Everything You Ever Knew About PDF Is Wrong
Adobe Systems' Dov Isaacs advocates creation of 'super hero' PDFs

20 November 2001

By Carl Young, DigiPub Solutions Corp.

One question invariably comes up during my Adobe Acrobat training classes:

"How do I create a PDF file that does everything?"

What the questioner wants is a file as skinny as Ally McBeal, for fast download times; as strong as Arnold Schwarzenegger, for reliable output by the third shift at a copy shop; and as dazzling on-screen as The Matrix.

Don't hold your breath, I've said. Produce two files: One for print with little compression applied to the graphics, and another with highly compressed graphics for Web downloads. Don't try to produce one file that does it all, I've advised. I've seen other PDF authorities give the same answer at Power Panel discussions at PDF 2001 Conference West.

During one of the keynotes at the November 2001 PDF Conference, Dov Isaacs, a principal scientist at Adobe and frequent contributor to many PDF-related newsgroups, demonstrated a "super hero" PDF files that does it all-and has me questioning my "make two files" advice.

Do you think "super hero" is too strong a word to describe this file? OK, then you create a PDF like this:

  • 84 slides from PowerPoint
  • Color graphics on every page
  • 30 font faces subset embedded
  • 17 line art drawings
  • 30 screen shots
  • 28 bitmaps (in addition to the screen shots)
  • Four languages
  • Looks great on-screen
  • Prints like a champ
... and is 1.14 MB in size.

Yes, that's right, 1.14 MB, as in small enough to fit on a single floppy disk. Now do you think "super hero" fits? I surely do.

So how did Dov accomplish this amazing feat? He explains in his presentation, "Reliable PDF Creation in the Enterprise." [PDF: 1.1 MB] Dov says that regular mortals can create these "super hero" PDFs by paying attention to a number of details.

Here are a few highlights:

Garbage In, Garbage Out (Page 17)

  1. Keep Text as Text, and Don't Convert Text to Outlines
    Use vector images (line art) over raster images (bitmaps, such as photographs or screen shots). Use PostScript Type 1 or TrueType fonts, but avoid hacked fonts of any kind. Because vector art is composed of lines and polygons, it compresses very easily. Remember that raster images will lose data, and therefore quality, any time they are scaled, downsampled, interpolated or rotated to any angle except 90 degree increments. Avoid gradient fills in PowerPoint like the plague.

  2. Learn to Use Your Paint and Draw Programs Properly (Page 33)
    Scan at an appropriate resolution, not to the maximum level of your scanner. Downsample before you save the image the first time, not later. Don't interpolate to a higher resolution. Try saving as EPS to preserve color. Transform images at the end of your workflow to avoid data loss and image degradation.

  3. Export PDFs Directly from Some Applications
    The latest versions of Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator produce excellent PDFs directly. Avoid what appears to be the direct method (save as) from FrameMaker 5.5 and 6. Test direct output from non-Adobe applications before making those part of your regular production process.

  4. Always Use Distiller Instead of PDF Writer
    Distiller uses PostScript to create PDFs, but PDFWriter uses the Windows printing system, and generally produces inferior results.

  5. Try Customizing Your PDF Creation Setup
    On pages 44 to 71 Dov has suggestions for setting up drivers and Distiller settings for various operating systems. Pay close attention to the "Isaacs" and "Isaacs 150" Distiller settings listed on the charts on pages 68 to 71.

  6. Try Some Third-party Products for Post-PDF Creation Refinement (pages 74 to 79)
    Many users think third-party products are just for prepress or other high-end printing functions, but Dov suggests several are very useful in enterprise environments. He recommends Quite a Box of Tricks, Quite Imposing and Quite Imposing Plus, EnFocus PitStop, CrackerJack from Lantana and others for image resizing, correcting color, imposition and other tasks.

Ready to give it a try? Just follow Dov's recommendations: Replace those photos with line art, tweak your driver and Distiller settings and create our own "super hero" PDFs.

***PDF TalkBack: Got an opinion on this topic? Air it out in the Planet PDF Forum!***

About Carl Young and the PDF Conference

Carl Young is the founder and producer of PDF Conference. He can be reached at carl@pdfconference.com.

The next PDF Conference is scheduled for June 3 - 5, 2001 in Washington, D.C.

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