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.

Photo credit: JD Hancock

Susan Snipes

Susan Snipes

Owner and principal of Q Digital Studio

Susan Snipes is the owner and principal of Q Digital Studio. Friends of Susan used to call her Susie Q, Miss Q, or just Q. The nicknames may not have stuck, but that infamous letter Q became the namesake for Susan's dream: her own business. Now Miss Q is making a name for herself as a community-minded web entrepreneur and ExpressionEngine expert.

As a college student at Case Western Reserve University, Susan became interested in web design, and self-taught her way into a number of freelance gigs. She left Cleveland with a degree in Art History and Architecture, but found her true calling in web design and development. Susan worked in New Orleans before migrating west to Denver, a place she happily calls home with her husband Corey and dog, Marla Muttlesworth.

Susan quickly achieved distinction in the Denver design community as a forward-thinking web developer whose work is both creative and consistent. Q Digital Studio is founded on principals of sustainability and integrity, values that are near and dear to Susan's heart.

When Susan's not planning design conferences or fearlessly leading the Q Digital Studio team, she enjoys cooking and watching movies.

Follow Susan on Twitter @SusanSnipes.