If you are tech savvy you will be well familiar with different types of document files. You will know that a .doc is a Microsoft Word format, you will know that a .jpg is for an image and you will know that a .gif can be animated. Even for people who are tech savvy they can be unfamiliar with what the different formats mean. Try and think what a .pdf is? Most people working in an office will deal with a .pdf on a regular basis, but will not know exactly what it is. When people go to save a letter or form they click the save button, and let the software choose for them. When someone asks for a specific format it could involve head scratching and many Google searches: can you save a file as a .pdf with Microsoft Word or Open Office?
Often certain file types are specific to a certain industry, and use of the file type spreads to people who deal with them. PDFs are very good at maintaining the layout of a document. They keep the integrity of whatever it was made for and unlike other formats such as .docx the content will not look different when it is opened in different software. PDFs are often used in the printing industry. Formats such as .tiff are used in graphic design and every technical industry will have a whole host of formats specific to them.
For many people creating a .pdf poses a problem. It is expected that you can make them for whoever is requesting it, but the software needed can be specialized or an extra option that is not enabled in every installation of the software. That is where a system that lets you print to pdf comes in handy. And that is what a virtual printer is.
Computers are set up with software (such as Microsoft Office) that interacts with hardware (your keyboard or printer) between the software there is an operating system (software such as Microsoft Windows) and in the operating system there are things known as “Drivers.” These are small bits of code that allow everything to interact. They provide the appropriate tools for communication between hardware and software by ensuring that the different parts can speak to each other in terms every bit of your computer understands. If you have installed a printer then you will either have installed a driver yourself, or you will have had a message from Windows telling you that the operating system has automatically installed it for you.
What a virtual printer does is create a piece of software that can take a file like a .doc and print it in another format such as .pdf. It will not come out on your printer, instead it simulates all the number crunching and code that happens when you print something for real. By simulating this it creates the same processes that would happen if you were really printing, and in this process the .doc is allowed to print to pdf. As the name implies the virtual printer acts like the hardware but virtually, all within the software working on your PC.
For many people and businesses it is not worth getting expensive software for the rare times you need to create a .pdf or .tiff. Virtual printers can provide this service for much less than those specialised pieces of software would. They do not have all the bells and whistles for editing and changing the document, instead they simply let you take a regular .doc or .jpg and turn it into a .pdf or .tiff.