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Many programs these days come with the built-in capability to produce output in the PDF format. For those that don’t, there’s a free program called PDFCreator that adds a printer driver to Windows; print to PDFCreator, and instead of hard copy output, your print results go into a standard PDF file, readable by Acrobat Reader or any other PDF-capable program. But what makes this a “GeoTool”?

Some GIS, mapping and publishing programs don’t allow you to specify a layout space greater in physical size than the largest size of paper your installed printer can handle. If you want to layout a map on a 24″x30″ virtual sheet, but the largest size paper any of your printers can handle is 8.5″x11″, your software may not let you use a larger layout size. But if you specify PDFCreator as your printer, you can then specify a larger paper size, and your program should accept it. PDFCreator allows you to choose from a wide range of paper sizes, or to specify a custom size if you prefer. After installing PDFCreator, go to your program’s “Print Setup” section, and select PDFCreator from the printer list. Then, from the PDFCreator Printer Properties window, click on the “Layout” tab, and choose Advanced, then specify your desired paper size. You can choose from a full list of over 60 standard paper sizes from the Paper Size drop-down menu:


But you can also choose “PostScript Custom Paper Size” from the drop-down, and enter a custom paper size in the dialog window below:


Your application should now allow you to use that paper size in laying out your map or other publication.

When you need to print out that document on a computer connected to a printer capable of handling larger print formats, it will now be properly formatted and ready to print. But you can also simply “print” directly to a PDF file using PDFCreator, and then transport it to another computer with a larger-format printer, or to a print service capable of handling large document printing. Since every computer or print service can handle PDF files these days, using PDFCreator bypasses the need for the destination printing service to support your original, and possibly highly-specialized, document format.

PDFCreator has another useful feature. You might want at some point to generate “print” output from a program, but in an image format. For example, suppose you have a map or image in PDF format, and you want to use that image in some other document. With some PDF documents, you can copy an image and paste it into another, but that’s not practical or possible with all PDFs. PDFCreator gives you the option to print not to a PDF, but to an image file like JPEG or TIFF. Just open the original PDF file in a program like Acrobat Reader, select PDFCreator as the printer, and then print the document. When the screen below comes up:


click on the Options button to set parameters for the various print options.


Click on TIFF files under the formats, and the screen looks like this:


Set the DPI and the bit-depth (color range) to the desired values. Be careful with DPI; if you’re creating a TIF image file from an original document with a large physical size, setting the DPI too large can create an image with an enormous file size. For maps and other similar graphic documents, 100-150 dpi should be more than adequate; for images and photographs, 200 dpi should be adequate, but can be set higher if needed. For maps, you can often reduce the color range from the full 24-bit 16-million-color gamut to 256-color, or even 16-color, reducing the size of the final image file significantly. Once these parameters are set, and you’re in the final stage before printing …


…choose the type of file you want to print from the drop-down File type selection. The default is PDF, but in the example above TIF has been selected. Enter the desired filename, and your TIF file will be created; the larger the TIF file, the more time it will take to be “printed”. You can follow this procedure if you want to create output in image format from any program, from mapping to desktop publishing to even word processing.

There are eight output formats available: PDF, JPEG, BMP, PNG, PCX, TIFF, PS (PostScript) and EPS (Encapsulated PostScript), each with its appropriate set of options. Under PDF, you can set options such as compression, fonts, colors, and security settings that allow you to encrypt the PDF, limit permissions, require a password, and so on.

PDFCreator does the same job that many paid or adware PDF programs do, and at a far better price – free, with no ads.

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2 Responses to “PDFCreator”

  1. 1 Anonymous

    I have been using PDF Redirect 2.1 for a year or two. It has an excellent range of print size, dpi, image quality settings.
    PDFCreator had been too “buggy” for me a few versions ago, but I might have to try it again, The print PDF to image options sound excellent.

  2. 2 Leszek Pawlowicz

    Thanks – I’ll take a look at it. PDFCreator has improved, but all PDF creation programs will have quirks that cause differences in how they render pages, so having a couple of options isn’t a bad idea. If one PDF renderer doesn’t work right, you can always try the other. PDFCreator is still worth having by itself because of its ability to produce output in image format.

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