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Making Your Own Valid PDF—for PPT 2003 and 2005 Only

How to distill a custom PDF proof from PowerPoint 2003 and 2005.

Bill G's own method (does not apply to PPT 2007 and newer):

Make sure you have Adobe Acrobat Standard version installed (available through the Software Center or purchased from the Adobe site). You will be using the powerful Distiller postscript engine, which is not included in the free Acrobat Reader, or in those cute little Acrobat buttons on the Microsoft Office toolbar.

Generating the PDF Proof

(1) Select PDF as your "printer."  With your PowerPoint file open, go to FIle > Print. In the Printer drop-down menu, choose Adobe PDF as your printer.

Also select Current Slide, Print: Slides, Color, 1 Copy and Scale to Fit Paper.

Setting PDF as your printer

(2) Customize the output. (this sets print quality and custom size ** )

(a) Click the Properties button. The dialog box that appears will have 3 tabs. On the Adobe PDF Settings tab, click the Default Settings drop down menu, and select High Quality Print .

While still in the Adobe PDF Settings tab, uncheck "Do not send fonts to PDF ".

The screen shot (below) shows alternate wording used in newer versions of Distiller for this selection

Setting options in the first tab

(b) Go to the Layout tab. Check either Portrait or Landscape to match your poster layout.

Now click the Advanced button.

(c) Choose the Paper Size drop down menu and select Postscript Custom. In the Custom Page Size Definition box, enter the dimensions of your PowerPoint page size**, putting the smaller dimension in the Width box at top . Even if your page is wider, put the smaller dimension in the top box called Width. Don't worry—the page will automatically rotate if you clicked Landscape layout.

Very Important! If either of your page dimensions is wider than about 40 inches, you must enter both at 1/2 their size and tell us to enlarge the print 200%.

Put the small dimension on top!

**In our example above we are using the PowerPoint Page Size dimensions specific to the 1/2 scale 41.5" x 68" poster template. This example is to show you where to enter the dimensions, but do not copy these dimensions unless you are making a 41.5" x 68" poster!  You must enter the dimensions appropriate for your own poster.

Click OK to close.

(d) While still in the Advanced dialog, choose:
Print Quality: 600 dpi ,
TrueType: Download as Softfont and
Postscript Options: Output: Optimize for Portability

When done, click OK .

(3) "Print" your PDF and proof it. Click OK in the PDF Document Properties dialog, and click OK in the Print dialog to invoke Distiller's powerful postscript engine. When the distillation process is done, you will be prompted to Save the file. Note the location and name your file using your First Name Last Name and Department abbreviation. (ex: Joe Smith_Physics.pdf)

Now go to What to look for when proofing your PDF to review what you need to check for—in addition to content. If it looks good, send us the file!

Complex or Stubborn Files

Complex files will require a robust computer to create (distill) the PDF. File complexity seems to be made of three components: (1) the complexity of the content in computational-based objects (examples: embedded charts with a lot of data, figures with lots of gradient fills), (2) objects that simply occupy a lot of RAM (lots of over-rezed digital photos are a common example), and (3) page size.

One variation of #2 that needs special mention: raster images (TIFF or JPG) which have their backgrounds removed with the "Remove Background" tool in PowerPoint. NEVER use this tool for posters. It internally converts the images to GIF files that can bring a powerful computer to its knees.


Hammer: Distill your poster at 1/2 scale, and have us print at 200%. Simply cutting your page size in half in each dimension is an easy place to start. You do not do this in PowerPoint, but in the places where page size is indicated when making the PDF (as directed above). So if you had an obstinate 42 x 48" PowerPoint page, you will wind up with a 21 x 24" PDF. All vector-based objects will be just fine with this shrinking and expanding. For raster based images, you may want to go to the Image tab (in the Default settings dropdown of the PDF Settings tab)and change the resolution cut-off to 400 dpi to compensate.

Bigger hammer: In rare instances you will have to double-distill the file: use the method above, but in the Print dialog click Print to File. Select the saved file and replace the .prn suffix with .ps  Then launch Distiller, making sure in Settings that the Poster joboption is still loaded. Open the print file in Distiller and it should produce a vaild PDF from the stubborn file. Sometimes this needs to be done in conjunction with the scaling option above. The toughest scenario I've encountered required this print-to-file and distill process on a file I had scaled to about 1/3 it's original size.

Big freakin' hammer: If this still doesn't work, the most likely culprit would be raster images. Make sure you don't have a GIF file involved (these show up as Indexed Color in Image > Mode in PhotoShop), or did not create a GIF by removing a background with the Remove Background tool in PowerPoint. Next set the proper resolutions for overweight images in Photoshop. Follow the directions within the template to set the images' resolution in PhotoShop and re-insert the fixed files into PowerPoint.

Creating PDFs from Illustrator, InDesign and Other Programs

In most cases you should still use Distiller through the Print dialog, as outlined above. If you are going to use the Save As PDF within a power program like Illustrator or InDesign (both by Adobe with the Distiller engine built in), then use similar guidelines (below). Don't try to do a poster a non-professional program like Word or Publisher because there is no reliable custom page size setup and output (and you don't want us to scale your poster up from letter size!).

  • Make sure you set up and output a custom page size at 100% (full scale) of the final poster size in the proper orientation.
  • Set color and grayscale Image Compression to Maximum Quality (JPEG or Zip), and and choose Bicubic Downsampling to between 200 and 300 dpi.
  • Try to embed all fonts. If you get a warning that a font won't embed, then consider placing the text in that font as a graphic or outline , or send the font with the file (if it's not a common Windows font) for temporary use here to image your file.
  • If using Illustrator, uncheck "Include Illustrator data for editing." We only want the PDF, not the extra MBs of data.
  • If possible, do all work within the RGB workspace (rather than CMYK or custom inks), except for grayscale images which should be saved as (hold onto your hats...) grayscale.

Pros & Cons of Making Your Own PDF

The advantages of making your own PDF can be significant, and largely have to do with streamlining the workflow.

  • It allows you to send a pre-proofed ready-to-print file to us and eliminate one or more rounds of proofing. You have immediate visual feedback for how the print file will look and you can make corrections without delay.
  • An additional advantage is that if you are permitted to embed all fonts, you have eliminated a common source of printing errors by creating the PDF on your machine.
  • Finally, this process will work with other printing services if you are unable to send your work to us. Perhaps you have an emergency rush that we can't accommodate. This is your best shot if going to some place like Kink_'s at 3 A.M.

The disadvantages are that you are taking full responsibility for your work. We will give your file a quick review, but with the knowledge that you have already proofed and approved the file. Furthermore, we cannot get into a PDF to fix problems like we can with a PowerPoint file.

Warning: You must use our guidelines to make a PDF for poster output —do not use those cute little Acrobat or Make PDF buttons that install on some programs. This is because those little buttons bypass the powerful Distiller postscript engine and use the wimpy PDFMaker engine, which is not intended for complex hi-res files such as yours.

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