Taming PDF file sizes

Many posts on MacMousecalls are due to client questions on the Bob LeVitus Consulting web site. I answer them here because I think many of our readers will find them interesting. This recent message from Kevin is one such topic. He wrote:

Writing pdf files from word (file - print - pdf) results in pdf files 10x size of the original word document? This seems to have started since installing a Kodak Hero 3.2 printer. My system - 'new' Mac desk top machine. Office for Mac 2011. Having searched the net big pdf files seem to be a common problem. I don't get the same problem on PC. Help!

The first issue is Office for Mac 2011. Although I own it, I have never installed it on my computers. It’s here in case I get a call to fix a problem that I cannot fix unless I am using Microsoft Office.

This seems to be an issue that is not tied directly to Office. Instead it is one of how to use features that Apple built into Mac OS X. One of the nicest Mac features is the ability to turn any document that can be printed into a PDF. I use this feature all the time! It helps me to keep from printing out reams of paper that would be difficult to search and difficult to store.

When I buy something online, I make a PDF file and store it in a receipts folder in my Dropbox. When I find a technical article I want to save, I make a PDF file and place in my Technical Support folder. When I need to share a document with a friend, I often make it a PDF file so that they can read it even if they don’t user the same word processor as me.

While PDF files that I make from web sites are usually small in size, the ones I make with a word processor such as Microsoft Word or Pages can be quite large, especially if they include photos or graphics.

Using Pages, I added three photos to a blank page. Then I used the Export command found under the File menu to make some tests.

Pages_export pages_pdf

I also made a PDF using the Print function.


The resulting files are interesting. Using the Export command and Good in the dialog box produced a file that was only 116 KB. Using Best or making a PDF through the print dialog box resulted in a file that was 7.6 MB.


It is difficult to show you the quality of the images in each of the PDFs. The smallest file was “flat” and a little grainy. It would have worked to show someone the photos, but they were certainly not good enough to print.

Many programs such as Microsoft Word do not have an Export to PDF command. The only way to easily make a PDF is using the Print dialog option. If the images in the document are large, the PDF will be large. However, the Mac OS doesn’t leave you hanging. It is still possible to reduce the size of the file, but you will need to use Apple’s Preview application to make the changes.

Preview is a free application from Apple that is installed when you install the operating system. You can find it in the Applications folder. I suggest dragging it to the Dock so that it is easy to find and work with.


Open your file, either through the File > Open menu or by dragging the document over the Preview icon in your dock. Go to the File > Export command in Preview.


In the File > Export dialog box there is a Reduce File Size option.


Let’s take a look at the file sizes again. Using the Export > Reduce File Size option produced the smallest file.


It’s time to learn more about the Quartz Filter. One of my favorite places to look up such things is Wikipedia. Click
here to view the article. Essentially the article says Quartz is a pair of OS X technologies that send instructions to the Mac OS X graphics engine.

While those tiny PDF files will sometimes work, they can really mess up graphic files. Doing a bit more research, I located
an article that offers some help. It includes a link to some additional Quartz filters that you can download and install to give your more options in the Quartz Filter dialog box.


Installing the filters was a bit scary. Normally, you do not directly add things to the Library of Mac OS X. Things are added by installers and your are asked to fill in your computer password. In this case, I needed to add the Filters file. I got a dialog box similar to this one.


Clicking Authenticate allowed me to enter my password and move the folder. I did it because I knew what I was installing and I had checked to see if the files were okay. However, if I am not anticipating such a dialog box, I click Cancel and do some investigating. Such a dialog box should make you stop to learn why something is trying to modify your Library!

If you encounter something unexpected or strange and you need some help we are available. We offer trouble-shooting, technical support and training over at Bob LeVitus Consulting. Tutoring costs only $60.00 per hour. We have special software that allows us to see your computer and we can work on the things you want to learn. Give us a call at 408 627-7577. Or send an email to urgentrequest@boblevitus.com.