Frustrations with Printing and Creating PDFs from 32-bit PDF Applications and PDF Viewers on Win7 64-bit (splwow64.exe) Print E-mail
Written by Darwin Sanoy   
Tuesday, March 29, 2011 7:21am

When a 32-bit program need to print, it uses a special program called splwow64.exe (print thunking layer) to talk to 64-bit printer drivers.  PDF printers and some viewers seem to have quite a few challenges with this approach.  Here's how I solved my challenges with free alternatives.  Also have a few observations about the HP Unversal driver and splwow64.exe.

I recently moved to a 64-bit machine for my daily production workhorse.  Most everything has been quite smooth.  One area that has not is viewing and creating PDFs.

64-bit "Editions" of Software Applications

If you support 64-bit Windows you are already well aware that the 64-bit "edition" of any given software application may not have 64-bit EXEs in it.  Many are 32-bit EXEs designed, tested and debugged on 64-bit.  This saves software vendors a lot of hassle and money and is a totally rational approach to managing their codebase.  It does mean, however, that finding software that is TRUE 64-bit takes a little more detective work.

PDFs are challenging for a combination of reasons.  First, the default browser on 64-bit Windows is the 32-bit version of Internet Explorer.  If it wasn't, any programmatic content on the web that relys on 32-bit plugins and activex controls would stop working for you and that would be a very bad thing.  Since PDF viewers display PDFs within the browser, they must at least support 32-bit processes.  Due to this, many producers of PDF viewers just keep their software 32-bit and make it work smoothly on 64-bit.

Using 32-bit PDF Viewers to Print To Real Printers

I have experienced two main problems using 32-bit PDF software on 64-bit.  The first was printing from a 32-bit PDF viewer to a REAL printer.  Both Acrobat Reader and Nitro PDF Reader would experience extensive delays and sometimes crashes while I was accessing and changing the printer attributes.  This was mainly experienced on PDFs that were older - had been generated on 32-bit Windows based PDF creators.  When printing was successfully started, it was forever slow.  Sometimes splwow64.exe crashed.

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I went on the hunt for a true 64-bit PDF viewer, not a 64-bit compatible 32-bit viewer.  One of my criteria was that it be free and that led me to PDF-XChange Viewer by Tracker Software.  So far it has been extremely well behaved.  Printing to the 64-bit printers (the only kind you have on Windows 7 x64) is a quick and problem free.

But now that I have a 64-bit PDF viewer, how do I view PDFs in 32-bit Internet Explorer?  PDF-XChange also contains 32-bit browser plugins which work just fine as well.

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If you are a Chrome user, having both PDF-XChange and Chrome's built-in viewer will result in an error when trying to print a PDF.  Follow these instructions to disable Chrome's built-in viewer, or during setup indicate you don't wish PDF-XChange to be the PDF viewer for Chrome.

Using 32-bit Applications to Create PDFs using a PDF Printer

The second challenge was generating PDFs from 32-bit applications using PDF creation software that uses a virtual printer as the method of conversion.  Again splwow64.exe seems to have a challenge with this.  This may be due to the fact that many PDF Printers use a third party PDF conversion library (like Ghostscript) to perform the conversion which is 32-bit.

One other suspecion is that splwow64.exe may have problems with the the printer's settings UI if it is 32-bit.  Some PDF software pops this up everytime you generate - not just when you click "Printer Properties"

I have not studied into the implementation details of printing from 32-bit applications, but Nitro PDF Pro's PDF printer started to give me a lot of problems with slowness and hangs.  I still use it for editing, but for printing out of other 32-bit applications it was not ideal.

I tried CutePDF which claims 64-bit compatibility but started to receive the classic signs of splwow64.exe problems.

So far Bullzip PDF creator is working very well.  I've always liked it because when I want to set a password on a document, I don't have to type it twice!

HP 64-bit Universal Print Driver and splwow64.exe

One other footnote on another splwow64.exe issue that has been cropping up.  HP's universal driver (which is what you will be using for any older HP printers when you go to 64-bit) appears to have some serious problems.  Microsoft and HP are both pointing fingers.  If you run into this, you should be aware that: a) some people have fewer problems printing directly to network printers via ethernet than going through a print server, b) The 64-bit universal driver was updated to 5.2.6 on February 11th, 2011, c) you might want to experiment with both the PCL 6 and PCL 5 driver - some people find the PCL 5 driver to be more forgiving.

Here's a summary of what we've covered in this article:

  • If you are getting frustrating delays with printing from 32-bit applications, monitor to see if splwow64.exe is having problems.
  • If your 32-bit PDF Viewer is having trouble printing PDFs to a real printer, try PDF-XChange Viewer by Tracker Software.
  • If you are having challenges generating PDFs via a PDF Printer, try Bullzip PDF Printer.
Please let us know if you have a free PDF viewer or generator that is working well for you.

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