Unlike most other operating systems, Windows still doesn’t include first-class support for printing to PDFs. However, PDF printing is still fairly simple — you can quickly install a free PDF printer or use the support included in various programs.
We’ll cover ways you can easily print to PDF, whether you’re on a home computer where you can install a PDF printer or you’re using a locked-down computer you can’t install any software on.
Install a PDF Printer
Windows doesn’t include a built-in PDF printer, but it does include one that prints to Microsoft’s XPS file format. You can install a PDF printer to print to PDF from any application in Windows with a print dialog. The PDF printer will add a new virtual printer to your list of installed printers. When you print any document to the PDF printer, it will create a new PDF file on your computer instead of printing it to a physical document.
You can choose from a variety of free PDF printers available online, but we’ve had good luck with the free CutePDF Writer. Just download it, run the installer, and you’re done. Just be sure to uncheck the terrible Ask Toolbar and other bloatware during installation.
On Windows 8, PDF printers you install will appear both in the classic desktop Print dialog and the Modern printer list.
Use a Program’s Built-in PDF Export
Some applications have added their own PDF-export support because Windows doesn’t have it natively. In many programs, you can print to PDF without installing a PDF printer at all.
- Google Chrome: Click the menu and and click Print. Click the Change button under Destination and select Save as PDF.
- Microsoft Office: Open the menu, select Export, and select Create PDF/XPS Document.
- LibreOffice: Open the File menu and select Export as PDF.
You can generally create a PDF file from the print dialog or with an “Export to PDF” or “Save to PDF” option if the program supports it. To print to PDF from anywhere, install a PDF printer.
Print to XPS and Convert to PDF
Perhaps you’re using a computer that you can’t install any software on, but you want to print to PDF from Internet Explorer or another program without integrated PDF support. If you’re using Windows Vista, 7, or 8, you can print to the Microsoft XPS Document Writer printer to create an XPS file from the document.
You’ll have the document in the form of an XPS file you can take with you. You can convert it to a PDF file later with one of the following methods:
- Use an Online Converter: If the document isn’t particularly important or sensitive, you can use a free web-based converter like XPS2PDF to create a PDF document from your XPS file.
- Print the XPS File to PDF: Bring the XPS file to a computer with a PDF printer installed. Open the XPS file in Microsoft’s XPS Viewer, click File -> Print, and print the XPS file to your virtual PDF printer. This will create a PDF file with the same contents as your XPS file.
Quickly Create PDFs from Websites
If you’re using a computer without a PDF printer and you just want to print a web page to a PDF file you can take with you, you don’t need to mess around with any conversion process. Just use a web-based tool like Web2PDF, plug the web page’s address in, and it will create a PDF file for you. Tools like this one are intended for public web pages, not private ones like online-shopping receipts.
This would all be easier if Windows included a PDF printer, but Microsoft still wants to push their own XPS format for now.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 04/17/13