Even though Microsoft Word lacks the simplicity of more powerful page layout software, Word remains the most popular way for authors to create their book files. Thankfully, Word has gotten better in recent years at performing Word to PDF conversions. Having a consistent and accurate PDF to upload for print is a necessity for authors. Which means Word isn’t doing anything revolutionary; rather they are finally catching up with other tools.
Creating a print-ready PDF with Word
Every version of Word 2013 and newer offers a simple export to PDF option. Let’s look at the basic DOCX to PDF conversion using both Mac and PC versions of Word. You can also check out Microsoft’s instructions on their help center.
Word for Mac
Go to File and select Save As…
The Save As… menu will open. Give your file a title and select the location to save. Then select PDF from the File Format menu. Be sure the option Best for Printing is selected.
Your PDF will export shortly! By selecting Best for Printing, Word should preserve your image resolution and provide font embedding for fonts Word recognizes.
Word for PC
Go to File and select Export. Then select Create PDF/XPS Document.
This opens the Publish menu with options to select a location to save to and Standard or Minimum Size printing. Always select Standard to get Word’s best print-ready presets for your file.
You can also see additional options using the Windows version of Word under the Options… menu. Most of these settings don’t need to be adjusted, though for some files, the PDF/A setting is helpful for embedding fonts.
Once you’re satisfied, click Publish and your PDF will export promptly!
Page Size in Word
There is one lingering quirk about Word you have to allow for. It goes like this: Word always defaults to an 8.5 x 11 inch page size.
Unless that’s the size book you’re making, you’ll need to adjust the page size. You should get the page size set before you do any of the more complex formatting. Do not rely on your printer to resize your file. Because this is your book, you should provide your book’s files ready to print exactly the way you created them.
The process for updating page size is the same for Mac and PC, so we’ll cover it quickly for both.
Go to File and select Page Setup…
Select the Page Size you’ll use from the drop down.
If your page size is not included or if you need to add a bleed margin to your document, you’ll need to create a Custom Size. That option is at the bottom of the Page Size drop down list.
It is vital that you create and save a custom size with a unique name. If you do not, Word may revert your page size to their default (so 8.5 x 11 in) when exporting your PDF. We’ll cover how to verify your PDF page size below.
What Makes A PDF ‘Print-Ready’?
We created a quick guide with our PDF specifications. You can download it for free right here:
In general, a print-ready PDF will be an Adobe PDF with images at the correct resolution for your printer (for Lulu and most others that’s 300dpi), embedded fonts, and flattened layers. If you’re creating your file with MS Word, flattening layers shouldn’t be a concern, as Word appears to flatten them automatically when exporting.
Fonts will embed if they are included in your version of Word. If you added any fonts that do not appear in the default list Word offers, be sure to look closely at your PDF after exporting. We’ll cover how to do that below.
The specifications may vary with your printer, but generally PDF documents want to be a single layer, high-resolution file.
For Lulu, use the guide above to prepare your PDF. Following our specifications carefully will ensure your published books are ready quickly. Print books will use this file as you provide it to create your book, so scrutinize the file before uploading!
How to check your PDF specs
Most computers come with Adobe Acrobat Reader installed. This free software is great for reading PDFs, but it also provides some basic information about the file that can help you know you’ve made a print-ready PDF.
After exporting from your word processor, open your PDF in Adobe Reader and navigate to Files > Properties.
The PDF properties will include information about the file name, specifications, and other useful data. Start on the Description tab and verify the page size.
If your Word document was sized correctly, you should see that final size for the PDF. Always check the size! Your PDF page size determines the page size of your book. And resizing will mean content either shifts or stretches; neither bode well for your printed book.
Next look under the Fonts tab.
See that (Embedded Subset) following the font? That means your font is embedded in the PDF. If you see any fonts in this tab that do not feature the (Embedded Subset), you may not see that font reproduced perfectly in your printed book.
Word to PDF Converters
There are lots of web based services that can convert your DOC or DOCX to PDF for you. Using a tool like SmallPDF or SodaPDF for files made with older versions of Word is probably a good idea. But if you’re running an up to date copy of Word, there is really no reason. Word can export to PDF just fine.
Sometimes an online PDF converter is helpful for troubleshooting more complex files too. If you’re exporting from Word and the PDF is missing elements or the content is not aligning properly on the page, doing a conversion with SmallPDF to compare is often helpful.
A Note on Complex Files
I’m not a fan of MS Word. Let’s just get that out in the open. If you’re an author and you write fiction, memoirs, or any other type of book that will be predominately text, Word is probably fine. But if you include even a few images or use columns in your text, I strongly encourage you to consider a true page layout program. Tools like Affinity Publisher are relatively inexpensive and offer a wide range of layout options.
Don’t expect Word to be an effective way to lay out a file with anything more than simple text and moderate design needs. Beyond that, you’ll want to look for other tools. Thankfully, we have gotten to a point where MS Word can perform DOC to PDF conversions cleanly. That alone is a boon to self-publishing authors who are well versed and comfortable using Word.
Creating Your PDF to Perfection
Creating a PDF for your print-ready files is easier than it’s ever been. Just be sure to carefully review, set your specifications correctly, and always export with the best print settings.
Paul is the Senior Copywriter at Lulu, writing weekly blog posts and helping guide content for the company’s marketing. When he’s not deeply entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person, but considers himself cat tolerant.