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Making PDFs with Distiller vs. using Illustrator

Posted on 2004-08-13
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What I am wondering is what the differences may be in PDFs which are created with Acrobat Distiller and just saving as with Illustrator CS. for example, is there a difference in file compression or anything else that makes one more favorable than another? We used to print to file from Illustrator, then drop them in the distiller and had great results.

Since then I've made a few with Illy CS and they seem to be cool. but before abandoning Acrobat Distiller altogether, I wanted to make sure there wasn't some reason to keep it around. thanks!
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Question by:elvicious
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by:weed
ID: 11800620
PDF is Illustrators native format. So you dont even need to export as a PDF from illustrator. When you Save a file (not save as, or export) just check the PDF compatibility checkbox. That adds the proper PDF header to the file and itll open in Acrobat as would any other PDF. Now, as for Distiller, you dont really need it and in some cases could damage your Illustrator PDF to a point where it would no longer be editable in Illustrator.
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by:Karl Heinz Kremer
ID: 11805922
The difference is that with Distiller (or the Save As option) you have more control over how the PDF is created. You can e.g. specify that you want a PDF-1.3 file, which is compatible with Acrobat 4. You can also specify which compression method to use for different image types (in case you have bitmaps in your Illustrator document), and you can do a few more things. You don't need to use Distiller, you can just do a Save As and select the PDF format. You get pretty much the same options that you would have with Distiller. At the end, you are actually using the same code to create your PDF documents: All Adobe products that allow to export PDF files use a library to write out the PDF, and this is the same regardless of the product (you will however have different versions of this module in different products). I would create two files: the original Illustrator document, and then a PDF file that I create just for distribution, and for which I select the options so that I have an optimal file for whatever I want to do with the PDF (e.g. print, put it on a web server, ...)

PDF is not the native format of Illustrator. It's similar, but it's not PDF. When you select the PDF compatibility, you create a PDF (even though the file extension is not changed). You can load this file into Illustrator again, but this does not mean that Illustrator can open PDF files: It can only (reliably) process PDFs that were written out by Illustrator.
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by:weed
ID: 11806426
Actually Illustrator can open PDF files. It can be useful for making small edits but is not a full scale PDF editor.
Also, http://au.itpapers.zdnet.com/abstract.aspx?scid=218&sortby=title&docid=13503
When you save a file from Illustrator and use the PDF compatibility checkbox the file will open cleanly in Acrobat or any other PDF viewer.
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by:Karl Heinz Kremer
ID: 11806586
It looks like it can open PDF files :-) The problem is that it will in most cases destroy your PDF files when you save them in Illustrator: Information that was in the original PDF file will no longer be there (e.g. font information). Also, more advanced features in a PDF file will be ignored when you open such a file in Illustrator (e.g. form fields, layers, ...)

I did not dispute that files generated with the PDF compatibility selected are not valid PDF files, I just warned that you cannot conclude that because you can create PDF file that can be opened in Illustrator that it's a PDF editor.
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by:weed
ID: 11806598
When adobe created Illy 9 they included an entire "substructure" that is a PDF. There is also a section of the file that is the Illustrator specific containers for illy specific features. An illy file opened in illy will first be searched for the illy specific section. If that cant be found itll use the PDF section.
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by:Karl Heinz Kremer
ID: 11808385
Didn't we have this discussion already?

Are you familiar with Dov Isaacs? He's Adobe's "Principal Scientist". Here is one of many news articles where he tries to educate his audience that Illustrator is not a general purpose PDF (or a PostScript) editor:

http://groups.google.com/groups?q=illustrator+%22pdf+editor%22+dov+isaacs&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&scoring=d&selm=2ccf7c0c.6%40webx.la2eafNXanI&rnum=3

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by:weed
ID: 11809441
Well youre right that it's not a general purpose PDF editor, but it can edit PDFs.
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by:Karl Heinz Kremer
ID: 11810511
My definition of "can edit" requires that the modified file still has all the information from the orgiinal file, and that's not the case when you use Illustrator (it may be the case for primitive PDF files, but not for anything that uses modern PDF features).

I suspect that the question author is not really interested in a discussion about the PDF editing capabilities of Illustrator, so I'll drop this issue now.
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by:elvicious
ID: 11810656
<<I suspect that the question author is not really interested in a discussion about the PDF editing capabilities of Illustrator, so I'll drop this issue now.>>

actually, I have been following this thread with great interest and would love to know more. however, for the purposes of this question, all I'm really trying to figure out is whether I should keep acrobat distiller around for making pdfs or not. if so, I don't even know that it's possible to print a .ps file FROM Illustrator CS in order to USE distiller.

so far, 99% of the pdfs we make are strictly for client show and tells. so they can see our latest designs etc...we very rarely provide anything that is editable to the client and have never needed to edit a pdf file ourselves. the pdfs are just compressions of our much larger Illustrator files, which the client makes comments on and the designer goes back and changes in Illustrator....probably to make still another pdf.

we have been making pdfs by printing a .ps file from Illustrator and dropping them into distiller up until now and I just want to make sure it won't be a mistake to abandon the program as we move into creative suite apps more completely. thanks again! I'm gonna hafta up the points on this one.
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by:Karl Heinz Kremer
ID: 11812269
YOu don't need to print to a PS file and then call Distiller manually if you want to go this route: Just print to the printer named "Adobe PDF" (at least in Acrobat 6.0). But, as I said, there is no need to do this from any of the newer Adobe applications: Just do a "Save As" and select "PDF". This will use a very similar process (it will leave out the PS step, which actually means that you end up with higher quality PDFs).

BTW: This is nothing Mac specific, and we have an Adobe Acrobat area on EE (weed is a regular there as well): http://www.experts-exchange.com/Web/Graphics/Adobe_Acrobat/
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by:elvicious
ID: 11814720
interesting comment in the latest Flightcheck manual I installed today regarding the pdf....

<the portable document format was designed to encapsulate documents and render them static; while Adobe has since allowed the acrobat application to perform some limited editing, this function is best reserved for emergencies and laziness. PDFs in the PDF/X workflows are intended either to be used as is or else rejected, never repaired or reworked.>

dunno if that's the general consensus of all the design and production world out there, because it seems as though it's the trendy thing to do to pass around editable pdfs. maybe it's more useful a tool in the marketing world where you're passing around concepts to be discussed, etc...

in any case, I guess between the two of your answers, it's safe to say we should reserve distiller only if we're looking to make layered and editable pdfs for multiple formats?
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Karl Heinz Kremer earned 500 total points
ID: 11815167
There is a difference between editing and editing... What this quote refers to is actual content editing of PDF files. This should in most cases be reserved to fixing a typo, fixing an image, or similar things. For anything more elaborate, you have to usually go back to the original application. There are tools available that allow you to go further (e.g. Enfocus PitStop's paragraph editor is pretty good, it even does text reflow), but if you just have Acrobat, the best strategy is to go back to the orig. app.

Then there is editing in the sense of using interactive or collaboration features (e.g. form fields or annotations/comments). This is editing on a different level: The page content is not touched by this.

One thing you have to keep in mind: If you don't know exactly what you are doing, editing the page content can do more harm than good, and you may end up with a PDF file that will either not display correctly, or not print correctly. In an environment where you print on a press, and in high volume, any small mistake can cost a lot of money. This is why a PDF/X workflow requires a lot of checking to ensure that nobody screwed up the documents. You can add one additional layer of security by using something like PitStop Certify PDF. This makes sure that you have audit information and can find out who did what to the PDF file.

With Illustrator, you should really use the Save As PDF feature instead of Distiller. This will result in better PDFs. For example, you can only convert Illustrator CS layers to Acrobat layers when you select the "Save As PDF" function.
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by:elvicious
ID: 11845407
<<With Illustrator, you should really use the Save As PDF feature instead of Distiller.>>

ok, sounds good. I'm gonna close this question out. but just one thing regarding the "make pdf compatible" checkbox I keep hearing about. is this a checkbox option within the Save As window? because all I see is a Format dragdown where you can select EPS or PDF etc....because there is an entire section on the Adobe users forums regarding problems saving when the "make PDF compatible" option is checked.
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by:Karl Heinz Kremer
ID: 11845638
YOu will see this checkbox on a dialog that pops up after you select "Save".
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by:elvicious
ID: 11845703
aha! gotcha. thanks
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