PDF Writers and File Sizes

Another guest post from my dad – he actually wrote this one for us ages ago, but with all the fuss over us moving to Devon, PigPog has been a bit neglected just recently. Most people are probably reasonably familliar with PDF files – they’re quite often used for all sorts of things – manuals, brochures, and such like. Anything where the layout is important, or people may want to download the document to keep around for reference. It’s a good format, with software available to read PDF files on most platforms, but relatively few people actually know how to create the files in the first place. OpenOffice can generate them directly, but if you work in any other application, you can use a converter, which usually acts as if it’s another printer installed on your machine. When you ‘print’ to this imaginary printer, the result is a PDF file on your disk, rather than a bit of paper on your desk.

Anyway, whist trying out some of these, he found some huge differences in the sizes of files they create – useful to know if you want people to download the results – not everyone has broadband. Over to Tim…


I produce and maintain the community website for Sedgefield in the UK.

My employer, Sedgefield Development Trust, also produces a monthly community newsletter, consisting of 12 pages A4 in size. Each month, after the paper copy has been distributed for free to all households in Sedgefield, Bradbury and Mordon, I strip out the advertisements, convert the newsletter to a PDF file and make it available on the website.

On the computer which I use for most website work, I have the freeware version of CutePDF installed and I have used this to ‘print’ Publisher files, thereby converting them to PDFs.

My Sony laptop included Adobe PDF Writer as part of its bundled software and I have, at times, used this for the conversion. I decided to compare the results of producing PDFs using both items of software. Since file size is an important consideration when incorporating a file in a website, I wanted to see if the software used made much difference..

The results were, to say the least, quite surprising: the Publisher file was about 5MB, CutePDF produced a PDF file of 7.6MB, Adobe PDF Writer produced one of 1.6MB.

file sizes

The final PDF files seemed indistinguishable.

The only problem I met was that there was a text overflow in one text box, probably due to a font substitution on the Sony laptop. When the Adobe software did the conversion, the text was converted to a very large font size and most of the content was invisible. After adjusting the text box size to avoid the overflow, I repeated the conversion and there was no longer any difficulty.

In view of the large difference between the two PDF files, I decided to see what other free PDF Writers I could find.

PDF995 – required a separate converter, as does CutePDF, and it produced a similar size of PDF file; 7.6MB

PrimoPDF – downloaded and installed from a single file and produced by far the smallest size of PDF file; 592KB

file sizes

One slight disadvantage of PrimoPDF seems to be one of speed. When I first used it, I believed that it had not worked correctly and started a second instance before the first had finished; be patient, unlike me! There is a complete manual in PDF which illustrates the dialogue boxes displayed during use and the optional settings.

I was also slightly confused because I made a change to the Save As slot and the change was not implemented – you have to click the button at the right-hand end of the Save As slot and make the change in the new dialogue box which opens – it does appear that clicking this button is essential to confirm the location for saving even without a change.

I have noticed that PrimoPDF displaced the page numbers from their correct positions in the header, which Adobe PDF Writer does not, but this is a small problem when compared to the saving in size.

All these PDF writers can be initiated through File – Print and then selecting the appropriate ‘printer’. The Adobe software PDF conversion also installs as an option on the menu displayed when right-clicking on a file.

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