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Tom's Guide to Online PDF File Creation


There are clearly a number of different ways to convert PDF files online for free. Whether you want to convert a Webpage into a PDF file or a PDF document into a Word file, you certainly have options.

On the straight and easy side of converting a Word document into a PDF file, all of the services converted our test DOC file without an issue, with the exception of ExpressPDF and FreePDF. Certainly, there are many different usage scenarios and types of document files with interesting formatting, so just because the services worked well for our test doesn’t mean they’ll do everything perfectly.

On the Excel side, our almost complete lack of initial success is somewhat concerning. Sure, there are always settings in a file or service that can be tweaked, but it’s always better when a service is smart enough to figure it out for you. Only PDF Online was smart enough to automatically figure out the proper formatting for our simple XLS test file.

That said, considering how much you can do for free, it’s easy enough to try out one or more if you don’t at first succeed.

For Word-to-PDF conversions, there are no clear winners; Primo PDF fares well as does Zamzar, Neevia, PDF Online and Create PDF. Certainly the cost factor with Adobe’s Create PDF could be a long-term deterrent for that service but for your first five conversions it is free. But if you just need basic document conversion and aren’t terribly interested in large files or long-term storage, you can do your conversions for free, so there is little need to actually pay.

On the PDF-to-Doc side, Zamzar did well with our test case, but again that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be ideal for all types of documents. Google’s Gmail (something we didn’t include in an individual breakout) also does PDF conversion in a roundabout way. When you get a PDF in your Gmail account you can choose to download it or view it as an HTML document (which in our Magna-Carta-test-document case turned out well).

For Webpage-to-PDF conversions, only FreePDF correctly and consistently grabbed the Tom’s Guide Website home page. Again, your own mileage may vary as images can be rendered differently on different sites (flash on some, simple jpg and gif on others) which can impact conversion.

Overall, there is no one perfect site that offers completely free online PDF conversion services, but there are specific sites that do certain things very well. The bottom line is that you don’t necessarily need to install or pay for desktop-based software for PDF conversions. All of the services we looked at have some free elements and there is no risk in trying any of them to see if they fit the bill for your PDF needs.