I really like Google Docs for writing and editing. But there is one question I get from authors pretty often: “how do I make my PDF with Google Docs?”
I’ve been using Docs exclusively for a couple of years now and I’m not sure what it would take to make me switch to another word processor. To date, I’ve never exported a print-ready PDF from Docs. Not once.
Yet the more I hear this question asked, the more I felt like I needed to try Google Docs PDF conversion. So here we are!
How To Make A PDF With Google Docs
Exporting a PDF from Google Docs is actually easy.
Create a PDF with Google Docs
- Click File > Download > PDF Document (.pdf)
- OR; Click Print
- [From Print Menu] Select Save as PDF
Both methods work just fine for exporting your PDF. The important question is; does this make a print-ready PDF?
The short answer is nope.
The longer answer is yes, but with some caveats. Keep reading and we’ll dig into making a file you’ll be happy to send to your print-on-demand service.
From Google Docs To Print-Ready PDF
There are subtle differences between a PDF and a print-ready PDF. I advise starting with our Book Creation Guide to see the detailed specs for a print-ready file. You’ll find the specifications on page 22, but the entire guide (it’s only 24 total pages) is worth reading.
There are three technical concerns that can impact your print quality.
- Image resolution should be 300 DPI
- Fonts should be converted to outlines (embedded)
- Layers should be flattened
Google Docs makes two of these simple. Images export at the DPI you insert them at (using Insert > Image > Upload from computer). And Docs doesn’t use layers, so you won’t have anything to flatten because a single layer is always the final export.
That just leaves fonts to worry about. Because Google Docs is web-based, the fonts it uses are optimized for web-viewing. Web fonts are not ideal for printing, so be very careful with your fonts.
For most of us, our computer has a built-in library of common fonts that will correspond to similar web fonts. When you export your PDF, the fonts in your Google Doc will be paired with comparable fonts in that library.
I’ve tested a couple of dozen common fonts and I haven’t had any major issues with fonts that are not embedded yet. I used Docs to recreate a book I’ve printed before, using the common Baskerville font for the interior. The prints looked fine side-by-side, though a few of the capital letters did extended serifs.
Note that, if you use an uncommon or proprietary fonts, you may not be happy with the export to PDF from Google Docs.
Page Layout Concerns
The technical issues you might have are generally pretty easily overcome. Page layout is a completely different challenge. Here is where you need to be cautious when using Google Docs.
If you’re creating a book with anything more complex than text and maybe a few images, you should NOT use Google Docs. You simply won’t have the level of control or customization needed to layout a multi-column, magazine, photo book, or textbook type layout.
Lots of great tools exist for doing page layout that is more involved and complex:
- Adobe InDesign
- Affinity Publisher
I strongly recommend learning to use a page layout program if you have more than one or two books to create. In the long run, you’ll have more professional looking books and you’ll learn how to use a powerful book design program.
Back to Google Docs. You’ve got three major concerns for page layout:
- Page size
- Paragraph formatting
Page size is easy enough, just go to File > Page Setup and update the size and margins. The standard page sizes are included, but if you want to use a different size, you’ll need an Add-on. I recommend Page Sizer.
It’s nothing flashy, but you’ll be able to set a custom page size.
There is one major concern when it comes to page size: the margins. You can easily add the white space on all four sides of the page, but you won’t have any option to add a gutter. I haven’t found an Add-on that handles this either, but if you know of one, drop it in the comments and I’ll update!
The lack of a gutter can be problematic. If you’ve got more than 200 pages, the lack of a gutter is noticeable. Again, if you think lacking a gutter will be a problem, you should look at dedicated page layout tools.
Fortunately, you will be able to add Header and Footer content in much the same way you would for MS Word. To create a unique Header for each section, follow these instructions:
- Go to the page BEFORE a section begins and click Insert > Break > Section break (next page)
- Double click in the Header of the new section
- Deselect Link to Previous
- Add content and format
- Repeat steps 2-4 for the next page (odd and even are handled independently)
- Repeat steps 1-5 for each section
There are a lot of variables that impact Headers, but I recommend following the more in-depth instructions found here to get a better sense of the ins and outs. Yes, this blog is about using MS Word, but the controls are almost identical for Google Docs.
The Footer is just as easy to use, letting you insert page numbering by the section or for the entire document. Header and Footer formatting is the one area I think Google Docs really shines (for page layout); we get the same tools as Word but with a clearer interface and easier controls.
Should I Use Google Docs To Make My PDF?
If you’ve got a novella, short story, or poetry collection that will top out around 200 or fewer pages and has no images; yeah sure. For anything more involved, I wouldn’t feel great about recommending Docs. You can certainly create a print-ready PDF, but the lack of gutters is a problem for longer works. If you’re really set on using Docs, I recommend extending your left and right side margins a little more than normal to be sure nothing is lost in the fold.
And if you’re using images, charts, or complex layouts like multiple columns, you’re not going to have much luck using Docs. I standby comments I’ve made for years; Google Docs is an amazing writing, collaboration. and editing tool. For page layout and PDF creation, it’s fine but not the best choice you can make.
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.