files. For example, CutePDF Printer will automatically embed any special fonts as well as images contained in the document that you’re converting.

How it works
The PDF file format’s ability to reliably represent the original document is derived from the fact that the PDF architecture is based on the PostScript language, which was developed way back in 1985 by Adobe. PostScript is essentially a computer language optimized for printing graphics and text in a device-independent manner.

In order for the CutePDF Printer to be able to create PDF files, the program acts as a bridge between the generic PostScript printer driver that comes with the Windows operating systems and GNU Ghostscript, which the Setup procedure automatically installs in your system. GNU Ghostscript is an open-source interpreter for the PostScript language and the PDF file format. GNU Ghostscript is distributed under the GNU General Public License.

Getting and installing CutePDF Printer
CutePDF Printer is compatible with Windows 98/Me/2000/XP. Once you download the program, you should disable your virus protection program before installing CutePDF Printer. Then double-click the executable installation file and follow the online instructions. The install takes a few minutes to complete.

Creating PDF files
Once you’ve installed CutePDF Printer, you’ll find its print subsystem in the Print dialog box of every application you've installed on your system. For example, suppose you’ve created a technical support document in Word that shows users how to enable the SoundSentry and ShowSounds Accessibility options in Windows XP, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A
You can convert Word documents to PDF easily with CutePDF Printer.

You now want to distribute this technical support document to all of your users. However, not all of the users have Word installed on their computers, so you want to convert the Word document to a PDF file. Just pull down the File menu and select the Print command. When you see the Print dialog box, click the Name drop-down arrow in the Printer panel and select the CutePDF Printer subsystem, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B
You’ll find the CutePDF Printer subsystem in the Print dialog box.

Once you’ve selected the CutePDF Printer subsystem, click OK as you normally would. You’ll then see a Save As dialog box in which you'll need to specify a name and location for your PDF file, as shown in Figure C. You’ll also notice that a printer icon appears in the system tray.

Figure C
When you see the Save As dialog box, you’ll need to specify a name and location for your PDF file.

After you click the Save button in the Save As dialog box, keep an eye on the printer icon in the system tray in order to monitor the status of the operation, just as if you were actually printing a document. Once the printer icon disappears, you can locate and open your new PDF file, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D
Once CutePDF Printer completes the conversion operation, you can open your new PDF file in Acrobat Reader.

Other types of documents
While Word documents are probably the most common type of file that you’ll regularly need to convert to PDF format, there are many other document types that are appropriate to convert to PDF format. For example, you can convert your PowerPoint presentation to PDF documents for distribution to users who don’t have PowerPoint installed on their systems. Likewise, you can convert Excel spreadsheets and graphs to PDF documents.

Another situation in which CutePDF Printer can be of assistance is in the case of HTML-based e-mail. If you want to forward an HTML-based e-mail message to someone whose e-mail client doesn’t support HTML-based e-mail messages, use the Print command in your e-mail client to convert the document to PDF format. You can then send it along as an attachment.

Furthermore, there are some graphics programs that will allow you to compile and print thumbnail sheets, but don’t provide you with a means of saving the thumbnail sheets as separate documents you can distribute. CutePDF Printer lets you circumvent this problem.

The Adobe way
To be fair, I should point out that you don’t actually have to purchase the Adobe Acrobat package in order to create PDF files the Adobe way. Adobe has an online product called Create Adobe PDF Online, which is a Web-hosted service that allows you to convert a wide variety of documents to PDF format over the Internet.

This subscription-based service comes with a free trial that lets you convert up to five documents. After that, you must pay to use the service. You can purchase a subscription by the month ($9.99) or by the year ($99.99). A subscription provides the following features:
  • Tagged Adobe PDF creation
  • Upload maximum of 100 pages per PDF file for paper capture
  • Unlimited conversions
  • 15-minute maximum processing time

Once you subscribe, you can log on to the site and upload your source document. The service will convert your document to PDF format and e-mail it to you.


Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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