A virtual printer is specialized software implemented as a printer driver but not connected to an actual printer. This approach is used in many applications that have to do with the conversion of documents to other formats as well as sending fax messages.
Here is the basic operating principle of a virtual printer: once this software is installed, a new printer appears on the system. Whenever a document is sent to it, the program attempting to print converts the file into a standard data stream (usually, a program written in PostScript). The driver of a conventional printer converts it into a series of commands physically to control a printing head. A virtual printer handles the stream differently, for instance, by saving it as a graphic file in a specified format.
If one were to compare a virtual printer with a conventional document converter, it would prove to have two important advantages. The first one is its flexibility. A virtual printer will convert any source documents regardless of their format. The only condition is that the user must have the software to open the file in question and to send it to a printer. The other advantage is the ease of use for the end user. Any person who knows how to print a file can use a virtual printer to covert the documents without any prior training.
Virtual printers are frequently used as modules in a multi-purpose editor to convert the documents into a desired format. In addition, there is a fairly large number of stand-alone products in the virtual printer category on the market. They normally have more sophisticated functionality.