The hidden way to print to PDF on iPad and iPhone

Scrolling iPhone

Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

Although it is possible to lug a small printer with you everywhere, it is not particularly practical. Most of us don’t print enough from our phones or tablets to make mobile printing a consideration. But what if you need to save a printout and you don’t have a printer?

For example, suppose you have completed a financial transaction and you have the option to print the receipt. Many sites that offer a print option do not offer any Save to PDF feature. If you’re using a PC or Mac, that’s a relatively easy option to find.

But if you’re using an iPad or an iPhone, all iPadOS or iOS gives you is the Print button. As we’ve established, that Print button isn’t as useful if you don’t have a printer.

Fortunately, as long as you’re running iOS or iPadOS 15 (or later), there’s a way. It’s strangely 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. It turns out that Crayola (the chalk company) has some printable coloring book pages. One of those pages is this NASCAR image. I’m all for fast cars so I wanted to download it.


David Gewirtz/screenshot

But as you can see a typical printer dialog opens when I press the Print Now button. In this case, I didn’t select a printer, but if you click Printers to select a printer, there is no way to print to a PDF.


David Gewirtz/screenshot

The hidden trick

Here’s the hidden trick. As I mentioned, you need to be running iOS or iPadOS 15 for this to work. Now, instead of just tapping the blue print prompt, hold it down. At this point the hidden share card appears:


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’m going to use it. You can save the PDF wherever you want.


David Gewirtz/screenshot

I have to wonder why this feature is hidden. Why is there no share icon? How is anyone supposed to know to hold down Print unless reading 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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