Not all PDFs are equal

Different types of the same PDF document

Same file format, different data, different results

PDFs are great. The file format has revolutionised our industry and the implementation of brand identities for our brand manager clients. They’ve simplified the process of review, proofing, alterations, approval and artwork. They go anywhere and can be viewed on just about anything. This is their real strength but it can also be a real weakness for the unwary.

What appears to be the same file – especially when just viewed on screen – can be a low res proof of a copy change or a press quality finished artwork file ready for production. There may be no difference visually, in file size or naming, but there can be a massive difference and fuss when a sub-standard job is delivered by the production company or, heaven help us, published in the local paper.

PDF as a wrapper

A simple way of understanding what’s happening is to think of the PDF file format as a wrapper for other files. The base file could be a picture, a logo, an ad or a full brochure. It could be originally created by professional DTP apps like Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign, a word processor like Word or even a web browser. The base file can be wrapped in a PDF so any PDF capable app can view and use the file. It doesn’t change really change the base information, it just makes it simpler to share and see.

PDF compression

When you are wrapping up your file you can choose how tightly wrapped the base file is. It’s one of things that make PDFs so easy to share but also where the danger lies. When a PDF is created decisions should be made based on the target platform and intended use. Depending on the target chosen, the PDF compresses the base file in different ways. Some of the compression methods can compromise the quality. For example, I can export a PDF from the same production quality file as:

  1. Medium quality; easily emailed file for the client. This has all the compression tricks to make a file that has just enough quality to be reviewed, proofed and approved;
  2. High quality; a finished art standard file. This may be a larger file that uses some compression but doesn’t compromise the quality to make a file that is fit to go to the production company/printer;
  3. Low quality web file; the smallest possible file size, the highest amount of compression where file size is a priority over quality to ensure the file can be easily emailed, downloaded or used on the web. It may also contain active links and forms; or
  4. Any combination of the settings, or a custom PDF profile for a particular production system.


Know your PDF

As with all production issues, forewarned is forearmed. Knowing what the file was created for, who created it and how it was created should keep you clear of any production issues, but as I’ve said before you can’t beat a good production process.

Give us a call is you have any issues with your brand roll out or any production issues.

Derek Carroll
Creative Director.

Post a comment

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,