Why Photoshop PDFs Rule

July 7, 2004 - 2:00am ||| 4 Comments | Add new

Most designers are aware that for the past few years, Photoshop has had the ability to keep track of vector data (crisp PostScript paths for live text and shapes) as well as raster data (pixels from regular paint layers) in the same file. When you print your layered .psd file from Photoshop, it sends the vector info along with the raster info to your printer, resulting in sharp type even at very small sizes.

Did you know the same thing is true of Photoshop PDFs? Even after being being imported into another program and printed/exported from there?

Photoshop has no other cross-application/platform format that maintains the vector data in layers. Not even its own native format, .psd, can maintain vector data when the .psd is printed or exported from a page layout program.

Try it and see. Create a Photoshop file and add some live type on top of a paint layer. Don't rasterize or flatten the type. Save one version of the layered file in the native Photoshop (.psd) format, then do a Save As, choosing the .tif format, and finally, one more Save As, this time choosing "Photoshop PDF" format. Be sure to turn on "Include Vector Data" in the Photoshop PDF options dialog, of course.

Place/import these images into a new, blank InDesign or QuarkXPress v6 file. (InDesign can place all three, Quark 6 will be able to import the PDF and the .tiff, not the .psd.) Then print your file from that program to a PostScript printer or export the file to PDF format.

Look at the type with a loupe in the print out, or open the exported PDF in Acrobat or Reader and zoom in to the edges of the type in each placed image. If you're using Acrobat 6, the Loupe zoom tool is perfect for this.

You'll find that the type in the imported Photoshop PDF image is as crisp and clear as can be; all the other formats show the type has been rasterized: Blurry, anti-aliased, pixellated edges. The rasterization takes place when the layout file goes through the PostScripting process, but apparently, the type and vector shape layers in the Photoshop PDF are impervious to rasterization.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the type outlines even survived their trip through "Jaws" — Quark 6's licensed Export to PDF function — which can only create flattened PDF 1.3 files.

I tried breaking the Photoshop PDF's format's back: I added layer effects to the type layer in Photoshop. I overlaid blocks of color, set to 50% opacity, over some of the PDF text in InDesign. I tried making the placed PDF itself 20% opaque (again in InDesign). I did all three at once; but nothing I did resulted in rasterized type at output. Crisp outlines always. Amazing.

Tiplet for Windows users

When you Save As in Photoshop and choose the Photoshop PDF format, you have a choice of saving the file with either a PDF or a PDP extension. If you use the PDP extension, the file is a PDF but Windows knows to open it in Photoshop (as opposed to Acrobat or Reader) — a time-saver when you use a page layout program's Edit Original (image) feature. Mac users don't have to worry about this; Photoshop PDFs always open in Photoshop, even if "normal" PDFs are set to open in Acrobat, Reader or Preview.

Comments (Subscribe to Comments RSS)

1 November 17, 2010 - 3:28pm by AJ Quick (not verified):

This is good information to know. I was trying to use Adobe to Print to PDF and the vector information was being lost. I used the Photoshop PDF and everything is there as it should be with the text as vectors!

2 January 13, 2011 - 9:11pm by K89 (not verified):


I hope someone can help me… if you have a layered photoshop file and you print it as a high res. PDF to send to press, will it print okay at press? Or, should you always flatten your artwork before converting to a PDF to avoid overprint? I just sent a few pieces of artwork to press as high res. PDFS that were produced from layered photoshop files so I’m really worried they might come back with lots of overprint! Can someone advise?

Also, is it better to save as PDF or print as PDF? And if you print as a PDF should you do the High Quality PDF or Press Ready PDF?

3 April 1, 2011 - 4:15pm by guy smalley (not verified):

Great tip thank you

4 April 5, 2012 - 11:03am by Anonymous (not verified):

Plus photoshop pdf files are smaller than psd file while still retaining all the layer information!

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