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TechTip: Creating PDF Files with PHP, Part I

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Learn a free and easy way to create PDF files from within your PHP script.


Some time ago, I had a project in which I needed to create PDF files from within a PHP script. I checked php.net to find the functions needed for my project. I was very surprised to discover that PDF creation is not a free part of PHP but is maintained and controlled by pdflib.com.


I have no problem paying for things I need, but in the spirit of open source, I asked Miss Google if there were any alternatives and came across the FPDF Library at fpdf.org.


Before I go into the details, let me tell you that the project I was working on was a price-list-generation project that would generate hundreds of PDF files, and to this day I have not had any problems whatsoever.

What Is FPDF?

The Web site says, "FPDF is a PHP class which allows [you] to generate PDF files with pure PHP, that is to say without using the PDFlib library. F from FPDF stands for Free: you may use it for any kind of usage and modify it to suit your needs."


That was just what I needed, so I read the documentation (or enough to get me started), and off I went.


One new thing I had to learn was how to work with classes, which is something an old RPG programmer is not used to. I am not an expert, but in my brain, the class FPDF uses is like a virtual object you declare. You then add properties to it, and when you're done, you print it to your browser or to disk.


So with that knowledge in your pocket, let's hit the road and dig into the wonderful world of FPDF.

Download and Install

FPDF is very easy to install: no Web server changes, no php.ini changes. Just download and install it in your root directory somewhere, and then refer to it using an include statement in your PHP script. That's all!


Point your browser to fpdf.org and go the Download section. At the time of writing, the current version is 1.6. It comes in a zipped file that contains the documentation and the class files needed to create the PDF files.


Create a directory in your root directory called fpdf and copy fpdf.php and the directory named font into your new directory. Voila! You are now ready to start creating PDF files, so let's create one right away.

One PDF File Coming Up

Because I have limited space here, I will not go into a long explanation of all the features in FPDF. Instead, I'll show you a few examples just to get you started.


Let's first create a small working directory. In your root directory, create a directory called createPDF and, inside that, create a file called 1.php. Open it in your editor of choice and insert the following code:






// Mcpressonline - Creating PDF files with PHP – part one




include_once("../fpdf/fpdf.php"); // Include the class // Include the fpdf class


$pdf = new FPDF(); // (1)

$pdf->AddPage(); // (2)

$pdf->SetFont("Arial", "B", 10); //  (3)

$pdf->Cell(0,0, "My Aim Is True...",0); //  (4)

$pdf->Output(); //  (5)




Save it and run it in your browser. A PDF file like the one in Figure 1 will show up.


Figure 1: You're off to a good start.


Here's what we did:


  1. Defined a Constructor and created a new PDF document. If you want to use landscape view or change the page size, this is the place. Default is in A4 portrait, and unit of measure is millimeter.
  2. Because the document is empty, we had to add a page in the document with AddPage, which can also be used to change page orientation or format.
  3. Set a font. This is mandatory. If not set, you'll get an error.
  4. Wrote some text.


Now, send the document to the browser. Here, you have various options. A common one is Output(name, dest), where dest is one of the following:


  • I—Send the file inline to the browser. The plug-in is used if available. The name given by name is used when one selects the "Save as" option on the link generating the PDF.
  • D—Send to the browser and force a file download with the name given by name.
  • F—Save to a local file with the name given by name (may include a path).
  • S—Return the document as a string. Name is ignored.


Not that hard, is it?


Now let's add a little more to the PDF file. Create a file called 2.php and enter the following:






// MC Press Online - Creating PDF files with PHP – part one


// Ex 2



include_once("../fpdf/fpdf.php"); // Include the class // Include the fpdf class


$pdf = new FPDF('L'); // (1)

$pdf->SetAuthor('Jan Jorgensen'); // (2)

$pdf->SetTitle('MC Press Online - Creating PDF files with PHP - part one'); // (3)

$pdf->SetSubject('Get the basics for a free and easy way to create PDF files from within your PHP script'); // (4)

$pdf->AddPage(); // (5)

$pdf->SetTextColor(0,0,255); // (7)

$pdf->SetFont('Arial','U'); // (8)

$pdf->Write(0, "My Aim Is True...","http://www.elviscostello.com"); // Write something (9)

$pdf->Output(); // Create the PDF document (10)




As you can see, I added a few more FPDF function calls. At 2,3, and 4, I added some document info. To see the info, click in the PDF document and select Document Properties. The following will be shown (mine is in Danish):



Figure 2: Moving right along! (Click image to enlarge.)


On 7, I changed the text color to blue; on 8, I changed the current font to underline; and on 9, I  added a link to the text so that, when you click it, you will be sent to the homepage of Elvis Costello.


I am sure you are getting the hang of it.


Now, we will do the following:


  1. Add a picture. The function is Image().
  2. Add some text in a specific place in the document and write out a text box. The functions are SetXY() and MultiCell().
  3. Set a default name and open a dialog box to save the PDF file.


Here is how this is done:






// MC Press Online - Creating PDF files with PHP – part one


// Ex 3



include_once("../fpdf/fpdf.php"); // Include the class


// Set some text

$textString =

"I Hope You're Happy Now


He's a fine figure of a man and handsome too

With his eyes upon the secret places he'd like to undo

Still he knows who knows who and where and how

And I hope you're happy now


He's got all the things you need and some that you will never

But you make him sound like frozen food, his love will last forever

Still he knows what you want and what you don't allow

And I hope you're happy now


I hope that you're happy now like you're supposed to be

And I know that this will hurt you more than it hurts me

In his turquoise pajamas and motorcycle hat

I hope you're happy now because you'll soon put pay to that

I knew then what I know now I never loved you anyhow

And I hope you're happy now




// Create the PDF document

$pdf = new FPDF('P');

$pdf->SetAuthor('Jan Jorgensen');

$pdf->SetTitle('MC Press Online - Creating PDF files with PHP - part one');

$pdf->SetSubject('Get the basics for a free and easy way to create PDF files from within your PHP script');



// (2)




// (3)


$pdf->SetFont("Arial", "B", 15);



$pdf->Write(0, "Elvis Costello - I Hope You're Happy Now","http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwGdB4Gj7Js");


// (4)


$pdf->SetFont("Arial", "B", 10);




// (5)


//$pdf->Output('ex3.pdf','D'); // (16)




Here is what we did:


  1. Defined a long text section with some line breaks (\n).
  2. Placed the picture at 5mm from the top margin and 5mm from the left margin, and inserted a picture called trust.jpg in dir images.
  3. Placed the header and added a link.
  4. Used the MultiCell function to print the text with line breaks and a border.
  5. Set the default name to ex3.pdf and showed the dialog window (depending on how your browser is configured to handle PDF files, various things might happen).


You can download all the files and the directory structure used in this tip here.

Wrapping It All Up

I hope this TechTip has given you an idea of what you can do with FPDF.


In future TechTips, you will learn how to control overflow when printing from an MySQL table and how use templates by extending the fpdf class. But if you cannot wait, point your browser to the www.fpdf.org Web site and start learning it by yourself.


Till next time, happy PDFing.

Jan Jorgensen

Jan Jorgensen is one of the owners of www.reeft.dk, which specializes in mobile and i5 solutions. He works with RPG, HTML, JavaScript, Perl, and PHP. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.




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