If You Can Print, You Can Make a PDF

Categories: The Classroom
Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: November 18, 2014

Google Docs, Microsoft Office, OpenOffice.org, and Pages, oh my. Everyone has a favorite, and unfortunately they forget not everyone can open these files when they send attachments. I tell my staff to be sure to send PDF files to recipients. In most cases, the question comes back: “How do I make a PDF?”

I’m glad you asked.

First, many of these applications allow easy exporting to PDF. Google Docs can attach a PDF version of a Doc directly to an email. OpenOffice.org and Pages have PDF exports, and even Microsoft has caught up with the rest of the world (confirmed on Office 2011 on a Mac, anyway). These are your best option when available.

However, there are times students will be working in another app, such as a lab app, a desktop publishing app, or maybe a yearbook app, that doesn’t have native PDF generation or easy online sharing. The students or teachers then feel like printing is the only option.

Not true! If you can print, you can generate a PDF. Even users unfamiliar with PDF export options know how to print, so this is an easy solution for them as well. Let’s take a look at how it works on different platforms.

On a Chromebook (or in the Chrome browser)

Google was smart enough to build PDF printing right into Chrome, whether on a Chromebook or on a Chrome browser installed on your favorite desktop or laptop. This way, if students are working with online content that doesn’t have an easy sharing option, they can print to PDF and save it for themselves, drop it into a Drive or Dropbox folder, or email it to other students or teachers.

The print dialog in Chrome

Simply start the print job from the browser, then look for the “Save as PDF” option. If you see your printer listed instead, just click the Change button near the Destination option, as illustrated above. Then click the Save button, give the file a name, and select a folder, and voila, you’ve got a PDF.

On a Mac

Firefox user? Or printing from another app? No problem. Apple builds PDF creation right into their print dialog. You’ll see the PDF option in the lower left-hand corner of the print dialog box.

Apple's PDF options from the print dialog
Apple’s PDF options from the print dialog

You’ll see, too, that Apple offers several options for handling the PDF. You can open it in the Preview app for annotation, for example. It can also be sent via email, or dumped right into other applications. Evernote users can save data from lab software straight to a class notebook for analysis at home, which can be a big time saver.

On Windows

I feel for you, Windows users. Microsoft just doesn’t want to make this easy. Fortunately there are a plethora of developers willing to help you out! Simply install a PDF converter and you’re golden.

There are several options, free and paid, which install a PDF creator as a system printer. When you’re ready to generate a PDF, start the print job as normal, but choose your PDF converter as the printer and you’ll be prompted for a save destination for your file. Beats retrieving a slice of dead tree from a noisy box of gears, no?

I have always had good luck with CuteDPF Writer. It’s free, it’s easy to install, and it’s easy to use. Hit their website and you will see two components to install: the CutePDF Writer installer and the installer for Ghostscript, the interpreter. (Click the “Get Zipped Setup” link and you’ll get both files.) Simply run both installers and you’ll be up and running.

Don’t let software limitations derail your technology initiatives. Whether you’re looking for increased flexibility in collaboration and communication, a paperless workflow, or just to eliminate clutter, printing to PDF can solve a lot of problems.

1 Comment
  1. […] don’t even need the same software, as students can generate PDFs and turn those in instead. This will make things a lot easier for teachers who don’t want to […]

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