Print to File

Category: Printing

Often I compose a letter in Word, then paste the text into an email. But all the formatting (and sometimes images) are lost when my friends view it. Can I somehow capture in a file, exactly what WOULD appear on the printed page, then send that instead?

Print to file

How Do I Print To A File Instead Of A Printer?

I understand this frustration, since I deal with many people around the globe who have a variety of email software, word processing and operating systems. A beautifully formatted document such as a birthday greeting; business proposal; term paper; etc., SHOULD appear to the reader exactly as the author prepared it.

It's a work of art, after all. Sometimes, precise reproduction from author to reader is essential, as with blueprints. Generally, people print on paper what they want to be read precisely. But there are problems with paper printing.

First, it takes paper, which is not cheap. Ink or laser toner is even more expensive, not to mention the new hot-dye printers for photgraphs. You always run out of one thing or another when you get to the 98th page of a 100 page document, too. That means a trip to the office supply store, and suffering if what you need is out of stock. Then you have to get the paper to the reader(s).

You could just attach and email the original Word document, spreadsheet, etc. But that doesn't guarantee that it will be rendered correctly on the receiving side. Due to differences in software, application versions, available fonts, and other factors, it could end up looking much different than you intended. If you have a PC, and your friend has a Mac or Linux computer, the odds are even worse.

If you could scan each printed page, and save it as an image file, that would solve the problem, albeit with a lot of extra hassle. So how do you EASILY get that precision "printing" in a data file that can be emailed? Fortunately, there are several ways, all of them free.

Image Writer and PDF Format

For Microsoft Office users, there is a "printer" driver called Microsoft Document Image Writer. It was installed by default when you installed MS Office. Just select Print in any Office application, click on the pulldown menu arrow in the Printer Name field, and select Microsoft Document Image Writer as the printer for this particular job. Then click OK to print. Instead of sending the data to your default printer, it will be saved in an image file.

Image Writer will use the existing document file name, but you have an opportunity to change that if you wish. You can also change the default TIFF image format to the MDI (Microsoft Document Imaging) compressed format.

The problem with both Image Writer formats is that they are monchrome only, and no more than 300 dpi. For full color, higher resolution "printed" files, you can use the Portable Document Format (PDF) standard invented by Adobe Corp. There are other advantages to using the PDF format, too.

First, the readers to whom you wish to send "printed" files may not use Microsoft Office, or even Windows. PDF is a universal standard that virtually any operating system can read with some viewer program or another. Second, many PDF printer drivers let you set a password on the PDF file you create. You can communicate this password to the intended recipients separately from the email transmitting the file. Now only people who have the password can view the PDF file, a nice securty feature.

Bullzip Free PDF Printer Driver is a good example of this breed. It also supports printing to image formats including BMP, JPG, etc.

PDFCreator is an open source (free) addon, and users say it works just as well as the $700 Adobe Acrobat suite for simply creating PDF files from other documents.

Print to a file, email it, and save a copy to your hard drive. That sounds much easier, cheaper, and more environmentally responsible than paper, postage, and file cabinets, doesn't it?

Do you have comments or questions about printing to a file? Post your thoughts below...

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Most recent comments on "Print to File"

Posted by:

19 Oct 2009

PDF is definitely the way to go. We use CutePDF as our PDF driver. One other advantage of sending a PDF is that the Word document "source code" does not get sent. Your .doc file may contain your edit history, which could be viewable by the recipient, and you may not want that to happen. A PDF file can be considered "an electronic piece of paper".

Posted by:

19 Oct 2009


Your information is so helpful.

Thank you very much,


Posted by:

BoB in Toronto, Canada
19 Oct 2009

I have been using CutePDF Writer for quite some time as my default printer and it works great by retaining all formatting of the document; then I can email or simply send to printer or whatever I wish to do with the document created. Highly recommended and it's FREE!

Posted by:

20 Oct 2009

CutePDF is also a good, free alternative if you just wish to create PDFs. No bells or whistles, though.

Posted by:

20 Oct 2009

You mentioned using a pdf. I don't use Adobe reader. Too bloated. Use Foxit. Much more light-weight.

Posted by:

20 Oct 2009

But what about the size of the attachment? .pdf, .mdi .tiff and other images can create large files that often aren't well-suited for email.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Large files are better suited for transfer by a drop-box service, such as

Posted by:

20 Oct 2009

I use a program called Universal Document Converter, available for $69 at and it works great. You install it as a printer driver choice. Pick the output type you want, color, black and white, jpg, pdf, tiff, or any or over a dozen choices and print the file (any printable file, web page, office doc, spreadsheet etc.) I have not found anything it could not print to a file. Sorry if I sound like a commercial but I think this is one of the best programs out there although perhaps a bit overpriced now.

Posted by:

Stuart Berg
21 Oct 2009

I've tried other "print to PDF file" software and have to say that PrimoPDF ( is by far the best free one I've ever used. I particularly like the feature where it gives you a choice of overwriting or concatenating to an existing PDF file. That comes in handy when scanning a page directly into a PDF file. After the first page, you can just concatenate subsequent pages to create one PDF document. It also has lots of other great features. Did I also mention that it's FREE?

Posted by:

21 Oct 2009

Office 7 includes PDF as one of its "Save As" file options.

Posted by:

21 Oct 2009

As no one has mentioned it, I must recommend PDF Xchange viewer ( This is not for creating pdf's, but if all you need is a viewer with copy and print options, it's the one. I have tried all the freebies and this is the best! Tons of features, loads fast, check it out. See here too -

Posted by:

21 Oct 2009

Of course, if you use a Macintosh, you can choose "Print to PDF" from the Print dialogue.

Any image or document displayed on the screen can be 'printed' as a PDF.

Posted by:

Robert P. Holley
21 Oct 2009

McAfee Security Advisor considers Bullzip to be a dangerous site that downloads malware of some sort.

EDITOR'S NOTE: McAfee is famous for false positives. Ignore this warning...

Posted by:

Jno Eagle
22 Oct 2009

I remember using RTF to do some stuff involving fancy fonts and graphic inserts. Could not find much on it in Vista Home Prem Help (ha ha). Where can I find info on RTF to be used in Vista. Like a right click setup that will produce an RTF page or document? Hope this is fairly "on-topic" for formatted document users. Seems like it was in an early edition of XP, but not sure.

EDITOR'S NOTE: RTF is pretty much obsolete. Microsoft is dropping support for RTF next year. PDF is a better way to go.

Posted by:

Glenn P.
24 Oct 2009

Any PDF printer I've ever used doesn't create multi-page PDF's. That is, if what you are printing would normally be printed on two pages, the resulting PDF nevertheless takes up only one page (in extremely tiny letters!).

Does PDFCreator handle multi-page PDF's correctly?????

Posted by:

Todd Corson
26 Oct 2009

I recently discovered doPDF, which installs as a print driver to generate PDFs and doesn't require GhostScript (or .NET, actually) and is totally free. I personally like not having to install multiple applications to get this feature.

Now, I've had the issue where I wanted to add several image files into one PDF and started looking for software to do it (sounds like PrimoPDF is good for this) and turned up nothing. Then I discovered that if I brought up an image in the Windows Photo Viewer and selected print from that application, I had an option to check multiple images to print, which very conveniently allowed me to print multiple scans into a single PDF file. Note that this was in XP - I haven't yet proven that this is possible in Windows 7 or Vista, but I'm still looking into it.

Posted by:

02 Jul 2010

Try Nitro's PrimoPDF - it's free and attaches to your PC as a print driver. So instead of printing to your default printer - you print to 'primoPDF'

The net result is that whatever you selected to print (Word DOC, Excel, or a webpage) is turned into a PDF you can save or email

Posted by:

24 Jan 2012

Per Wikipedia ( PDFCreator installs an ADWARE toolbar, which is difficult to remove. Apparently, has failed as yet to fully resolve this controversy.

Posted by:

02 Aug 2013

Please be careful when installing PDF creator, as you need to uncheck the install toolbar option -it's called PDF Architect toolbar if I remember correctly. It then installs the PDF reader PDF Architect without asking; or at least I did not see it doing so. Uninstalling PDF Architect does not remove much of the software. I had to remove it manually, which was time consuming and required a moderate degree of computer knowhow.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Print to File (Posted: 15 Oct 2009)
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