Sometimes smaller is better: How to create smaller PDFs in Illustrator brought to you by META Q

Sometimes smaller is better: How to create smaller PDFs in Illustrator

If you use Adobe Illustrator on a regular basis and share your designs as PDFs with clients, you probably want to make sure your PDFs are as small as possible. Small files will make it easier for your clients to open the files you send via email or share on your online project management system. Illustrator has settings built in to help you compress and shrink your files to be much smaller without sacrificing quality. Here's how to make smaller PDFs with Illustrator.

1. OPEN. First, open your file in Adobe Illustrator. Make sure your design is complete and ready to be saved as a PDF.

2. SAVE AS. Next, go to “File > Save As”. Instead of saving as an “Adobe Illustrator Document”, save the file as an “Adobe PDF (pdf)”. Find a location on your computer for your new document and give it a name.

3. SMALLEST FILE SIZE. In the dialog box that opens up, change the setting at the top from “Illustrator Default” to “Smallest File Size”. This will use some of the program's presets to condense large embedded graphics and images, as well as remove the “Preserve Illustrator’s Editing Capabilities” setting (See Tips sidebar for more about this last setting).

4. ADJUST SETTINGS. If you're so inclined, or want more fine control of your document settings and compression, you can manually adjust the PDF settings. Be sure to uncheck “Preserve Illustrator Editing Capabilities” in the General category; this is the best way to reduce file size (See Tips sidebar for more about this setting).

The most important setting to reduce file size is to uncheck “Preserve Illustrator Editing Capabilities”. When you select the preset “Smallest File Size” this option will be unchecked.


The setting that bloats a PDF file size the most is: “Preserve Illustrator's Editing Capabilities”. By default, PDFs saved in Illustrator will retain editing capabilities. If you retain the editing capabilities when you open the PDF in Illustrator, it will be like opening an Illustrator native file (.ai). If you're saving a PDF for a website or for your client to preview, you DON'T need them to be able to open the PDF in Illustrator and edit it. It is worth noting if you do try and edit a PDF saved WITHOUT Illustrator capabilities, you will still be able to open it and edit in Illustrator, but many of the individual design elements and paths may not be independent.

Saving a PDF as the “Smallest File Size” is great for PDFs that will be placed on a web site or that will be e-mailed to clients or customers. However, small PDFs may not be appropriate for quality printing.

It’s best practice to save both the original file as an Illustrator version and the small PDF version, so you have your own full-sized version for future edits (Illustrator .ai native version), and a small-sized version that doesn't need to be edited (PDF .pdf) that your client can review or put on a website.

Photo credit: JD Hancock

Susan Snipes's avatar

Susan Snipes

Owner and principal of Q Digital Studio

Susan Snipes is the owner and principal of Q Digital Studio. While her old nicknames of Susie Q, Miss Q or just Q may not have stuck, that infamous letter Q became the namesake for Susan's dream job: her own business. Q Digital Studio was founded on principals of sustainability and integrity, values that are near and dear to Susan's heart. Follow Susan on twitter @SusanSnipes.




Design > Illustration > Tips > Design Tips



What others are saying

Kd Brown

Susan, I love this feature of Illustrator, but the patterns I am creating are being reduced in size when I print them out from the pdf file. Do you know a way to fix this?
Thanks, Kd

Susan Snipes

@kd Hmmm, could be a few reasons.

The patterns could be reduced in physical size depending on how your document is set up, the actual inches/dimensions under Document Setup.

If you have Document Setup to the dimensions you want printed, it could be your printer settings. (Sometimes printers like to shrink things, thinking they’re trying to “help” you.)

The Reduce File Size will downsample JPGs, which might make them print smaller if your patterns have JPGs in them. However, it shouldn’t change vector art size.

I hope that helps!

ahmad ali mansi

In my css5 i was looking for smallest file size but it dose not appear just have custom and illustrator default

What can i do ?

Susan Snipes

@ahmad I’m looking at Illustrator CS5 and do see the “Smallest File Size” option. It’s in the dropdown that probably says “Illustrator Default” at the very bottom. If you are looking there and still don’t see it, perhaps you have a different version of Illustrator CS5 rather than the standard version?


Hi Susan,

Thanks for the information. I have a follow-up for you: Is there an optimal setting for pdf that will allow me to send a file easily (shrink it) and preserve the settings needed for a high quality print?

I am sending a file to a person that will not be able to take the time worrying if my document looks good printed out, but I can only get it to her via email, so it needs to be pretty small.


Susan Snipes

@John If you want to save a small file size quickly and easily where you don’t need to worry about a decent printing, I’d go with “Smallest File Size”. This should make the PDF nice and small to email.

If you want to save a PDF as BOTH small and a good quality for printing, there isn’t a ready-to-go preset, but you could pretty simply do this: Under “Adobe PDF Preset” pick “High Quality Print”. Then under general UNCHECK “Preserve Illustrator Editing Capabilities”. Cheers!

Jackie Spina

Hi there ... I am so happy to find this post!  I used to have these capabilities - to save to ‘smallest file size’ in Illustrator CS4 and abruptly just no longer had that command in the ‘save as PDF’ dialogue box one day!  I loved this option because I could send proofs of image-heavy files to clients easily over the web.  I really miss it!  Is there any way you might know what happened or can you direct me to someone who might?!  I really would like to get this function back!  Thanks for your time.

Susan Snipes

@Jackie Spina - What version of Illustrator do you have?

I’m running Illustrator Version 15.1.0 (as part of Creative Suite 5.5) and have that option. To get to it, I go to File > Save As > Format: Adobe PDF. Then I have an option to select “Smallest File Size” under the Adobe PDF Preset drop down list.

What options do you see under the Adobe PDF Preset dropdown list?

Todd M.

Useful, thanks. This is always a pain :-)


Does it matter when sending to printer for high quality print to remove editing capabilities?

Susan Snipes

@Alex - It won’t matter to the printer if you remove Illustrator editing capabilities unless you printer needs to edit the file using Illustrator. However, this is extremely rare. We prefer not to have printers edit our files, and they prefer it too. :)


thnx a lot for ur help.
Now the file size is extremly lower.


Thanks your awesome!




THANK YOU.  Have been searching awhile for help, and this is perfect.  Appreciate the help.



i need my pdf to be no bigger than 200KB, Ive taken away unused swatches and brushes and symbols to get it down to 253KB - Before it was about 800KB.

I have also saved it as smallest file size, what else can i do to the file to get rid of that extra 53??


Super! Just what I needed! Thanks!


Thank you so much!
this was a great help for me and very clear explanation.
Best Regards


if we do smallest file size option then the picture quality is also reduced and its pixellated… so how to keep the picture quality same as well as the smallest file size..???

Susan Snipes

@lulu It sounds like you’ve done all the important steps.

There are a couple of other things you can try:

1. If you save as a different version of Acrobat (e.g. v6 instead of v8) the compression might increase. This is under the “General” settings, via a dropdown “Compatibility” toward the top. I have found Acrobat 6 / PDF 1.5 seems to save slightly smaller versions.

2. If you file has raster images, you can reduce the compression even more, under the “Compression” settings. Change the downsampling to be even lower. e.g. the ppi take to 72ppi instead of 100. And you can change the quality from Low to Minimum. You may need to experiment with this a bit to make sure it still looks OK.

3. I have also found that outlining fonts takes up more space than not. So if you have outlined fonts, use the original font instead.

Maybe that will help. Good luck!

Susan Snipes

@sm If you want to make the file size small, but keep the picture quality, first select “Smallest File Size”. But then you’ll want to change some of the settings.

Leave all the settings the same from “Smallest File Size”, except under “Compression”. Under this section, change the Image Quality to “Medium” or “High” for each of the options. OR if you still don’t like how it looks, change the “Bicubic Downsampling to…” dropdowns to “Do Not Downsample”.



Thank you so very much! Just the information I needed!!!


Thanks a lot.  It helped!


Thanks, that was helpful.


Very helpful. Thanks very much Miss Q and thanks also for taking your sweet time to respond to all the questions from your readers.
There’s something I’ve been trying to do when designing in Illustrator but not quite understood it well. I’d kindly request for your help! I may not have the right terms to explain but I hope you’ll get some meaning out of it.

How can i blend the background colour of a picture with that of the desired background colour for my design?  For example, I have chosen to use Red as my fill or background colour and i want to use a picture of Jpeg logo with a white background. How do i get rid of the white background so that the picture appears to be on read.
I hope it is clear.. Thanks!

Arun Prasanna

Excellent tip! really helped me. Thanks a tonne.

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