There are a few options available if you have to create PDF documents, but don’t want to invest in Adobe’s Acrobat 9. We've discussed the format and tried five different solutions that produced very different results.
Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010 come with an integrated PDF Export function. It doesn’t support forms or complex features, but it works well if you mainly need to convert Office documents into PDF format. We found that it is by far the fastest PDF creation tool, requiring between eight and 36 seconds for the large and complex PowerPoint files we use for benchmarking. The other tools require one to two minutes. Most result files are small enough to be emailed. If you’re on a budget, note that the freely available OpenOffice also supports PDF creation.
PDF Creator 1.0.1 and FreePDF 4.02 both require the open-source add-on Ghostwrite. They both deliver similar performance, but FreePDF is a bit faster, and it can join PDF documents instead of just creating them. In exchange, PDF Creator is probably the simplest tool around. The resulting file sizes are similar for both of these tools.
Then there’s the Foxit Phantom PDF Creation Suite 2.0. It’s not free, but at $129, it’s still significantly cheaper than Adobe’s Acrobat 9 Standard. From a feature standpoint, Phantom competes very well with Adobe. Both can relocate, add, or remove pages, manage forms, and support comments and collaboration. However, the tool broke some graphics in our 24-page PowerPoint 2007 document, and we weren’t able to fix this issue. Foxit Phantom PDF Creation Suite 2.0 delivers on its promise of being fast, but the PDF creation performance comes at the expense of file size. All documents in this test require 19 to 39 MB on the hard drive. As a result, Phantom doesn’t work if you need to email your PDF documents.
In the end, there’s Adobe’s Acrobat 9 Standard, which costs roughly $300. It’s slow when creating PDF documents. However, it almost always produces the smallest file size and most versatile solution.
If you only need to create PDF documents to share, then it makes sense to consider purchasing one of the entry-level Microsoft Office packages. It’ll cost you the same as Adobe’s Acrobat 9 Standard suite, but get you copies of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Plus, it provides excellent results for basic PDF creation. FreePDF and PDF Creator are great options for occasional use. Phantom PDF Creation Suite 2.0 is only an option if you can live with large file sizes.