Markdown to PDF Converter

Few weeks ago, I published SLogLib (a cross-platform logging library) on GitHub. I wrote the user manual in a readme.md file as is the standard practice at GitHub. However, since most of users don’t have markdown viewers installed on their machines they would either need to access GitHub repository or would have to convert it to more popular format such as PDF or perhaps HTML. For many users going online is becoming standard practice to access documentation but I prefer offline manuals. Thus, I wanted to ship a PDF manual along with the code.

I searched high and low for a standalone tool to convert markdown to PDF but surprisingly there are not a lot of options out there. The first tool I came across was GitPrint. It is conceptually innovative and straightforward to use with GitHub. Just add /your_user_name/repository_name at the end of http://gitprint.com and it prints the readme.md in the repository to PDF. The PDF generated is of good quality but there are no styling options. Also, it failed to include images in the PDF so I had to kept looking. One of the frequently recommended tool is PanDoc, which is a swiss-army knife to convert files from one markup format into another. However, in my experience it doesn’t do a good job of converting markdown to PDF. Another popular tool online is a markdown-pdf package for Node.js. Since, I have no prior experience with Node.js I haven’t tried it yet.

Earlier this year, I bought a MacBook Pro and installed a markdown editor called MacDown. It is really nice tool with side-by-side rendering of markup and HTML. It can export markdown as PDF and produces very good quality PDF’s. It also supports lots of styling options as well as a CSS to customize PDF generation. In the end, I used it to generate PDF for SLogLib.

Even though I had a PDF for SLogLib, I wanted to find/build a cross-platform tool to convert markdown to PDF.

The basic idea to convert markdown to PDF is simple. First convert markdown to HTML and then print HTML to PDF. I used hoedown to convert markdown to PDF because of several reasons:

  1. First and foremost it is cross-platform and compiles as a standalone binary for all three main platforms: Windows, Linux, and OSX.
  2. MacDown uses it too and I was quite happy with its rendering.
  3. It supports not only standard markdown but also several non-standard extensions.

To converted HTML to PDF one of the most popular tool I came across was wkhtmltopdf. It is also cross-platform and complies into standalone binaries for all popular platforms. In fact, it is possible to download the pre-built library right from its website. Wkhtmltopdf uses a modified version of webkit shipped with Qt. It uses webkit to render the html and print to PDF. However, while testing I found that on a Windows 7 machines there is a serious problem with font kerning. It has been reported by a lot of users but I haven’t found a solution to fix it. Wkhtmltopdf would have been ideal as I could simply write a command line and/or GUI tool wrapping the functionality of hoedown and Wkhtmltopdf.

Screenshot of markdown to PDF generated from MacDown

Screenshot of PDF generated from MacDown.

Screenshot of markdown to PDF generated wkhtmltopdf

Screenshot of PDF generated from wkhtmltopdf.

I could not find any other standalone cross-platform tool to convert HTML to PDF. So, for now I decided to use dompdf which is written in PHP. Once I started used PHP I thought why not make it a web based tool. This would allow me to learn about SEO which I have been promising myself to learn one day :). The tools is hosted at http://markdown2pdf.com. At the moment it doesn’t appear in first five pages in Google search for “markdown to pdf” or “markdown 2 pdf”. I am playing with various SEO tools and techniques and hope to get it within first five pages.

My quest for a standalone tool is not yet complete. I will try to find a solution for wkhtmltopdf kerning issue or find another standalone cross-platform tool for converting from HTML to PDF. I will update with my findings on this blog.




2 Comments
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  • Mark Reply

    hey saurabh,

    good stuff. i made a similar site: http://www.markdownpdfconverter.com

    lemme know what you think. i ended up not using wkhtmltopdf, i felt like the final render was pretty crappy overall…

    hope to add more features in the future… pretty simplistic at the moment.

    cheers!

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