Exporting to PDF in Illustrator: Reduce file size in document with multiple occurrences of the same raster graphic


I have a multi-page PDF created with 7 Artboards in Adobe Illustrator CS6. The problem is the PDF file created is too large (40MB).

The pages (artboards) have the same exact high-res raster graphic as a background, but with different vector graphics on top of them. I'm sure the PDF file size could be smaller if Illustrator didn't include that raster 7 times, but only ONCE and referenced it.

Can this be accomplished somehow? Forcing Illustrator to not write the same raster data to file 7 times, but only once...

P.S. I'd like to keep it one single PDF file for easy distribution. Exporting an SVG + PNG folder wouldn't be a satisfactory solution, but if there's no other way, let me know.

11/18/2013 3:49:00 PM

Accepted Answer

Presumably you are just pasting the graphic into the document. There are a few alternate methods to reduce the filesize:

Option 1: Use File → Place...

Instead of pasting the raster image into your document, use File → Place.... This will create linked files in your document:

Illustrator screenshot

It's important to note that your .ai file will no longer be self-contained. If you delete, move, or rename the source image, Illustrator will not be able to find it. This will not matter for the exported PDF.

Illustrator error

Option 2: Use Symbols

Instead of placing the images, you could use Symbols. Just create a Symbol of the raster artwork, then drag it into the document as many times as needed:

Illustrator screenshot of symbols

Option 3: Print the PDF

If you have Adobe Acrobat (or some other sufficient PDF printer), you can print the PDF.

print dialog

  1. File → Print...
  2. Select Adobe PDF as the Printer
  3. Print

This is the most efficient method and is okay for proofing. If the file is just being passed around to be viewed on a screen, this is usually fine. However, do not use this type of file for printing. All sorts of compression and nasty things happen when you print as a PDF.

The Results

Using my 2.78 MB example file, here are the results of the methods I just outlined:

  • Copy and pasting: 46.1 MB
  • Placing: 7.84 MB
  • Symbol: 18.6 MB
  • PDF Print: 139 KB

Note: These are all using the Illustrator Default PDF saving options. You could get better results by selecting another preset or modifying the settings yourself.

Save as PDF dialog

For example, the copy and pasting method saved with the [Smallest File Size] preset output for me as 150 KB which is comparable to the PDF print method.


  • File → Place: Low PDF file size, but the source .ai will not be self containing.
  • Symbols: Source .ai file will be self containing, but PDF file size will not be as low
  • Print as PDF (or use Smallest File Size preset): PDF file size will be extremely small, but the resulting file is not sufficient for print
11/18/2013 4:31:00 PM

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