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Creating PDF Files

Using Only Available Free Software

(For Windows Users only)


I use to wonder if I can create a PDF file without spending too much money on the Adobe software. Also, many people have asked me how to do it and I couldn't answer them. After having done some research and some experiments myself, I came up with this trick, which will allow us to virtually convert any printable file into a PDF file.

What We Need

  1. Windows 95/98 CD-ROM (It has been known to work with Windows 2000/XP.)
  2. GSview and Ghostscript
  3. Adobe Acrobat Reader  (Although you can use GSview to view a PDF file, the display quality of the document viewed by Acrobat Reader is much better.)

The Principle

  1. Create a postscript file from the document you want to convert. (Print the document we want to convert through a postscript printer driver to a file.)
  2. Convert the postscript file to a pdf file through pdfwrite device from Ghostscript.

Preparation

    Install a Postscript Printer Driver

      Unless you already have a postscript printer driver installed, follow these instructions. Even if you already have one, you may add another one for pdf purpose only. You don't need to have the actual printer.
    1. Click Start -> Settings->Printers or double click My Computer->Printer. Then your printer folder will show up.
    2. Double click Add Printer
    3. In Windows 98, Add Printer Wizard window will pop up. (Windows 95 should have something similar.) Click Next.
    4. Choose Local printer. Click Next.
    5. Choose a postscript printer driver.  How? Choose one with "PS" or "PostScript"  attached to its name. It is a good idea to choose a color postscript printer because you might want to make a colorful PDF file. For example, HP PaintJet XL300 Postscript will do the job. I myself use to use Tektronix Phaser 220i. (There is no "PS" or "PostScript" in it, but this driver helped me first discover how to make postscript files from windows applications; however, the unprintable area for  printer is quite large.)
    6. However, I recommend Tektronix Phaser 300i. It doesn't have a large unprintable area like Tektronix Phaser 220i does. Moreover, it doesn't have the color changed problem like HP PaintJet XL300 Phostscript does .
        Updated:
        • Stephen has reported that HP Laserjet 8150 PS driver gives even better results. "I got better results with an HP Laserjet driver (the Laserjet 8150 PS) because my original Word document used Garamond 12 font. This font was rendered poorly with the Textronix driver and other HP's I tried. I think the reason may be that of the ones I tried, only the 8150 used "Postscript Language Level 3"; the others used level 2 (whatever that means)."
        • Thomas suggested  HP Laserjet 5500 drivers work very well if you want color. "I found that the HP Color Laserjet 5500 gave excellent results - no other I found could do a large A3 colour pdf..." The driver can be downloaded here.
    7. Click Next
    8. Choose a printer port. (I recommend FILE but LPT1 is OK.)
    9. Name your printer and decide if you want it to be your default printer. Click Next.
    10. Choose NO for printing a test page because you don't really have one. :)
    11. Click Next and you will be prompted to insert your Windows 98/95 CD-ROM.
    12. Viola!  You got yourself a new printer driver. Now look at your printer folder. Right click on your new printer and choose properties.
    13. Click Paper tab and choose Letter unless your standard paper is different.
    14. Click PostScript Tab.  In the PostScript output format box, choose PostScript(optimize for portability - ADSC)Note: you can also create an EPS file by choosing Encapsulated PostScript (EPS).  This file can be used as an image in LaTeX.
    15. That's all you need to setup the printer driver. However, you can experiment with other options and see what the output will come out.  Click OK when you're done.

    Install GSview And Ghostscript

      For more information about installing GSview and Ghostscript, visit http://www.cs.wisc.edu/~ghost/. Here I will provide only the way I did it.
    1. Download gsvXXw32.exe (for GSview) and gsXXXw32.exe (for Ghostscript) from the site.
    2. Install both of them. (It doesn't matter which one is installed first.)
    3. Open GSview and you will be prompted to choose a version of Ghostscript.

    Install Adobe Acrobat Reader

      Obtain a Adobe Acrobat Reader from Adobe web site then follow the installation instructions.

Ready to Rock

Now you are ready to create a PDF file.  Remember, the principle is Document file->Postscript file->PDF file.
  1. Create a postscript file from the document.  I will show you by example. Suppose you want to create a postscript file from a word document created by MS Word. (Other applications should follow the same pattern.)
    1. Open the document with MS Word.
    2. Click File->Print from MS Word menu panel.
    3. In the Printer Name box, choose the printer you have just installed. (e.g. Tektronix Phaser 300i )
    4. Check Print to file box. (If you choose FILE as your printer port, this step is not necessary.)
    5. Click OK. Then you will be prompted to name your postscript file.  Click OK to save your postscript file.
    6. Now you have a postscript file but the file extension is .prn. You might want to change it to .ps. If your Windows doesn't show the file extension, you may do so by opening Start->Windows Explorer. Choose View->Folder Options. Click View tab and uncheck Hide file extensions for known file types.
  2. Create a PDF file from the postscript file.
    1. Double click your .ps file. GSview will pop up with your postscript file open.
    2. Click File->Convert from GSview menu panel.
    3. Under Device box, choose pdfwrite. Select the Resolution you want. (Normally larger resolution means larger file and better quality.) Select the pages you want to print. The option Shrink to fit Page Size from the drop-down menu might be useful sometimes. If you like, you may experiment with the properties of pdfwrite. Then click OK.
    4. You will be prompted to name your PDF file.  Write your file name with .pdf extension. (e.g. mydoc.pdf) Click Save and we're done.

Examples

Example pdf files created using this method are ghoststory.pdf(45 KB) and cactustek300i.pdf(346 KB). Other examples (mostly in Thai language) can be found here.

Tips

  1. You can make smaller and sharper PDF files if you use standard fonts (e.g. Times,Courier, Arial/Helvetica) in your document because those fonts are "built-in" in the reader so the program won't encode the fonts into the PDF files.
  2. Some people have reported that the printer drivers Apple Color LW 12/660, HP Laserjet 8150 PS, HP Laserjet 5500 give even better results.

Possible Problems

Our readers have reported some problems using this method:
  1. Printer drivers are tied to the physical capabilities of the real printers. For example Tektronix Phaser 220i can't print beyond a certain boundary so you may not create a PDF file beyond that boundary using that printer driver. Some printers won't print color when the paper is large so you can't create a color PDF file using those printer drivers if you choose large paper.
  2. Some advanced features such as hyper links are not supported by this method.
  3. If you use HP PaintJet XL300 Phostscript with your MS document that contains non-vector graphic pictures (e.g. jpgs or gifs), you might experience color changed in the graphic. (See cactushp.pdf (414 KB).) I suggest using Tektronix Phaser 300i instead. The "Tektronix Phaser 300i" version of cactushp.pdf is cactustek300i.pdf(346 KB).
  4. There was a report that this method (or just the printer Tektronix Phaser 300i) doesn't work well with MS Publisher. For examples, some photo and text box are missing in the pdf file. And the pdf file contains only the first page while the original document has more than one page. If you don't have that problem or if you can fix the problem, please describe how you do it in my forum. Thanks a bunch. Updated:  Some have reported that  HP Color LaserJet printer driver would solve some problems, but still could not solve the multiple page problem.

Alternative Methods

For any comments, please sign my guestbook. If you have any suggestion or any question or any problem report, please go to my forum. Feel free to answer any question if you know the answer. I'm not an expert in this area myself, so your answer might help me learn more too.
Web Master: Ken
Last Updated:  03/12/2004
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