Sage advice on PDF email attachments
Adobe Systems' Dov Isaacs offers insights

Compact file size and cross-platform functionality can make PDF files ideal for distribution as email attachments -- with certain exceptions. Increase your chances for success by learning from the experiences of others who've already identified and overcome the most common obstacles.

We're offering with his expressed permission the relevant insights of Dov Isaacs, Manager of Product Interoperability, Core Technologies Group of Adobe Systems. Dov recently posted this accumulated wisdom, picked up while "sending PDF files via email attachments since the days of Acrobat 1.0," to an InDesign email discussion list:

  1. Compressing a well-made PDF file buys you very little if anything. In some cases, the resultant compressed file will be LARGER than the original PDF file.
  2. Compressing a PDF file can cause major problems for the receiver of the file if their email client doesn't "understand" your email client's compression scheme, or uses a different version of same. The problem is particularly difficult going "cross-platform." Very few Windows users have unStuffit utility programs (or have unStuffing as an automatic email client feature). Very few Mac users have unZip utility programs (or have unZipping as an automatic email client feature).
  3. Associated with (1) and (2) above, make sure that your email client's options have "automatic compression of attachments" turned OFF! The default on some Mac email programs is to have such compression ON.
  4. In terms of attachment protocol, the ONLY protocol that appears to be at fairly standard and usable cross-platform is MIME. MIME even seems to work with AOL and CompuServe. If you cannot use MIME, then use UUEncode as the option, although AOL clients may barf on such attachments.
  5. When sending attachments to any AOL user from outside of AOL, do not attempt more than one attachment per email.
  6. The issue of PDF file attachment size has nothing intrinsically to do with PDF files, per se. The REAL issue is that of your Internet Service Provider, most of whom arbitrarily and capriciously set limits to the size of (a) individual pieces of email and attachments and (b) the total size of your email queue on their server. And this may have quite a bit to do with whether you are paying for a consumer account or a business account. At Adobe, it is not unusual for me to receive PDF (or any) attachments of 10 megabytes of more, each. I have acquaintances with MSN.COM accounts who are limited to email messages and attachments no bigger than the size of a diskette, 1.4 megabytes each. AOL is not generous in this regard, either! Microsoft Outlook has a feature, I believe, that allows you to automatically split up an email with large attachment into multiple emails and attachments that "come back together" when read with Microsoft Outlook. Using this feature is obviously somewhat dangerous in assuring that non-Outlook users can really access your file.
  7. So when you look at all the "ifs," "ands", and "buts" here, maybe your friend's recommendation of a 500k limit isn't so crazy after all. If you are going B2B, business-to-business, with email accounts with no crazy limits, you are on a T3 line, and you know which email clients are in use, you can feel much more comfortable sending that 15 megabyte PDF file as an attachment. Sending to a friend with AOL or MSN.COM, large email attachments are NOT an option.
  8. In the case where large email attachments are not an option, either post the file on a web site or an FTP site. This is much more efficient than sending email attachments and can avoid all sorts of problems for your recipients. And of course, you may wish to password protect such such sites.

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