Sometimes smaller is better: How to create smaller PDFs in Illustrator

Susan Snipes / Posted 5.24.2011

Sometimes smaller is better: How to create smaller PDFs in Illustrator

If you use Adobe Illustrator on a regular basis and share your designs as PDFs with clients, you probably want to make sure your PDFs are as small as possible. Small files will make it easier for your clients to open the files you send via email or share on your online project management system. Illustrator has settings built in to help you compress and shrink your files to be much smaller without sacrificing quality. Here's how to make smaller PDFs with Illustrator.

1. OPEN. First, open your file in Adobe Illustrator. Make sure your design is complete and ready to be saved as a PDF.

2. SAVE AS. Next, go to “File > Save As”. Instead of saving as an “Adobe Illustrator Document”, save the file as an “Adobe PDF (pdf)”. Find a location on your computer for your new document and give it a name.

3. SMALLEST FILE SIZE. In the dialog box that opens up, change the setting at the top from “Illustrator Default” to “Smallest File Size”. This will use some of the program's presets to condense large embedded graphics and images, as well as remove the “Preserve Illustrator’s Editing Capabilities” setting (See Tips sidebar for more about this last setting).

4. ADJUST SETTINGS. If you're so inclined, or want more fine control of your document settings and compression, you can manually adjust the PDF settings. Be sure to uncheck “Preserve Illustrator Editing Capabilities” in the General category; this is the best way to reduce file size (See Tips sidebar for more about this setting).

The most important setting to reduce file size is to uncheck “Preserve Illustrator Editing Capabilities”. When you select the preset “Smallest File Size” this option will be unchecked.


The setting that bloats a PDF file size the most is: “Preserve Illustrator's Editing Capabilities”. By default, PDFs saved in Illustrator will retain editing capabilities. If you retain the editing capabilities when you open the PDF in Illustrator, it will be like opening an Illustrator native file (.ai). If you're saving a PDF for a website or for your client to preview, you DON'T need them to be able to open the PDF in Illustrator and edit it. It is worth noting if you do try and edit a PDF saved WITHOUT Illustrator capabilities, you will still be able to open it and edit in Illustrator, but many of the individual design elements and paths may not be independent.

Saving a PDF as the “Smallest File Size” is great for PDFs that will be placed on a web site or that will be e-mailed to clients or customers. However, small PDFs may not be appropriate for quality printing.

It’s best practice to save both the original file as an Illustrator version and the small PDF version, so you have your own full-sized version for future edits (Illustrator .ai native version), and a small-sized version that doesn't need to be edited (PDF .pdf) that your client can review or put on a website.

Susan Snipes

Susan Snipes

President and Founder

Susan Snipes is the founder and president of Q Digital Studio. As a community-minded web entrepreneur, developer, and ExpressionEngine expert, Susan’s innovative approach to the web has benefited well-known companies and organizations ranging from technology, healthcare, education, nonprofits, local and regional governments, and more.  For more thoughts on entrepreneurship, leadership, and inclusivity in technology, follow her on twitter @SusanSnipes.