How to create a PDF file from a Word document

Article contributed by Dave Rado

To create a PDF, you should ideally buy a copy of Adobe Acrobat, (not the Reader, which is free, but the full product). Alternatively, you can install a PostScript driver and use a third party product such as Ghostscript.

Using Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat 4.05 is a huge improvement on its predecessors. When you install it, it installs a PDFMaker add-in in the startup folders of your MS Office applications. The add-in puts a Create PDF button onto a toolbar, and onto the Insert menu, of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Previous versions also installed a PDFMaker add-in, but the new one is greatly superior.

Configuring Acrobat for optimum results

The PDFMaker macro prints the Word document to a PostScript file, which it then sends to Acrobat Distiller. Distiller is a separate application, which creates a PDF file from the PostScript file. Finally, the PDF file is opened in Acrobat, so you can view it and make further changes.

When you run the PDFMaker macro, a dialog lets you choose, among other things:

  1. Which heading (or other) styles you want to be converted into bookmarks in the PDF. PDF Bookmarks can be used a bit like the Document Map view in Word, but you have much more control over the PDF bookmark pane – for example, you can control whether the main headings are collapsed or expanded (or a mixture of both) when someone opens your PDF document.
  2. Whether the bookmark pane should be visible when the user opens the document (for any long document, I would strongly recommend you make it visible – its a huge aid to navigation).
  3. Whether the table of contents, and/or other hyperlinks should be converted into hyperlinks in the PDF – and even what effect, if any, there should be when the user hovers over a hyperlink.
  4. What view (whole page, page width, etc) the document should open in, and what view it should be displayed in when the user clicks on a bookmark in the bookmark pane. (I recommend Fit Window for the former and Fit Width for the latter).
  5. Which Distiller profile should be used (coming to that shortly).

There are other options you can configure in the dialog as well, but these are some of the key ones. The dialog retains all the settings, so the next time you print, you wont need to set them again; which means a IT administrator can configure users settings for them once, and non-technical users will then be able to create perfect PDFs with minimal training. Or better still, create an image and download it to new users.

The settings in the Distiller application are also very important. Again, they are not user-friendly, but do retain their settings, so only need to be configured once per user.

In Distiller there are three Job Options. The only two I use are Print Optimised and Screen Optimised. For web work, its generally better to use the latter; for anything where print quality is important I would strongly recommend the former.  The differences is in the print quality of the graphics; and in whether fonts get embedded or just simulated (both of which affect the file size of the resulting PDF). In both cases, if you want the colours in the PDF to look exactly the same on screen as they looked in Word, you will need to make a change to the default settings (I warned you it wasnt user-friendly!). To do so:

  1. Open Distiller and select the relevant job option.
  2. On the Settings menu, select Job Options.
  3. On the Color tab, select Leave color unchanged.
  4. Click OK.
  5. Having done this, you can then use the PDFMaker macros dialog to choose which job option you need to use for a particular PDF youre creating.

Another one-off configuration exercise you may need to carry out (at least if youre not based in the US!) is to select Start + Settings + Printers. Right-click on the Acrobat Distiller icon and select Properties. On the Paper tab, Letter will be selected. If you dont want your PDFs to be in US Letter format change it (to A4 or whatever you are using).

Configuring the PDF, once created

Most of the configuration of the PDF can be done via the PDF Maker macro – but can also be done in Acrobat. However, one thing that can only be done in Acrobat is configuring the security options (for instance, you may want the reader to be able to read and print your document, but not be able to copy from it; or if security is very important to you, you may not even want them to be able to print – if they can print it they can scan it; although of course, theres nothing you can do to stop them retyping it!).

To configure the security options, select File + Save As; change Security to Standard; where it says Specify password to change the Security option, type a password, and configure the other options as you want them.

Unlike Words password protection, Acrobats is extremely secure – although the normal rules about passwords apply (dont use a real word, mix letter and numbers, mix upper and lower case, and DONT LOSE THE PASSWORD!)

Also, if you expand or collapse the headings in the bookmarks pane, as required, before saving, they will appear in the same state when anyone else subsequently opens your document.

You can do many other things to the PDF in Acrobat, such as annotating it, and much else; but this is a Word FAQ site, not an Adobe one! If you need more help, the comp.text.pdf newsgroup is superb. You should find it on your ISPs news server.

Some Gotchas 

Vector graphics
Small lettering in WMF and EMF images can look terrible on screen when a Word document is converted to PDF, although they print perfectly most printers and look okay in Word.

One fix is to create your WMF or EMF files by exporting the text as text (not as curves). This means you have to install the fonts used in the graphic if you dont already have them installed; or use font substitution. Unfortunately it also means that anyone who needs to use the resulting graphic will also need to have the font(s) installed (although recipients of a PDF wont). This is fine for a design studio, but not generally practical in a corporate environment except when all the text in the graphic uses fonts which are supplied with Windows or at least with MS Office, as standard (so it is not generally practical for logos, for instance).

If converting an EPS to a WMF or EMF, I would recommend Adobe Illustrator 9.0, as it has a good WMF/EMF conversion filter (unlike all previous versions of Illustrator, which couldnt handle these formats at all). Or if using CorelDraw, youll get best results with CorelDraw 9.0.

The alternative, and (unfortunately) for most people the most practical workaround is to create a TIFF from the EPS rather than creating an EMF or WMF. If you do so, you must scale the graphic in Illustrator such that the resulting TIFF is exactly the right size when imported into Word, because unlike WMFs, you cant scale TIFFs, especially TIFFs containing small text, without losing quality. Also, if you want the colours in the TIFF and the PDF to look exactly the same on screen in your Word and PDF files as they did in Illustrator, you must export the TIFF using the RGB colour model, not CMYK (its an option on Illustrators Export dialog).

As with WMF and EMF, Illustrator 9.0 is far better than previous versions at exporting high quality TIFFs.

EPS graphics, although they print perfectly, generally look awful on screen in Word – very bitmappy; and there is no way around this other than converting the EPS to a different format. MS Office applications simply dont seem to understand how to display the EPS format. And unless the text in the EPS graphic is genuine text rather than curves, they suffer from exactly the same jagged text on screen problem as WMF and EMF files do, when the Word document is converted to a PDF (at least under Windows, things may be better on the Mac).

Embedding fonts
Unless your documents stick to the most bog-standard fonts, such as Times New Roman and Arial, you are likely to hit this one sooner or later! (So if you want to keep the PDF file size low you need to stick to bog-standard fonts. 

In the Job Options dialog of Distiller (see Configuring Acrobat, above), on the Fonts tab, there is an option to embed all fonts, which is ticked by default if you choose Print Optimised, and not ticked if you choose Screen Optimised.

If you choose not to embed the fonts, many fonts (even such staples as Arial Narrow) will look fuzzy in the PDF. On the other hand, if you do embed them, the PDF file size will balloon; and more seriously, if the document contains any fonts which are not licensed to be embedded, the PDFMaker macro will fail and youll get the rather helpful error message: Acrobat Distiller failed to create the PDF file. If you want to make Acrobat available to ordinary users, this one will really floor them! But as long as your users are using proper templates; and as long as none of the styles in those templates use fonts which arent licensed to be embedded, you should be able to keep the risks of this happening to a minimum.

Sticky Print to File setting
PDFMaker prints your document to a PostScript file and in so doing, it ticks the PrintToFile option in the File + Print dialog. Unfortunately the macro doesnt clean up after itself, so the next time you print to an ordinary printer, you will be asked to name a .prn file (unless you remember to turn the setting off yourself, but people rarely do remember).

To fix this bug, you could write a macro of your own to call the PDFMaker macro and then uncheck the checkbox; and you could assign your macro to the PDFMaker button:

Sub RunCleanPDFMaker()

Application.Run "DoPrefsForm"

“Clear PrintToFile setting without actually printing
“code courtesy of Ibby

Application.PrintOut _
   Range:=wdPrintRangeOfPages, _
   Pages:="0", _

End Sub

Other methods of creating a PDF

There is a much easier way to create a PDF, which bypasses all the above complexity – which is to simply print to the PDF Writer printer driver – which is also installed automatically when you install Acrobat – instead of using either Distiller or the PDFMaker macro. But what youll gain in simplicity youll lose in quality. And you would then have to create all the bookmarks and hyperlinks and views manually, which can be very time consuming. As already mentioned, the PDFMaker macro is very simple to use once configured correctly; and Distiller creates much higher-quality results than PDF Writer does.

Alternatively, fellow MVP Jonathan West [Lene Fredborg, 28-Nov-2019: Removed outdated link to] has written a series of add-ins which among many other things, can create high-quality PDFs much more quickly than the PDFMaker add-in. They arent free, but you can try before you buy.