The hidden way to print to PDF on iPad and iPhone

You must have iOS or iPadOS 15 for this to work, but it's quick and easy (and free) once you do.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
Scrolling through iPhone
Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

Although it's possible to lug a tiny printer with you wherever you go, it's not particularly practical. Most of us don't print enough from our phones or tablets for mobile printing to be a consideration. But what if you need to save a printout, and you don't have a printer?

For example, let's say you've completed a financial transaction, and you have the option to print the receipt. Many sites that offer a print option don't offer any sort of Save to PDF function. If you're on a PC or Mac, that's a relatively easy option to find.

But if you're on an iPad or an iPhone, all iPadOS or iOS presents to you is the Print button. As we've established, that Print button is less than useful when you don't have a printer.

Fortunately, as long as you're using iOS or iPadOS 15 (or later), there is a way. It's oddly obscure, but it's there.

An example

I'm working on an article about using the iPad as the ultimate coloring book, and I wanted to import a PDF. As it turns out, Crayola (the crayon company) has a bunch of printable coloring book pages. One such page is this NASCAR image. I'm all about fast cars, so I wanted to download it.

David Gewirtz/Screenshot

But, as you can see, a typical printer dialog box opens up when I hit the Print Now button. In this case, I have no printer selected, but if you click on Printers to select a printer, there's no way to print to a PDF.

David Gewirtz/Screenshot

The hidden trick

Here's the hidden trick. As I said, you must be running iOS or iPadOS 15 for this to work. Now, rather than just tapping the blue Print prompt, press and hold it. At this point, the hidden share card pops up:

David Gewirtz/Screenshot

Choose Save to Files. You can save to iCloud or On My iPad. I chose On My iPad and then pointed the file to the folder where I'll be using it. You can save the PDF anywhere you wish.

David Gewirtz/Screenshot

I have to wonder why this feature is hidden. Why isn't there a share icon? How is someone supposed to know they need to press and hold Print unless they read an article like this?

Did you know about this trick? Have you wanted to be able to do something like this without purchasing and installing an add-on app? Let us know in the comments below.

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