Christine writes: I feel technologically challenged. I have a Word Document. How do I convert it to a PDF file? I downloaded Adobe Reader. Every time I click “Convert,” Adobe wants to be paid. I thought you can do this without paying.

Hi Christine! So, good news: it’s actually quite easy to convert a Word document into a PDF, and you won’t have to pay a dime to do it.

In fact, here’s the rule of thumb when it comes to turning documents or even web pages into PDFs: if you can print ’em, you can convert ’em.

Mac users are especially lucky in this regard, as the ability to “print” a document to a PDF comes built into the Mac operating system.

Windows, on the other hand, doesn’t have its own, native “print-to-PDF” tool, but never fear—that’s easily fixed.

Let’s get started…

On a Mac:

  • So, want to turn a Word document into a PDF? First, open the document, using either Microsoft Word itself or the Mac’s own Preview app.
  • Got the document open? Now, click the File menu in the top-left corner of the document window, select Print, then click the “PDF” button in the bottom-left corner of the Print window.
  • Next, select an option from the menu, the easiest being “Save as PDF.” If you choose this option, you’ll need to pick a destination for the file (such as the Desktop), then click Save. Your newly converted PDF should appear within moments.
  • Among your other choices from the PDF drop-down menu: “Open PDF in Preview” (to convert the document to PDF and then immediately view it in the Preview application), and “Mail PDF” (to attach the PDF to a new email message).
  • Last but not least, remember that you can perform the same “print-to-PDF” trick in any program with a Print menu, from Safari and iPhoto to Mail and Messages.
Choosing a virtual PDF printer in Windows

You can choose a virtual PDF printer from the Windows Print menu, but you’ll need to install a third-party PDF converter app first.

On a Windows PC:

  • Windows doesn’t come with its own “print-to-PDF” ability, but that’s OK—we still have a few easy options. One is to see if the program you’re using will let you save or “export” a file as a PDF. In the latest version of Microsoft Word, for example, just click File, Export, Create PDF/XPS Document; then, in the “Save as type” pull-down menu, make sure “PDF” selected before clicking the Publish button.
  • No “Save as PDF” option in the particular program you’re using? In that case, we’ll have to download and install a third-party app that’ll do the job for us. If you do a Google search, you’ll find dozens of options; I eventually settled on doPDF, a free, no-frills PDF converter.
  • Go ahead and install doPDF or a similar program; once you do, the app will create a new, “virtual” printer on your Windows system that can “print” a document to a PDF file.
  • Next, open a text document, a web page, or any other file you want to convert into a PDF, then open the Print menu (typically File, Print).
  • In the Print window, look for the “Printer” or “Select Printer” setting, then choose your new virtual printer; in my case, I clicked on the printer labeled “doPDF.”
  • Click the Print button, select a save location, and voilà: your converted PDF file should be waiting for you within seconds.

Hope that helps, Christine. Still have questions? Let me know!

Update: In my original post, I neglected to mention that Microsoft Word has its own “export-to-PDF” ability. Thanks to the readers who pointed this out, and apologies for the goof!

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