Create Scaled PDFs Outside Acrobat

October 5, 2004 - 2:00am ||| 0 Comments | Add new

I frequently get asked by training clients how they can create a scaled PDF from QuarkXPress or InDesign; and occasionally from Word or any other program that has an Export/Save As/Convert to PDF option.

Scaling is normally done in a program's Page Setup dialog, but the trend with modern software, especially in Adobe and Quark, is to roll Page Setup functions into the Print dialog.

You can set a scaling amount in the Print dialog when you're about to print to a printer, but if you use a program's Export to PDF function, you can't. The dialog may look the same (page range, output options, etc.) but those Page Setup-y commands, including Scale Percentage and Page Size, are gone.

It's assumed you don't need to do any of that when you create a PDF, because the PDF converter can figure out the page size on its own, and a PDF is supposed to be an exact (unscaled) replica of the document. That's the point.

It doesn't make a difference if the PDF is too large to print to your or your recipient's printer. Once they open it in Reader 6 or Acrobat 6 and choose Print, they can turn on "Scale to Page" in the Print dialog. If the PDF has crops and other printers marks, those are taken into account, as well as the printer's minimal margin area. They even get a nice little preview of the first page of the document showing them exactly how it's going to fit.

So why do designers sometimes need to scale the PDFs beforehand? After asking clients I've learned a few legitimate answers:

1. Because some of the intended recipients of those PDFs can't be trusted to see anything in Reader 6's Print dialog other than the Print button. I'm sure you've run into one or two yourself :-) It's just easier to send some people a PDF you know will fit their letter-size printer, crops and all, without their having to scale anything.

2. Because the PDF is going to be placed in another document created with who-knows-what software that may not be able to scale it, and the document size doesn't match the size they want PDF to be (such as a slightly smaller display ad).

3. Because the recipient may be opening the PDF with Reader 3, 4, or 5. In those earlier versions, you can't scale from the Print dialog, you have to do it from the Page Setup dialog beforehand. Even if the recipient knows that, there's no "Scale to Page" command in Reader's Page Setup dialogs — just a field where you enter a scaling amount and hope it'll work.

Okay, I'm convinced. After a little experimenting, I've found the easiest way to do it is by printing to Acrobat 5 or 6's virtual PDF printer. Since you're printing, not exporting, you can incorporate print-specific settings like scaling and page size into the resulting PDF.

Check that Acrobat's Virtual Printer is Available

Acrobat 5 or 6 adds a virtual printer to your OS's printer list called either "Adobe PDF" (in version 6 ) or "Create Adobe PDF" (Mac) or "Acrobat Distiller" (Windows) with Acrobat 5. You should see it as an optional printer in every program's Print dialog. Choosing it and clicking the Print button creates a PostScript file of your document and immediately processes it through Distiller, resulting in a PDF.

(If you've got Acro 5 or 6 installed and are still writing files to PostScript and distilling them manually, you're doing it the hard way. Use the virtual printer instead, the end result is the same.)

If you've installed the program and don't see either Adobe PDF or Acrobat Distiller as a printer choice in every program, then you need to reinstall Acrobat or add the virtual printer manually.

Here are the relevant TechNotes from Adobe (ones about troubleshooting the PDF virtual printer):

Acrobat 6 on Windows:

Acrobat 6 on Mac OS X:

Acrobat 5 on Windows:

Acrobat 5 on Macs:

To Create a PDF, Pretend You're Going to Print

As mentioned, the only way you'll get access to the scaling and custom page size commands in most software is via the Print command (or Page Setup), not the Export to PDF command. To keep this article to a reasonable size I'll assume you're using Acrobat 6; Acrobat 5 instructions are slightly different but the general idea is the same.

So … open the document in the program you created it in (e.g., QuarkXPress) and choose File -> Print. Most design programs integrate Page Setup with Print. If you're using software that doesn't, such as Internet Explorer, visit the File->Page Setup dialog first to set up your scaling percentage and/or custom page size, then open the Print dialog, and follow the instructions about printing to the virtual printer below.

Here are the instructions for Mac OS X; a few steps in the middle there are a little different for Windows users. I'll cover those differences in a bit.

1. In the Print dialog, choose the Adobe PDF virtual printer as your printer.

2. Meander through the dialog choosing other options as necessary, such as Printer's/Registration marks, Composite or Separated output, Single vs. Spreads, and so on.
Tip: If any of these fields are inaccessible, choose a different printer for now, a PostScript printer on your network, to make them editable. You'll be able to change the printer to Adobe PDF in step 4.

3. Go to the Print dialog's Setup panel (or equivalent) and note the Page Size it's set to. This is the size of your final PDF unless you change it (see 3b). Sometimes this is exactly what you need, you just want to scale the artwork and perhaps its crop marks to fit inside the page.
Let's say, for example, that you're designing a large poster, or a newsletter that you want to output as spreads, but your client just has a letter-size printer. And you know they have trouble scaling PDFs themselves, so you're going to help them out a little.
So, set the Page Size to Letter (for spreads you'll also have to change the orientation to Landscape) and enter a scaling percentage, or turn on the Scale to Fit (InDesign) or Fit in Print Area (Quark) or similar option, which will calculate the percentage for you. If your software has a print preview you'll be able to visually check that everything's going to fit, including crop marks.


3b. Other times, you want the actual dimensions of the final PDF as well as its contents to scale, such as slightly enlarging or reducing a document for a display ad. In this case, you'll need to specify the final width and height of the document as a Custom Page Size first. (Choose "Custom" from the Page Size dropdown to edit the fields if necessary.) Then turn on Scale to Fit/Fit in Print Area so your artwork will scale to your custom page size.

4. Click the Printer button at the bottom of the dialog. If a warning dialog about conflicting settings appears, ignore it (click OK). You should end up with a Printer dialog on top of your Print dialog, with Adobe PDF already selected as your printer. (If it's not, choose it now.)

5. Press on the dropdown menu that initially shows Copies & Pages, and choose PDF Options. Two new dropdowns appear: Adobe PDF Settings and After PDF Creation.

6. In Adobe PDF settings, choose the preset (aka Job Options) you want to use during the distilling process, such as Smallest Screen Size, Press Quality, PDFX1a, etc. (See, this is why it's unnecessary to write PostScript files and distill them yourself, even if you're not scaling. With Acro 5 or 6, all the controls you need are buried in the Print dialogs!)

7. In After PDF Creation, choose Acrobat if you want the PDF to automatically open in Acrobat after it's created. (Usually a good idea so you can check it out.)

8. Click Print, and you'll be prompted to name your PDF and choose where it will be saved to.

9. The Printer dialog box goes away and you're back in your program's Print dialog. Click Print again, and the scaled PDF is automatically created.

10. When the PDF opens in Acrobat, turn on View -> Rulers and/or open File -> Document Properties -> Description to confirm that the PDF is scaled and sized correctly.

Windows is Just a Little Different … and Better

Steps 4 through 7 are slightly different in Windows:

4. Click the Print dialog's Setup button (not the Setup panel, and there's no Printer button as there is for Macs) to set up your printing preferences. The Print Preferences dialog opens and the Adobe PDF printer should be automatically selected. (If it's not, select it now.)

5. Click the Preferences button to set Adobe PDF preferences. When that dialog opens, click the third of the three tabs, Adobe PDF Settings.

6. In Adobe PDF Conversion settings, choose a Distiller preset from the dropdown menu, or click the Edit button to create your own settings (Mac users don't have this option). Also, turn on the checkboxes for View Adobe PDF results, Prompt for Adobe PDF filename, and Add Document Information. Turn OFF "Do not send fonts to Adobe PDF."

6b. Here's another Windows-only feature: In this dialog you can also create and choose custom page sizes just for the Adobe PDF printer. The PDFs you create are automatically scaled to fit whatever page size you choose here (it overrides any page size you chose in the software's Print dialog). Always nice to have another option.

7. Click OK to close Adobe PDF Preferences, and if an Apply button appears in the Windows Print dialog, click it too.

Now follow the remaining steps as outlined above to back out of all the dialogs and create the PDF. The only difference I've found is that Windows sometimes waits to prompt you for a PDF filename and location until the very end.

It Ain't Just For Scaling

I gave this article a focus on creating scaled PDFs, but I think you can see that the method allows you to choose *any* Print options for a PDF that a program's Export to PDF function locks you out of. One example that comes to mind is creating pre-separated PDFs; for your own twisted pleasure or because your vendor asks for it. QuarkXPress 6's Export to PDF lets you choose between Composite or Separated output, InDesign CS's Export to PDF doesn't — all output is composite.

On the other hand, Quark 6's Export to PDF doesn't let you save preset PDF conversion settings (screen, print, etc.) while InDesign's does. You can end run around that problem in Quark by using the virtual Adobe PDF printer method instead, since you can choose among presets in the Adobe PDF printer preferences dialog.

Beyond inaccessible print options, sometimes a program's Export to PDF function simply won't cut it for your vendor. They'll ask you to create a PostScript file and run it through Distiller it instead. Now you know that with the virtual PDF printer, there's no reason to go through that rigamarole: It does create a PostScript file, you can choose the Distiller settings they gave you, it does Distill it — the final PDF that you hand off to your printer is the same.

Hope this will save you some time and headaches with future projects!

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