Over at Attorney at Work, I recently began publishing a series of quick (i.e., less than 3 minutes) videos with Microsoft Office tips for lawyers. The second video in that series showed you how to insert the Publish as PDF command into the Quick Access Toolbar that sits just above/below the Ribbon for a one-click way to PDF any document.
I got some great feedback from that piece, including:
You’ve saved me over an hour already today!! Thanks!
Clearly, that’s someone who does a lot of PDFing! (Is that a verb?)
One reader, however, came back with a really interesting observation:
Adding the “Publish as PDF” command to my QAT is a brilliant idea, but I have a comment about how doing it this way affects the size of the resulting PDF. It seems to more than double the size of the resulting PDF versus other methods.
Needless to say, I was a little alarmed. She explained further that she’d done some tests (her firm uses Word 2010) comparing various methods of producing PDFs:
Yikes! So I decided to do a little testing of my own. I created a 30-page “brief” (just a bunch of dummy text, really), inserted some heading styles, and came up with a document in Word 2016 that weighed in at a very small 26kb. Then I PDF’d it using the Publish as PDF button on my Quick Access Toolbar. The resulting file was over four times the original’s size.
As you can see, one test even created a 451kb PDF file. I wasn’t a math major in college, but according to my calculations, that’s 17 times its original size! I tried adjusting some of the options (e.g., whether to make the file PDF/A compliant or to import document properties or structure tags), but the resulting PDF size didn’t change from the original 114kb result.
What’s going on here?
I went out to some of the places where Microsoft MVPs and Acrobat experts hang out to see if anyone else noted this same problem. Sure enough, others had. And the experts had some interesting perspectives on the situation.
Why should it be smaller? Is this just wishful thinking on your part or are you basing it on something?
PDF files contain much more information within them than Word documents do, especially fonts. When you open a Word document it usually counts on the application itself to have the fonts that are needed, and if they’re not there it will substitute them for something else. PDF files contain the fonts embedded in them (fully or partially) and can therefore be larger than the original file.
PS – The difference between 30KB and 100KB is minuscule and should not be a problem under any circumstances nowadays.
At first, this response struck me as a bit rude, but the central point is worth taking: What is the purpose of a PDF?
Remember, “PDF” stands for “portable document format”, emphasis on the “portable”. A PDF is a document type designed to display and print the exact same way on every platform: Windows Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, whatever. If you’ve ever taken a Word document from one environment to another, you know how much pagination and other things can change simply because the fonts on one computer don’t match the other’s. To combat that, a PDF has to embed much more information into itself to make itself truly portable. (Try opening a PDF and its associated Word document in a plain text editor like Notepad and check out how much information is in each document’s header.)
Here’s another thing to consider: Word’s .doc format was larger than .docx. So the comparative jump in size from Word document to PDF is going to be larger and seem more alarming.
That said, my research picked up a few suggestions for minimizing the jump in size from .docx to .pdf:
- This may not be the most practical solution, but one user suggested changing the document’s fonts to one of 14 standard typefaces available in PDF viewers. (Other users in that same thread disagree and point to font kerning as the culprit.) Some of the font conversions include:
- Times New Roman > Times (v3) (in regular, italic, bold, and bold italic)
- Courier New > Courier (in regular, oblique, bold, and bold oblique)
- Arial > Helvetica (v3) (in regular, oblique, bold, and bold oblique)
- Symbol > Symbol
- Wingdings > Zapf Dingbats
- Another user suggested using Adobe Acrobat Pro to open the resulting PDF and reducing the file size using Save As Other > Optimized PDF.
- If you’re curious as to what elements are causing the big size jump and you have Adobe Acrobat Pro, go to Save As Other > Optimize and click the Audit Space Usage button.
And if you’re really curious as to what goes on when a document is converted to PDF, here’s an entire slide deck from Adobe with all the technical details.
The reader who pointed out the discrepancy between file sizes of one conversion method versus another may legitimately complain that I didn’t really address that above. (My guess—and it’s only a guess—is that since she’s using Adobe’s built-in tab in Word to do the conversion, Acrobat is reducing the file size on-the-fly.) But here’s my bottom line: Is having a file that’s 285kb rather than 111kb going to prevent you from emailing or e-filing it? Probably not. In my experience, what’s going to trip you up are the documents you scan, because those are straight-up images that take up a lot of room in a PDF.
But I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Would you click your mouse an extra time or two if it resulted in a smaller PDF? Or would you rather just create the PDF with one click and deal with the consequences (if there are any) later? Let me know in the comments below.