Unexpected Error Exporting a PDF

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated February 5, 2024)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Microsoft 365

Anne edits technical reports and regularly turns large documents into PDFs with no problems. (She uses File>Export>Create PDF.) Anne recently tried this with a fully edited 30-page document and all she gets is "The export failed due to an unexpected error." She hasn't seen this error before, and it seems spectacularly unhelpful to her. Anne tried resaving the document under a different name, but no luck. She wonders how she can track down what might be causing the problem.

If you are creating PDFs for other documents using this same process, it sounds like the problem is with this particular document. More than likely it is a problem with a corrupt graphic or some specific document element (table, font, object, etc.) that the converter cannot handle.

There is a troubleshooting process you can go through to track down the specific problem. In Windows, make two copies of the problem document. In the first copy, delete the second half of the document, and in the second copy delete the first half. If one of those can be converted and the other cannot, you now know where the problem lies. Take the half that cannot be converted and follow the same process—two copies, delete half of each, and convert again. Keep this up until you get all the way down to a single page that cannot be converted. That will tell you where the problem lies, and you can then fix it in the original document.

There may be other solutions, as well. One is to change the way you are generating your PDF files. Instead of relying on Word to do the conversions, you could simply use a PDF printer driver. If you are using Windows 10, this is easy—choose "Microsoft Print to PDF" as your printer, and you can let Windows create the PDF for you. Since it uses a different method of creating the PDF than the one used by Word, there is a good chance you will get a different (and hopefully satisfactory) result. If you aren't using Windows 10, there are any number of PDF printer drivers available through an internet search, many of them free.

Finally, if you are generating PDFs routinely (weekly or even daily), you may want to consider investing in Adobe Acrobat. It gives you capabilities with your PDF files that you cannot find in other tools. Adobe products tend to be a bit pricey, but they are definitely worth it if the output you create (PDFs) are critical to the work you do.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (13645) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Microsoft 365.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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