How to print a broken PDF

There’s a curious trick which might let you print a PDF that’s causing printer errors.

An Office Watcher started getting PDF’s which looked OK on the screen but produced errors when he tried to print out.  Otherwise the printer worked fine so the problem seemed to be in the PDF files.

The errors suggest a problem with the printer drivers rather than the PDF itself, though not all PDF’s triggered the error.

The workaround is a little counter intuitive but solved the problem.

‘Print’ the PDF to … a PDF!

Both Windows and Mac can print any file to a PDF file. That includes ‘printing’ a PDF to another PDF. To do that

  1. Open the troublesome PDF in which software you wish
  2. Choose Print
  3. then the Save to PDF option in either Windows or Mac, see below.
  4. Open the new PDF and try printing to paper.

That makes another copy of the PDF file.  The copy is visually the same as the original but won’t have the layers (like selectable text) and other hidden data of the original.

Then try to print out from the new PDF copy.  Hopefully the second version of the PDF won’t have whatever glitch was in the original.

Print to PDF on Windows

Choose the Print option in whichever PDF viewer you’re using.  Among the printer options will be ‘Print to PDF’ which is installed by Windows.

You’ll be prompted for a destination folder and name for the new PDF.

Print to PDF on macOS

On macOS, the Save to PDF option is at bottom left of any print dialog box.

You’ll be prompted for a destination folder and name for the new PDF.

If at first you don’t succeed …

If that doesn’t help and assuming the problem is only printing selected PDFs to paper try one of these:

  • Use a different PDF viewer such as Adobe Acrobat Reader.  Keep in mind that the default PDF viewers in both Windows and Mac are only very basic and lack many useful features.
  • Use Word to open the PDF and print from Word.  Word converts the PDF into a document and some formatting can be lost or messed up in the conversion.

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