Is there a way when exporting a .psd as a .pdf to make the file smaller?

My client always has me work in Photoshop and send them finished work as .pdf's, but they say the files are too big. These products are eventually printed out, so while I need to make the files smaller, they still need to have good quality. Everything is in CMYK mode already. I just don't know a lot about compression and changing file sizes

  • 1
    if the file will be posted for offset printing it is not recommended to reduce it's size. or you will loss quality. but there is a way to save your PDF for web by using smallest PSD size profile in Adobe Acrobat
    – hsawires
    Dec 29, 2014 at 23:41
  • 2
    If the client simply wants PDFs why are you allowing them to dictate "only Photoshop"? Just curious. [Build me a house. All I want is the House. But please, only use a screwdriver. -- it just seems silly]
    – Scott
    Dec 29, 2014 at 23:46
  • Thanks, hsawires. That's a better lead than what I've unsuccessfully been trying. They don't want me to work in other programs because they don't know anything but Photoshop(no idea why that matters). This client falls into the ridiculous expectations category...
    – Jags
    Dec 29, 2014 at 23:49

4 Answers 4


You can optimize your PDF using Adobe Acrobat Pro and keep working as you do with Photoshop or whatever software you want. These software do not compress files the same way Acrobat do and do a poor job at it by leaving their own software data.

Yes, you can safely compress your files without losing any quality with Acrobat Pro. It doesn't only compress the images, it also compresses the structure of the PDF and cleans it.

A lot of businesses today use online printing services or upload their files to the system of their printer; file size cannot be what the designer wants and some efforts are required to optimize any PDF properly. On top of this, printing a heavy file takes longer time to process.

Adobe Acrobat Pro will crop your images that are out-of-frame to the perfect size, equalize your resolution to 300dpi+, remove private data and hyperlinks you might not need, flatten the layers, etc.

If you want to try this option, open your PDF in Acrobat Pro that comes with the Adobe Creative Cloud, and select "save as other..." in the menu file. Then select the "optimized PDF".

If you don't need to keep any elements such as layers or hyperlinks, you can safely check all the checkboxes you will see in the sections on the side panel (Discard objects, discard user dataa and clean up.) If you need to keep some features, simply look at what option does and don't check these boxes.

In the image section, you can add 300dpi to the field next to the downsampling feature. If you want to keep the maximum of your file size, you can still use 400dpi; it will not create any extra pixels if your images are lower than this resolution. It will lower all the graphics that are at higher resolution to this minimum instead.

You can do the same for grayscale (suggested 300-600dpi) and monochrome (suggested 600-1240dpi).

For each of them you can select the Zip compression. If you need more compression, you can use the "maximum JPG" compression if your layout contains mainly pictures.

If you use transparency, it's a good idea to put the transparency setting to "high resolution".

Then you can save this file using a new name just so you can see the result before overwriting your "full resolution" file. It should really help your lower the file size of your PDF.

PS: If you use text layers in Photoshop (which I guess you use), keep your resolution as high as possible.

These are screenshots of the 2 sections that will affect your graphics the most in Acrobat Pro.

As you see, it's all functions you already know about (resolution and transparency) and you really don't need to be a PDF expert for this! It's specially easy in your case since Photoshop handles transparency in a better way than Illustrator and InDesign. And if you end up converting your text to vectors as suggested below, you can still use Photoshop for your montage and background, and use your transparency there.

The other sections of Acrobat pro (while optmizing files) is more related to hyperlinks, bookmarks, private datas, etc.

How to optmize images in PDF

How to flatten transparency in PDF

Another trick that might work for you to bypass that Photoshop request...

You can save your Photoshop file as PSD with all the layers, and then open that PSD in Illustrator. You should be asked to choose between flattening the artwork or converting the layers to objects. This should keep your text layers in vector... and then you can vectorize that text (create outline), and export it in PDF again! You don't need to vectorize your text but it's better if you send this file as a print-ready.

It's also very safe to optimize as you can safely produce a "standard" .PDF and lower your image resolution to 300dpi without affecting the quality of your texts!

(See post about this here)

  • It is a very bad idea to try and compress press-ready files unless you are well versed in what specifically you are doing. In 99.9% of all cases, you should simply save/export to PDF/X-1a format and send that without trying to alter the PDF/X file afterwards. In most cases, the average user will do a great deal of damage to the PDF in an attempt to save a few MB of data. It is simply not worth it for the average designer.
    – Scott
    Jun 21, 2015 at 23:16
  • If you don't understand how it works and want to keep your account cloud name on the PDF, yes you can send them as they are. Otherwise it's very easy to verify the quality of the optimized PDF, especially with Photoshop files since they flatten all the transparencies unlike InDesign and Illustrator! The only thing to really worry about is that the text doesn't get flatten. I don't do texts in Photoshop so I don't know the exact settings.
    – go-junta
    Jun 21, 2015 at 23:20
  • Just because you can do something, it doesn't mean every user should do it. In a pre-press world, I'd support your answer... in a design world, it's just horrible advice for designers. If you are that concerned over a few MB of data... you're worried about the wrong thing when dealing with print design.
    – Scott
    Jun 21, 2015 at 23:23
  • A few mb is sometimes 40-90mb... and the question was about optmizing PDF, for which I supplied info on, not judgements on the superior's capacities to understand design.
    – go-junta
    Jun 21, 2015 at 23:32
  • Designers do not tend to be as technical as prepress specialists. This is why I think it's just a bad idea to suggest they alter PDF/X files. Prepress specialists are playing with the files of others and they know what will work in the RIP. Designers do not have this knowledge on the whole.
    – Scott
    Jun 22, 2015 at 3:54

You may need to save three versions of your files: one for your customer as a optimized PDF (make sure they understand that this will not have the full quality as the final print version), the second would be the final version PDF to be used for production (or if the client insists on seeing the high-resolution version), and the third would be the actual Photoshop file which you'd use as your source artwork and use to produce the others.


Press-ready files are always larger in file size (kb). That's the nature of press files. In printing, absolutely no concern should be placed on the size of the file (kb). Files should be constructed to press standards and whatever size they ultimately end up being is what they are.

You dramatically run the risk of poor quality prints if you start trying to reduce file sizes by compressing things.

Save your press-ready PDF as PDF/X1-a and that's it. Don't try and compress it more. If the client is complaining about file sizes, it may be a good idea to educate them and explain that press files are larger and shouldn't be overly compressed if they want quality prints.

In many cases, NOT using Photoshop will result in smaller PDFs. That is, if not using Photoshop is an option. It does seem a bit odd to me that the client is dictating what tools you use, unless you are delivering a layered file for them to alter later. In that case, a press-ready PDF and a layered .psd file may be a better alternative.

  • There's a difference between sending file sizes of 60mb and 1mb; some print-ready uncompressed can be 100mb. It's an insane useless amount of data and a waste of time and space to manage these files. A PDF for print below 4mb is very easy to do and compression will not always lower the quality... unless you're meaning lowering the resolution by "compression". Client could be asking for PSD because they only own a license for this or can easily edit the files themselves. As long they're aware of the difference between the quality of Illustrator and Photoshop for some projects. They paid for it!
    – go-junta
    Jun 21, 2015 at 22:36
  • It is even more insane to worry about the file size of a PDF/X file. There's no need to compress or remove data for press-ready files, use them as they are. Any attempt to reduce the file size of a PDF/X file can result in problems later. The real truth is, it is rare that Photoshop is used to generate proper press-files. It's an image editor, not a design application.
    – Scott
    Jun 21, 2015 at 23:01
  • All files end up being rasterized on the rip anyway. Designers who prepare their files already "prepress" friendly can send normal PDF without worry.
    – go-junta
    Jun 21, 2015 at 23:25
  • That doesn't make a great deal of sense... and I've read it several times. My point is a few MB saved by someone unknowledgeable monkeying around in Acrobat will most likely do more harm than good. Just let the PDF/X file be whatever size it feels it needs to be.
    – Scott
    Jun 21, 2015 at 23:26
  • The word monkeying is not very nice when talking to other professionals like you... a personal attack on my experience and skills as a prepress specialist, and on the capacity of Jags to see what's best for him/her. I'm not saying my way is better, I'm saying people can do what works for them. In fact, you're the one being forceful on the technique that should be used (and insulting). There's nothing more to be said. Question was answered!
    – go-junta
    Jun 21, 2015 at 23:40

Oh... my... To many questions...

What is too big, why Photoshop only, what the projet looks like, what is the expected printed size, what is not too big, why pdf, what is the usage of the non print version of the file !!??

I see 2 options.

1 file for printing... whatevere that is... Just use zip compresion inside the pdf. Real size I gess.

For the non print version, convert the files to rgb, resample them... simply a lower res version, probably 100dpi real size, and compress it with jpg algorithm... Play with thoose values.

P.S. Do not let the client make thoose choices like that. You have to make them and tell the client to choose form the options you recomend.

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