Free PDF Files using GhostScript or OpenOffice.org
There are many ways of producing PDF documents. The cost for
these programs runs from free to many hundreds of dollars. And,
even the free ones are not quite free if you count the nagware,
shareware, addware, poorly written software and spyware
After working with PDFs for many years and trying many programs,
I have found that my three favorite PDF conversion programs
are Acrobat Distiller, GhostScript, and OpenOffice.org (OOo).
Acrobat Distiller comes with the Adobe Acrobat Professional
retailing for $450. GhostScript is free for the download and has
almost all the features of Acrobat Distiller. OOo is a free
full-feature office suite. GhostScript and Distiller produce PDF
from any program that can print from Windows.
For details about installing, configuring and using GhostScript
Using OpenOffice.org to Produce PDF files
OOo will export flawless PDFs directly from every program
in its suite of programs. Just open your MS
Office files in OOo, make any formatting changes you
want and then click the PDF button for perfect renditions every
To use OOo download it for free from OpenOffice.org.
If you tried OOo 1.x and were disappointed, version 2.0 has
just been released and is much improved. Not only does it have
considerably better support for importing and exporting MicorSoft
Office files but it now includes a full feature Access database
clone and provides many other new and improved features. For a
very through review of OOo 2.0 please see: http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1895,1874157,00.asp
Summary of Basic Setup and Usage of GhostScript
NOTE: This document contains a good deal of detail, but
it call all be boiled down into a few simple steps listed next.
Most of the detail that follows is for those who may get
stuck. Enjoy! - GK
- In Windows, install a PostScript printer using a print-to-file
- Download and install GhostScript and GSView software. http://www.cs.wisc.edu/~ghost/doc/AFPL/get851.htm
- Print your document to a PostScript printer and give your print
file a name.
- Open the print file in GSView and from menu File/Convert to PDF
(Optional) Summary of Command Line or Point & Click Setup
and Usage of GhostScript
- Install PostScript printer, GhostScript and GSView (as
- Add the path to the GhostScript lib and in folders to your
Windows PATH environmental variable.
- Associate the bat file PS2PDF.BAT to the extension of your
- Double click on print files in Windows Explorer or My Computer
to convert files.
- Use ps2pdf from Windows command (DOS) Window
Details for Setting Up GhostScript to Produce PDF
Before you try any of the procedures documented below please be
aware that many computers already have GhostScript and GSView
installed and many have the path variable set to GhostScript paths
also. If you are unsure about any of the setup procedures please
contact me or another knowledgeable staff member for
For some of the advanced setup and usage below, it may require
that your Windows extensions be turn on (made visible) in Windows
Explorer (My Computer). Use Tools/Folder Options in Windows
- PostScript Printer
- A PostScript printer is a printer that accepts PostScript
commands as input.
- PostScript is a non-proprietary, industry standard, printer
control language developed by Adobe and widely used by many
applications, operating systems and hardware output devices.
- Printer Driver
- The software that converts formatting information in computer
documents into information a physical printer can understand.
- PostScript Printer Driver
- A printer driver that converts computer documents into a format
that PostScript printers can understand.
- PDF stands for Portable Document Format which is an Adobe
non-proprietary, industry standard. PDF documents retain all the
detail of the format of computer documents no matter where they are
- A very powerful, Open Source and free program that converts
PostScript printer files into PDF format.
Basic Steps In Converting Documents to PDF
For all methods of converting documents to PDF there are
basically two steps:
- Print the document to a file using a PostScript printer
- Convert the generated PostScript file to a PDF document using
the GhostScript program.
GhostScript can be used in many ways to produce PDF documents.
We will discuss four ways here:
- Using the graphics interface program GSView
- Using the Windows (DOS-Like) command line.
- Point & Click from Windows Explorer (Simple to do but
requires advanced setup.)
- Select multiple files, right click and use "Open With"
Overview of Setting up a PostScript Printer
Before you can print to file using a PostScript printer you must
setup a PostScript printer on your computer. It is unnecessary to
actually have a physical PostScript printer present to setup the
printer. In the process of installing a printer on Windows you will
be asked for a printer to install. Any PostScript printer will
work. A good PostScript printer to use is one similar to a
non-PostScript printer you commonly use. This is because most of
your current documents will be able to be converted without being
reformatted. For example if you usually use the HP LaserJet 5 then
the HP Color LaserJet 5/5M PS printer would be a good choice. If
you can't find one similar to your current printer, choose an
advanced model from any manufacturer. You can distinguish
PostScript printers by the PS at the end of the printer name. The
Windows installation program usually copies many printer drivers
from many companies to your hard drive. These are then available
for you to install the printers without accessing any other disks
or the Internet. If you will be producing wide format documents you
will want to use a wide format PostScript printer driver.
Details for Setup and Usage
- Install a Postscript Printer: From Windows 2000 desktop
go to Start/Settings/Printers. To start the printer installation
wizard select Add Printer. Select local printer and at "Use the
following port" choose "FILE: Print to File". Then select an
appropriate PS printer and finish the printer installation wizard
with your choice of responses.
- Install GhostScript and GSView: Links to download
GhostScript and GSView can be found at: http://www.cs.wisc.edu/~ghost/doc/AFPL/get851.htm.
You will want the Win32 version of AFPL GhostScript. Installation
is mostly automatic and uses standard windows installation
- Set Windows PATH (Optional): Advanced users may wish to
set Windows PATH to the GhostScript programs to enable command line
and point and click methods. See "Setting GhostScript Paths..."
Printing to a PostScript File
- Open or create a new document in any Windows program.
- Go to printer setup under the file menu and set the document
printer to your print-to-file PostScript printer.
- Add content and format your document the way you want it to
- Print the document from your application.
- When asked for a file name, enter the full path and filename.
Don't forget to remember this path and file name! Microsoft Office
documents want to add a ".prn" extension to the name. From most
other applications you will probably want to add ".sp" for
PostScript file as this is the standard extension for PostScript
Convert the PostScript File to PDF Using GSView
- Open GSView and then open the print file you just created.
- From the menu use File/Convert to open the conversion
- Under device select pdfwrite and press OK.
- Give your PDF file a name.
Notice that you can convert your documents to many other formats
including Tiff and JPEG, and that each format has many quality and
Command Line Usage (For Advanced Users if GhostScript is in
- From Windows desktop select Start/Run and type "cmd" (without
quotes) and press Enter.
- Navigate to the folder where your PostScript file is located
(use the CD command).
- Type ps2pdf myfile.prn myfile.pdf to convert a file named
myfile.prn printed to a PS printer from a MS Office program to a
PDF file named myfile.pdf.
Point and Click (Optional if Windows PATH variable is set)
- From Windows Explorer double click on your postscript print
- The first time you double click on your file you will be give
an "Open With" dialog to select a program to open the prn or ps
PostScript print file. Select "Other" and navigate to the
ps2pdf.bat file in GhostScript lib directory. Make sure "Always use
this program to open these files" is checked and press
- The next time you click on a file that has a prn or ps
extension the file will automatically be converted into pdf.
- If you have many files to convert, try selecting them in
Explorer, left click on selection and select "Open With"
If you want to use the command line, point-and-click or to
create PDF documents you will need to add two paths to the Windows
PATH system variable. These paths are the path to the location of
the GhostScript executable named gswin32c.exe and the path to the
PostScript to PDF conversion batch program named ps2pdf.bat.
- Check to see where GhostScript has been installed. It is
typically found in C:Program Filesgsgs8.51 but may vary
depending on where the software has been installed and the version
- From Windows 2000 Desktop, right click on My Computer, select
Properties and the Advanced Tab.
- Under System Variables click on path. Select Edit, click once
on the text field in Variable values and press the End key.
(WARNING) When editing the path variable take care not to delete
the existing path settings in the string under System Variables or
you could mess up your computer a bit. If by chance you do delete
the selected text (for instance by typing the semicolon while the
text is still selected) cancel out of the dialogs and start
- At the end of the line of paths type a semicolon and the two
paths to GhostScript in and lib folders. What you enter will
look something like this: ;c:program
filesgsgs8.51in;c:program filesgsgs8.51lib (The rules for
setting paths are that each path must be preceded by a semicolon,
have no spaces between entries, and end without a back slash. The
end of the line should not contain a semicolon. Also, the first
path on the line should not have a semicolon preceding it, but
you usually will not be editing this.)
- When finished editing the path click out of the dialogs with
OK, OK, OK.
- To make the new path active, log off your user workspace and
back on. (You could also just reboot but it takes longer.)
Last Updated: December 2, 2005