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How To Save a Web Page as PDF

Today I’m going to be writing on a very common issue – something which has troubled me quite a few times: How to Save a Web Page as PDF. Sure the problem is quite straight forward, I just wish there was a simple solution as well.

There are a number of scenarios where you might want to save a web page as a PDF document. The most common of which is that the page might just be a document – an article with related images or a page from an online encyclopedia (Note that Wikipedia, and MediaWiki in general has a built in option to save a page as PDF). Another possible scenario is that you might want to send information from a specific web page to a friend who doesn’t have Internet access (a scenario I recently encountered).

While both the above scenarios are pretty common and straight forward, you would be surprised that there is no straight forward way to accomplish them (unless of course the website you are on offers PDF versions of their web pages). For this tutorial, I’m going to assume that the website doesn’t natively support saving pages as a PDF. Also, I’ll only be focusing on free online services which do not require any installation, like printer drivers.

PDF Download

PDF Download offers a number of services, one of which includes saving web pages as a PDF file. It also offers a number of different ways to do that. The most straight forward solution is to just give the URL of the page you want to save and your email address to PDF Download, and they will convert the page and send it back to you as an email attachment. The downside to this method, of course, is that you would have to disclose your email address.

They also offer two other methods for saving a page. The first one is a bookmarklet which you can add to your browser’s toolbar. Clicking on the bookmarklet would take you to PDF Download and allow you to convert the previous page to PDF. You would still need to give your email address to get the file. The other option is addons for Firefox and Internet Explorer which allow the same functionality plus additional features such as viewing a PDF as an HTML instead of using a native PDF viewer.

As for the quality of the converted document, the service was able to retain most of the formatting, including links and images. It did exclude most script based ad networks, like Adsense and also had issues with transparent PNGs. I’d say they are using the Internet Explorer 6 layout engine for rendering the HTML.

Click here to view the sample PDF I created.

PDF My URL

PDF My URL, as the name suggests, is a simple service to save a web page as a PDF. The service comes in two flavors: A free version where you can’t modify any of the options for rendering the HTML as well as a paid version which allows you to tweak several advanced features. It goes for $9.95 per year and allows an unlimited number of conversions.

The process to convert a web page is simple. Just paste the URL and hit the button, it will convert and download the page as a PDF. Quality wise, PDF My URL rendered accurate HTML and styling including all sorts of JavaScript based content like Google Adsense. It also handled PNG based transparency quite well. The page breaks were invisible though and there was a 1” margin on all sides of the page.

Click here to view the sample PDF I created.

HTML2PDF

The third service I’m going to be talking about is HTML2PDF. While their own website is the most cluttered of the three services I reviewed today, they do have one additional feature. Apart from converting any URL to PDF, they also let you enter raw HTML and render it as a PDF, which I believe is a powerful feature.

Like the above two services, you just have to provide the web page URL and hit the convert button. The HTML would be rendered into a PDF, and you would be given a link to download the PDF file.

Surprisingly, the quality of their output was a 180 degree turn from the quality of their website design. The output was rendered clean – in fact, it was the cleanest rendering of the three services I tested. It could easily handle PNG based transparencies, though it did not render JavaScript based advertisements.

Click here to view the sample PDF I created.

Conclusion

Out of the above three services, I decided to stick with HTML2PDF because of its clean rendering. Though it didn’t render the advertisements, I really don’t want them to be in my document in the first place. If however, you want the exact same representation of a web page, then you should go with PDF My URL. Their paid service also offers an attractive set of options, though I wouldn’t spend $9.95 on that.

A quick closing tip you should keep in mind is to follow this simple workflow if you want to save a page as PDF.

  1. Look for a link to download or convert the page into a PDF. Most mainstream publication sites offer this, like Wikipedia for example. This is the best option as it would render the page in a PDF friendly layout.
  2. If the site doesn’t natively support PDF, then look for a link to view a printable version of the page. Printer friendly versions usually clean out the unnecessary UI elements like menus and advertisements which help in creating a clean document. Then use any of the above services to render the printer friendly page as PDF.
  3. If the above two options don’t apply then just copy and paste the URL of the page to one of the above services.

Lastly, if you know any better service apart from these three, I would love to hear about it in the comments below.

Article By Uzair Sajid (UzEE), a technologist and a freelance blogger who also authors The Technopath.

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