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How to Convert an Excel File to PDF

convert excel pdf

Companies have a love/hate relationship with PDFs. While Adobe’s portable file format has been around for decades and remains one of the most popular document types available, some of its best features are overshadowed by frustration around conversion. Faced with a barrage of read-only PDF files or looking for ways to ensure the integrity of critical document data, you can spend significant time and effort searching for the ideal PDF converter application.   This is particularly true when trying to convert Excel to PDF.

In some cases, this means ignoring IT best practices to leverage web-based “convert PDF free” tools that offer the benefit of speed, but could introduce potential security risk. In others, you might opt for large-scale document solutions that make the process of PDF conversion cumbersome and complex.

As noted by recent research from Deloitte, shifting market trends make both approaches problematic. Consider converting a familiar spreadsheet format — Excel — into PDF. What should be a simple task is often torturous and time-consuming and can significantly impact staff productivity. Let’s break down this situation further. In this blog, we’ll explore the operational impact of PDFs, consider the case for conversion, assess the spreadsheet-specific situation, and offer a step-by-step solution for potential PDF permutations.


The History of the PDF

  • A quick search turns up multiple articles for and against the use of PDFs for business documents. Detractors cite the sometimes cumbersome process of converting and modifying this format, while electronic evangelists focus on the consistency of content across PDF files. To understand the impact of PDFs, let’s take a quick historical detour. First developed in 1991 by Adobe co-founder Dr. John Warnock, the Camelot Project focused on document consistency across user, location, and device. By 1992, Camelot became PDF and introduced two key features that keep it front-and-center for businesses:
    • Preservation PDFs are designed to preserve all data in the original file in its original format. As a result, any content — from text to graphics to spreadsheets — remains consistent when converted to PDF.
    • StandardizationNot only do PDFs meet ISO 32000 standards for electronic document exchange, the format also includes specialty standards such as PDF/A for archiving, PDF/X for printing and PDF/E for engineering.


The Case for Conversion

While preservation and standardization speak to the benefits of PDF creation, why do so many companies prioritize conversion? First is the read-only nature of basic PDF files. Consider documents that contain customers’ personally identifiable information (PII) or employees’ HR data. Demands for intra-company interoperability mean these documents are often widely distributed across multiple departments and even outside the organization.

Storage is also a key consideration. While many files — including Excel spreadsheets — can quickly balloon in size as data volumes increase, compression comes standard with PDFs. This permits greater storage with a smaller footprint to help maximize the capacity of local storage infrastructure.


The Situation with Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets offer a specific situation for PDF conversion. With spreadsheets often the standard format for financial reporting and offering critical functionality for structured data analysis, Excel files are everywhere. The challenge? Ensuring the right people can access the right data at the right time — with the right context. Consider spreadsheets sent from a desktop to a mobile device that isn’t equipped with the same office software. What appears as tidy rows and columns on a computer monitor may be a contextually convoluted mess on mobile devices, forcing you to work against existing formats rather than finding common function. 

Excel to PDF conversion offers three benefits to help solve the spreadsheet situation:

  • Format Persistence  — From standard spreadsheets to charts and graphs, the original format of Excel files is maintained in PDF. As a result, recipients don’t need specific office software to read Excel documents — in-app or online PDF readers are the only requirement.
  • Content Curation With the right PDF conversion tools, staff can easily choose what to share and how to share it. From converting entire documents to specific pages, making comments, or adding redactions, sharing is secure and simple.
  • Password ProtectionSpeaking of security, PDFs also permit password protection for both access and editing. This both reduces the risk of unintended access and ensures that only authorized personnel can alter spreadsheet data.

The Market for Modification

Given the popularity of PDFs and the potential benefits of effective conversion, it’s no surprise that the market for modification is rapidly diversifying. From lightweight applications that allow users to convert PDFs for free to online PDF converters, there are now multiple options to make the move from spreadsheet files to portable document formats. The challenge? Finding your best fit. For example, while free online tools offer the benefit of quick conversion, they introduce potential security issues if spreadsheets are converted outside the confines of local networks. 

Robust and reliable options from well-known providers, meanwhile, offer ways to maximize security without losing speed. Solutions like Accusoft’s ImageGear integrates alongside your existing applications, allowing document conversion under the auspices of local networks, while the PrizmDoc Cloud Conversion API lets you leverage the power of cloud resources customized to meet your needs. Even better? Start converting PDFs for free right now with an ImageGear trial or 300 free transactions in the Accusoft Cloud.  


A Step-by-Step Guide: How to Convert an Excel File to PDF

Ready to start converting spreadsheets with us? It’s easy. If you’re using the PrizmDoc Cloud Conversion API, easy is the operative word. Simply select your source format, pick the pages you want to convert, and then define your destination format. Need pages 1-5 of your XLS document in a PDF? No problem. Looking to merge multiple pages into a single document? We’ve got you covered.

If SDKs are more your style, there’s a simple, step-by-step process to convert Excel files into PDFs:

Step 1: Create an instance of Microsoft Excel format after initializing ImageGear.NET

In C#:



Step 2: Modify the open dialog box to accept *.xlsx and *.xls extensions.

In C#

 // After installation make sure you are including the following using statements
 using ImageGear.Formats.PDF;
 using ImageGear.Formats;
 using ImageGear.Formats.Office;
 using ImageGear.Core;
 using System.IO;
 using ImageGear.Evaluation;
// If you are evaluating our product, initialize the evaluation license
 // After some initializations, load the necessary ImGear filters to create an instance 
 // of Microsoft Word format for input and an instance of PDF format for output using 
 // code that looks like:    
 // Next, the PDF library requires its own initialization:
 // Then, simply read in all pages of the Word document using the 
 // ImGearFileFormats.LoadDocument() method:
 ImGearDocument igDocument;
 using (FileStream fileStream = new FileStream(inputFileName, FileMode.Open, FileAccess.Read, FileShare.Read))
     igDocument = ImGearFileFormats.LoadDocument(fileStream);
 // Finally, write out the document as PDF using the ImGearFileFormats.SaveDocument() 
 // method with the saving format set to ImGearSavingFormats.PDF and no special options:
 using (FileStream fileStream = new FileStream(outputFileName, FileMode.Create, FileAccess.ReadWrite))
      ImGearFileFormats.SaveDocument(igDocument, fileStream, 0, ImGearSavingModes.OVERWRITE, ImGearSavingFormats.PDF, null);

Ready to accelerate output and improve productivity? Keep conversion close to home with ImageGear, or opt for secure operational outsourcing with the PrizmDoc Cloud Conversion API.

Mark Hansen, Product Manager, SDKs

Mark Hansen, Product Manager, SDKs

Mark Hansen joined Accusoft in 2017 as a Development Manager in SaaS. As a graduate of the University of South Florida, Mark holds a bachelor’s in the Management of Information Systems. Currently, Mark serves as the Product Manager of SDKs, managing the product strategy and development direction of Accusoft’s SDKs. Mark has worked on adding new features and supporting our SDK product lines including ImageGear, ImagXpress, PDF Xpress, PICTools, and Prizm Viewer Active X. In his spare time, Mark enjoys retro gaming and woodworking projects.