Converting Microsoft Word documents to Adobe PDF format

Bruce P. Blackshaw


This article explains how to convert Microsoft Word documents to Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF), using freely available tools on Windows platforms.

Any contributions or corrections or feedback welcome - please post on our discussion forum.

Why convert?

PDF is a very commonly used format across the Internet. The Adobe Acrobat reader is freely available on a variety of platforms, meaning that PDF documents can be viewed in exactly the same way across all these platforms. It is replacing Postscript as the default document format on the Internet.

By contrast, Microsoft Word documents can only be viewed on platforms that support Microsoft Word.

Adobe's general Acrobat product, specifically designed for producing PDF documents, is quite expensive to purchase if all you want to do is convert your Word documents. Fortunately, there are completely free alternatives. The first is to use OpenOffice, which has a PDF writer built in. If you want to dump Microsoft Office and give yourself the ability to write PDF documents at the same time, install OpenOffice (of course you can always have MS Office and OpenOffice both installed). But if you don't have the time, inclination, interest or whatever, the second alternative, described in detail below, might suit you.

Step by Step

1. Install the Adobe Acrobat reader (if not already installed)

Follow the Adobe Acrobat reader installation instructions to do so.

2. Install a Postscript printer driver

Go to Start -> Settings -> Printers in Windows and select Add Printer.

Choose Local Printer (not a network printer), and make sure the printer port is set to be FILE. 

Then add a Postscript printer. An HP Color Laserjet 8500 PS is a good choice, although any Postscript printer will do. You might need your Windows installation CD to get the printer driver installed.

3. Install Ghostscript and GSview

These are tools that can view and manipulate Postscript files.

Get Ghostscript. Select the Obtaining AFPL Ghostscript link to download the latest version for your operating system.

From the same page, get the companion viewer GSview. Select the Obtaining GSview link to download the latest version for your operating system.

Once you have both executables, install them both by double clicking on them and following the instructions. Install Ghostcript first.

4. Print your Word document to file

Open your Word document. Using File -> Print in Word, select the Postscript printer you installed from the drop-down list of printers.  When you select the OK button, you should get a File dialog box prompting you to enter a filename. Enter whatever name you choose (preferably the same as the document, except for the "doc" extension), but make sure it ends with the extension "ps", e.g.

Then choose the File dialog's OK button. You've now created a Postscript version of your file.

5. Convert to PDF using Ghostview/script

Double click on your ps file in Explorer. It should launch GSView with your document loaded. If not, launch GSView yourself and open the ps file.

File -> Convert  will bring up a dialog box. Select the "pdfwrite" device, and choose your resolution (I generally use the highest resolution available). Selecting the OK button will bring up a File dialog box prompting you to enter a filename. Enter whatever name you choose (generally, you should probably use the same filename for the Word, Postscript and PDF files with different extensions), but make sure it ends with the extension "pdf", e.g. myfile.pdf

You should now be able to double click on your pdf file and the Acrobat Reader should launch with your new PDF file loaded. 

Converting from PDF back to Word

Tools are now available to convert PDF files back to Word documents and other formats. See Smart PDF Converter for such a tool.