How to use Adobe Distiller to create reasonably-sized PDFs

Holding iPad

A few weeks ago, I was at my local gaming convention (TotalCon, if you’re in New England, is a great convention). For the Dungeons and Dragons games I was playing, I was using my iPad to manage my character with a combination of i4e and a PDF in GoodReader.

The problem I encountered was the PDF from the Wizards Insider site was about 20 MB. In GoodReader, I had a lot of slow scrolling as I waited for pages to refresh. I noticed someone else at the table using the same setup, but his PDFs loaded a lot faster. So, I asked him how he did it.

“I save it as a PostScript file and use Distiller to create the PDF,” he replied.

Since I have a Creative Cloud subscription, I decided to give it a try.

Using Distiller

If you have Distiller installed (it installs as part of the Acrobat Pro install, not a separate install), this is pretty much a one-step operation. Have the document you want to create a PDF of and open Print. Instead of choosing “Save as a PDF,” choose “Save as Adobe PDF.” An Automator workflow (the workflow is crated as part of the Distiller install) handles all the heavy lifting; all you’ll have to do is set your Distiller settings and choose where to save the file. About 2-3 minutes later, the PDF is done cooking.

I was amazed at the file difference. My 21 MB PDF was now 2.1 MB. GoodReader handled this with no scrolling lag. I then did another experiment that would have normally created a 300 MB PDF. The Distiller trick yielded a 21 MB PDF. My general math tells me that using Distiller to create a PDF moves the decimal point for the file size one place to the left (a 21 MB file usually created as a Save to PDF became a 2.1mb PDF in Distiller).

How I will use this

Aside from creating smaller-sized PDFs for my gaming convention, my day job requires me to create a lot of PDFs for circulation. Our email quota is only 100 MB, so every little bit I save is good. Even saving a megabyte will help someone’s email quota. I also create a lot of sheet music, and again, smaller PDFs are more manageable — especially if I’m going to be reading it on my iPad.

Some of the PDFs I create are screenshots from my iPad. If Guitar World has a song I want to learn, I’ll take screenshots of the score, combine them in Preview on my Mac, and then create a PDF from there (taking screenshots of an entire issue as a test is how I created the 120MB PDF). Distiller will really cut down on the file sizes.

It’s not cheap. The per-app Creative Cloud pricing is $19.99 per month. I create about 3-4 PDFs a week on a slow week, so this is worth it. It’s definitely something I will be using going forward.

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