ps2pdf: PostScript-to-PDF converter

Table of contents

For other information, see the Ghostscript overview.


ps2pdf is a work-alike for nearly all the functionality (but not the user interface) of Adobe's AcrobatTM DistillerTM product: it converts PostScript files to Portable Document Format (PDF) files.

ps2pdf is implemented as a very small command script (batch file) that invokes Ghostscript, selecting a special "output device" called pdfwrite. In order to use ps2pdf, the pdfwrite device must be included in the makefile when Ghostscript was compiled; see the documentation on building Ghostscript for details: this is currently the case on all platforms, in Ghostscript as we distribute it.


The usage for ps2pdf is

ps2pdf [options] input.[e]ps output.pdf

or, on Unix systems and some versions of Windows NT and OS/2

ps2pdf input.[e]ps

which is equivalent to

ps2pdf input.[e]ps input.pdf

There are actually several different ps2pdf* scripts: the name ps2pdf above refers to any of them.

Note that if you specify a value for PDFSETTINGS, this chooses PDF 1.3 or 1.4 output depending on the value of PDFSETTINGS: this overrides the output format specified by the script name. You can still specify the output format by using -dCompatibilityLevel= after -dPDFSETTINGS=.

All of these scripts actually call a script named ps2pdfwr or ps2pdfxx. The Unix ps2pdfwr script assumes that the Ghostscript executable is named gs; it is unlikely that you will need to change this. The DOS and MS Windows ps2pdfxx.bat script uses the value of the GSC environment variable, if defined, as the name of the executable; otherwise the script assumes the executable is named gswin32c. So in these environments, if the executable has a different name, you must set GSC to the name of the executable.

Setting page orientation

By default Ghostscript determines viewing page orientation based on the dominant text orientation on the page. Sometimes, when the page has text in several orientations or has no text at all, wrong orientation can be selected.

Acrobat Distiller parameter AutoRotatePages controls the automatic orientation selection algorithm. On Ghostscript, besides input stream, Distiller parameters can be given as command line arguments. For instance: -dAutoRotatePages=/None or /All or /PageByPage.

When there is no text on the page or automatic page rotation is set to /None an orientation value from setpagedevice is used. Valid values are: 0 (portrait), 3 (landscape), 2 (upside down), and 1 (seascape). The orientation can be set from the command line as -c "<</Orientation 3>> setpagedevice" using Ghostscript directly but cannot be set in ps2pdf. See Limitations below.

Ghostscript passes the orientation values from DSC comments to pdfwrite driver but they are effectively ignored there. This appears to be consistent with Distiller 5 behavior.


The options in the command line may include any switches that may be used with Ghostscript's PostScript and PDF interpreter (see here for a complete list), although almost none of them are useful with ps2pdf. The following may be useful:

Sets the resolution for pattern fills and for fonts that must be converted to bitmaps.
Sets the color space to be used for device-dependent colors in the output. device_color_space may be /DeviceGray, /DeviceRGB, or /DeviceCMYK; the default value is /DeviceRGB. Note that this does not affect images: see Limitations below.

More importantly, options may include -dparameter=value or -sparameter=string switches for setting "distiller parameters", Adobe's documented parameters for controlling the conversion process. The PostScript setdistillerparams and currentdistillerparams operators are also recognized when running ps2pdf, and provide an equivalent way to set these parameters from within the PostScript input file.

ps2pdf also recognizes the following options:

Defines whether ps2pdf will compress embedded fonts in the output. The default value is true; the false setting is intended only for debugging.
Specifies the maximum size of an inline image, in bytes. For images larger than this size, ps2pdf will create an XObject instead of embedding the image into the context stream. The default value is 4000. Note that redundant inline images must be embedded each time they occur in the document, while multiple references can be made to a single XObject image. Therefore it may be advantageous to set a small or zero value if the source document is expected to contain multiple identical images, reducing the size of the generated PDF.
Presets the "distiller parameters" to one of four predefined settings:

The following option controls a conversion into PDF/X-3:

Specifies the generated document to follow the PDF/X-3 standard. When true, a DefaultRGB ColorSpace resource must be defined, and options NOSUBSTDEVICECOLORS, NOCIE must not be specified. Default value is false.

When generating a PDF/X-3 document, Ghostscript performs the following special actions to satisfy the PDF/X-3 standard :

The following options control a conversion into PDF 1.2:

With CompatibilityLevel < 1.3 it specifies whether the target viewer handles ImageMask with a pattern color. Some old viewers, such as Ghostscript 3.30 fail with such constructs. Seting this option to false, one can get more compatibility, but the mask interpolation is lost. With CompatibilityLevel >= 1.3 this option is being ignored. Default value is false.
Specifies the maximum number of elements in the clipping path that the target viewer can handle. This option is used only with CompatibilityLevel < 1.3 and PatternImagemask=false, and only when converting a mask into a clipping path. If the clipping path exceeds the specified size, the masked image and the clipping path is being decomposed into smaller images. The value of the option counts straight path segments (curved segments are not used for representing a mask). Default value is 12000.
With CompatibilityLevel < 1.3 it specifies the maximum number of bytes allowed for representing a shading as a bitmap. If a shading exceeds this value, the resolution of the output bitmap is being reduces to fit into the specified frame. Note that the number of bytes depends on the number of color components in ProcessColorModel, assumes 8 bits per sample, and doesn't account an image compression or filtering. Also note that reducing the resolution results unsmooth shading boundaries. With CompatibilityLevel >= 1.3 this option is being ignored. Default value is 256000. For the best quality one can set the maximal integer value, but the output file size may dramatically increase. Therefore the user should choose a compromise value.
With CompatibilityLevel < 1.3 it specifies whether the target viewer can handle TrueType fonts. If not, TrueType fonts are being converted into raster fonts with resolution specified in HWResolution. With CompatibilityLevel >= 1.3 this option is being ignored. Default value is true.

The following option controls a conversion into PDF 1.3:

With CompatibilityLevel >= 1.4 it specifies whether the target viewer can handle PDF 1.4 transparency objects. If not, transparency objects are being converted into plain images. Default value is true.
The following switches are used for creating encrypted documents :
Defines that the document be encrypted with the specified owner password.
Defines the user password for opening the document. If empty, the document can be opened with no password, but the owner password is required to edit it.
Defines the PDF permissions flag field. Negative values are allowed to represent unsigned integers with the highest bit set. See the PDF Reference manual for the meaning of the flag bits.
Defines the encryption method revision number - either 2 or 3.
Defines the length (in bits) of the encryption key. Must be a multiple of 8 in the interval [40, 128]. If the length isn't 40, -dEncryptionR must be 3.
The following switches are used for generating metadata according to Adobe XMP specification :
Defines a DocumentID to be included into the document Metadata. If not specified, Ghostscript generates an UUID automatically. Otherwise the specified string is being copyed into the document without checking its syntax or consistence.

Note that Adobe XMP specification requires DocumentID must be same for all versions of a document. Since Ghostscript does not provide a maintenance of document versions, users are responsible to provide a correct UUID through this parameter.

Note that Ghostscript has no assess to the host node ID due to a minimization of platform dependent modules. Therefore it uses an MD5 hash of the document contents for generating UUIDs.

Defines a instance ID to be included into the document Metadata. If not specified, Ghostscript generates an UUID automatically. Otherwise the specified string is being copyed into the document without checking its syntax or consistence.

Note that Adobe XMP specification requires instance ID must be inique for all versions of document. This parameter may be used to disable an unique ID generation for a debug purpose.

When none of DocumentUUID and InstanceUUID are specified, the generated DocumentID appears same as instance ID.

Defines an integer to be used as a deconflictor for generating UUIDs, when several invokations of Ghostscript create several PDF documents within same clock quantum (tick). Mainly reserved for very fast computers and/or multhithreading applications, which may appear in future. If both DocumentUUID and InstanceUUID are specified, DocumentTimeSeq is being ignored.
Defines a name of Postscript encoding in which DSC comments are encoded in the source document. If specified, the comments are converted from that encoding into Unicode UTF-8 when writing Metadata. If not specified, the comments are copied to Metadata with no conversion. Note that Adobe Distiller for Windows uses the default locale's code page for this translation, so it's result may differ from Ghostscript. Adobe Acrobat appears to use PDFDocEncoding when displaying document's properties, so we recommend this value.

ps2pdf recognizes all of the Acrobat Distiller 5 parameters defined in the DistillerParameters document included in the Acrobat SDK. Cells in the table containing '=' mean that the value of the parameter is the same as in the "default" column.

Parameter name      Notes    default    screen    ebook    printer    prepress

AlwaysEmbed(13)[ ]====
ColorACSImageDict(13)(note 7)(note 10)(note 10)(note 8)(note 9)
ColorImageDict(13)(note 7)====
GrayACSImageDict(13)(note 7)(note 7)(note 10)(note 8)(note 9)
GrayImageDict(13)(note 7)====
MonoImageDict(13)<<K -1>>====
NeverEmbed(13)(note 11)(note 12)(note 11)(note 12)(note 11)(note 12)[ ](note 12)[ ](note 12)

(note 0) This parameter can be set and queried, but currently has no effect.

(note 1) -dAutoFilterxxxImages=false works since Ghostscript version 7.30. Older versions of Ghostscript don't examine the image to decide between JPEG and LZW or Flate compression: they always uses Flate compression.

(note 2) Because of Unisys's threats regarding the Welch patent, ps2pdf does not actually use LZW compression: instead, it treats all requests for LZW compression as calling for Flate compression. Concomitantly, UseFlateCompression is treated as always on, and the value of this parameter is ignored as with note 0. Now that the patent has expired, we could change this should it become worthwhile.

(note 3) The xxxDownsampleType parameters can also have the value /Bicubic (a Distiller 4 feature), which is currently treated as equivalent to /Average.

(note 4) Currently, the transfer function is always applied. If the corresponding parameter is set to /Preserve, the function setting is also copied into the PDF file.

(note 5) Optimization (linearization) is implemented with a separate program, pdfopt input.pdf output.pdf; the Optimize parameter has no effect.

(note 6) Ghostscript specifics : The value UseDeviceIndependentColor requires the device parameter UseCIEColor to be set to true. The value UseDeviceIndependentColorForImages works same as UseDeviceIndependentColor. The value CMYK works with any CompatibilityLevel and requires the device parameter ProcessColorModel to be set to DeviceCMYK. The value sRGB requires the device parameter ProcessColorModel to be set to DeviceRGB, and actually converts to RGB with the default Ghostscript conversion. The new Ghostscript-specific value Gray requires the device parameter ProcessColorModel to be set to DeviceGray, and converts all colors to DeviceGray. The old Ghostscript-specific value UseDeviceDependentColor is now depricated. It is automaticly replaced with sRGB, CMYK, or Gray.

(note 7) The default image parameter dictionary is

<< /QFactor 0.9 /Blend 1 /HSamples [2 1 1 2] /VSamples [2 1 1 2] >>

(note 8) The printer ACS image parameter dictionary is

<< /QFactor 0.4 /Blend 1 /ColorTransform 1 /HSamples [1 1 1 1] /VSamples [1 1 1 1] >>

(note 9) The prepress ACS image parameter dictionary is

<< /QFactor 0.15 /Blend 1 /ColorTransform 1 /HSamples [1 1 1 1] /VSamples [1 1 1 1] >>

(note 10) The screen and ebook ACS image parameter dictionary is

<< /QFactor 0.76 /Blend 1 /ColorTransform 1 /HSamples [2 1 1 2] /VSamples [2 1 1 2] >>

(note 11) The default, screen, and ebook settings never embed the 14 standard fonts (Courier, Helvetica, and Times families, Symbol, and ZapfDingbats).

(note 12) NeverEmbed can include CID font names. If a CID font is substituted in lib/cidfmap, the substitute font name is used when the CID font is embedded, and the original CID font name is used when it is not embedded. NeverEmbed should always specify the original CID font name.

(note 13) The arrays AlwaysEmbed and NeverEmbed and image parameter dictionaries ColorACSImageDict, ColorACSImageDict, ColorImageDict, GrayACSImageDict, GrayImageDict, MonoImageDict cannot be specified on the ps2pdf command line. To specify these, you must use PostScript, either by including it in the PostScript source or by passing the -c command-line parameter to ghostscript as described in Limitations below. For example, including the PostScript string in your file

<</AlwaysEmbed [/Helvetica /Times-Roman]>> setdistillerparams
is equivalent to invoking:
gs -dBATCH -dSAFER -DNOPAUSE -q -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -sOutputFile=out.pdf -c '.setpdfwrite <</AlwaysEmbed [/Helvetica /Times-Roman]>> setdistillerparams' -f
or using ps2pdf with the extra parameters in a file:
ps2pdf out.pdf
where the file contains:
-c '<</AlwaysEmbed [/Helvetica /Times-Roman]>> setdistillerparams' -f

Ghostscript PDF Printer Description

To assist with creating a PostScript file suitable for conversion to PDF, ghostscript includes ghostpdf.ppd, a PostScript Printer Description (PPD) file. This allows some distiller parameters to be set when a PostScript file is generated.

Windows XP or 2000

To install a "Ghostscript PDF" printer on Windows XP, select the Windows Control Panel, Printers and Faxes, Add a Printer, Local Printer, Use port FILE: (Print to File), Have Disk..., select the directory containg ghostpdf.ppd and ghostpdf.inf, select "Ghostscript PDF", Replace existing driver (if asked), and answer the remaining questions appropriately. After installing, open the "Ghostscript PDF" properties, select the Device Settings tab, set "Mimimum Font Size to Download as Outline" to 0 pixels.

To set distiller parameters, select the "Ghostscript PDF" Printing Preferences, then the Advanced button. The PDF settings are under "Printer Features".

Creating a PDF/X-3 document

To create a PDF/X-3 document from a Postscript or a PDF file, you should :

As mentioned above, the PDF/X definition file provides a special information, which the PDF/X-3 standard requires. You can find a sample file in gs/lib/, and edit it according to your needs. The file follows Postscript syntax and uses the operator pdfmark to pass the special information. For your comfort we marked editable lines in the sample file with the comment % Customize. They are explained below.

OutputCondition string
Defines an OutputCondition value for the output intent dictionary.
OutputConditionIdentifier string
Defines an OutputConditionIdentifier value for the output intent dictionary.
ICCProfile string
May be omited if OutputConditionIdentifier specifies a registed identifier of characterized printing condition (see Defines a file name of an ICC profile file to be included into the output document. You may specify either an absolute file name, or a relative path from the working directory.
Title string
Defines the document title. Only useful if the source Postscript file doesnt define a title with DSC comments. Otherwise remove entire line from definition file.
Info string
Defines an Info value for the output intent dictionary.

Rather the PDF/X-3 standard requires colors to be adjusted at the document generation time, Ghostscript does not perform any special color conversion. Either colors to be adjusted in advance, or a proper color conversion to be specified in DefaultGray, DefaultRGB, DefaultCMYK resources of the ColorSpace resource category.

If you want any color to be converted into CIE color, the -dUseCIEColor option to be specified in the command line. If it is not specified, only RGB colors are being converted into CIE colors with using the DefaultRGB color space resource, but DeviceGray and DeviceCMYK colors are being passed identically.

Please note that if a graphic object can't embed into the output format, Ghostscript converts it into low level objects, using a device color space specified in the ProcessColorModel option. If you need to adjust those resulting colors, you may substitute them with CIE colors, running Ghostscript at second time . Performing both actions in a single pass is a subject of further improvements.

Ghostscript distribution does not contain an ICC profile to be used for creating a PDF/X-3 document. Users should either create an appropriate one themselves, or use one from a public domain, or create one with the PDF/X-3 inspector freeware.

The PDF/X-3 standard requires a TrimBox entry to be written for all page descriptions. This is an array of four offsets that specify how the page is to be trimmed after it has been printed. It is set to the same as MediaBox by default unless the PDFXTrimBoxToMediaBoxOffset distiller parameter is present. It accepts offsets to the MediaBox as an array [left right top bottom], e.g., the PostScript input code << /PDFXTrimBoxToMediaBoxOffset [10 20 30 40] >> setdistillerparams specifies that 10 points will be trimmed at the left, 20 points at the right, 30 points at the top, and 40 points at the bottom.

Another page entry is the BleedBox. It gives the area of the page to which actual output items may extend; cut marks, color bars etc. must be positioned in the area between the BleedBox and the MediaBox. The TrimBox is always contained within the BleedBox. By default, the PDFXSetBleedBoxToMediaBox distiller parameter is true, and the BleedBox is set to the same values as the MediaBox. If it is set to false, the PDFXBleedBoxToTrimBoxOffset parameter gives offset to the TrimBox. It accepts a four-value array in the same format as the PDFXTrimBoxToMediaBoxOffset parameter.

Here is a sample command line to invoke Ghostscript for generating a PDF/X-3 document :

gs -dPDFX -dBATCH -dNOPAUSE -dNOOUTERSAVE -dUseCIEColor -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -sOutputFile=out-x3.pdf

Creating a PDF/A document

To create a PDF/A document, please follow instructions about creating a PDF/X-3 document, with the following exceptions :

Here is a sample command line to invoke Ghostscript for generating a PDF/A document :
gs -dPDFA -dBATCH -dNOPAUSE -dNOOUTERSAVE -dUseCIEColor -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -sOutputFile=out-a.pdf


ps2pdf will sometimes convert PostScript constructs to lower-level ones, even if a higher-level construct is available. For example, if the PostScript file uses charpath to set a clipping path consisting of text, ps2pdf will write the clipping path as a path in the PDF file, rather than as text, even though PDF is able to express clipping with text. This is only a performance issue, and will be improved incrementally over time.

Some applications, such as HIGZ, produce PostScript files that use ridiculously large coordinates. On such files, ps2pdf may cause a limitcheck error. If this occurs, try reducing the default internal resolution of 720 dpi by using the -r switch, e.g., ps2pdf -r300

ps2pdf ignores the PDF 1.3 (Acrobat 4.x) pdfmarks related to document content structure: StRoleMap, StClassMap, StPNE, StBookmarkRoot, StPush, StPop, StPopAll, StBMC, StBDC, EMC, StOBJ, StAttr, StStore, StRetrieve, NamespacePush, NamespacePop, and NI. While this causes some structural information to be omitted from the output file, the displayed and printed output are normally not affected.

ps2pdf currently has only very limited support for PDF 1.4. It writes out the blend mode, constant alpha, and text knockout graphics state parameters, and it handles images with soft masks, but it does not handle transparency groups, or soft masks in the graphics state. (Note that there is no standard way to specify any of these things in PostScript, so these statements only apply when the input file is already a PDF 1.4 file.)

ps2pdf provides a simplified interface to the Ghostscript command line. It is not possible to use -c option directly or pass multiple source files. For the unrestricted access to the command line parameters, use Ghostscript directly as in:

gs -q -dSAFER -dNOPAUSE -dBATCH -sOutputFile=file.pdf [more options] \
  -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -c .setpdfwrite -f [more files]
or create a parameter file with the -c option and/or the multiple input files:
ps2pdf out.pdf
where the file contains:
-c Postscript commands -f [more files]
See Language.htm for details of the .setpdfwrite operator.

Known problems

Distiller parameters should only be saved by save and restored by restore, but they are also saved by gsave and restored by grestore.

Changing the value of the CompressPages parameter after any marks have been made on the page may cause a crash.

Ghostscript has been writing incorrect ToUnicode CMap without CMapName into the PDF since version 8.10 (rev. 3611) . This bug is fixed in version 8.54 (rev. 6201). We recommend to re-generate PDF files created by the affected Ghostscript versions. Since version 8.54 (rev. 6590) Ghostscript can read the incorrect PDF files.

Comparison of ps2pdf and Acrobat Distiller

According to users, the greatest benefit of ps2pdf is that it is more robust than Acrobat Distiller: it will process complex and difficult PostScript files that Acrobat Distiller is not able to handle.

For certain documents, ps2pdf is much faster than Adobe Distiller, and may be suitable for run-time conversions. George White, a heavy user of ps2pdf, remarks:

I haven't seen a head to head comparison, but Distiller seems slower when running on what should be a faster system (for instance, Distiller on a PPC Mac vs a 25 MHz 68040 NeXT running ps2pdf), so I think this is fair -- also, one of Mark Doyle's postings indicated that Distiller was not fast enough for use as a run-time server. In contrast, I find that I can use ps2pdf as a post-processor during routine document creation.

On the other hand, there are some documents for which ps2pdf may be much slower than Acrobat Distiller. Caveat user.

ps2pdf usually produces output that is comparable in size to the output of Acrobat Distiller; however, it sometimes produces much larger output, especially if the input file involves pattern fills.

Many users report that the combination of ps2pdf with Acrobat Reader is superior to using a generic PostScript viewer (psview or ghostview), particularly for documents with many pages where the navigational support in PDF files reduces the overhead involved in navigating conventional PostScript documents.


Thanks to George N. White III <> of the Ocean Sciences Division of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia for extensive testing of early versions of ps2pdf, and for contributing most of this writeup.

Thanks to Martin Hosken of SIL International <> for help with testing ps2pdf with a wide variety of international fonts.

Copyright © 2000-2006 Artifex Software, Inc. All rights reserved.

This software is provided AS-IS with no warranty, either express or implied. This software is distributed under license and may not be copied, modified or distributed except as expressly authorized under the terms of that license. Refer to licensing information at or contact Artifex Software, Inc., 7 Mt. Lassen Drive - Suite A-134, San Rafael, CA 94903, U.S.A., +1(415)492-9861, for further information.

Ghostscript version 8.62, 29 February 2008