Reduce the File Size of PDF Documents on Mac with Preview

Dec 12, 2013 - 35 Comments

PDF The PDF file format is ubiquitous for good reason, mostly because it allows for perfect preservation of a documents formatting, text, and other elements, but also because it allows for encrypted password protection of documents. But let’s face it, sometimes PDF files can be bloated, and something that should be 200k or less can be 1.2MB for no obvious reason, particularly if they have been generated at the OS level from something like printing to a PDF, another file that has been converted to a PDF, or created with an app that just doesn’t offer any compression at all.

This article will show you how to reduce the file size of PDF documents using tools included in Mac OS Preview app, which is bundled by default on every Mac. The shrinking of the PDF file size can be very effective and dramatic, so if you need a notable reduction in PDF file size this guide should be of great assistance to you.

Let’s get to it and learn how to reduce the file size of a PDF on the Mac.

How to Reduce PDF File Size on Mac with Preview

  1. Open the PDF file that you want to reduce the size for in Preview app (typically Preview is the default PDF viewer in Mac OS * but if not you can find it in the /Applications/ folder of Mac OS)
  2. Pull down the “File” menu and choose “Export”
  3. Export a PDF to compress the file size in Preview app for Mac OS X

  4. Select the submenu next to “Quartz Filter” and choose “Reduce File Size”
  5. Save the new reduced version of the PDF as usual by hitting “Save”
  6. Reduce File Size filter in Preview app for PDF files

(Note: you can also access Quartz Filters through “Save As” with new versions of Preview for Mac OS, but the File > Export trick works for prior versions of the app as well. Additionally, if you don’t need a color document then choosing “Greyscale” as the filter can also dramatically reduce the file size of a PDF document)

Just how much space you will save by using this file reduction filter varies greatly, depending on the content of the PDF, the original app that created and saved the PDF and if any filtering was applied to begin with, amongst a variety of other factors. For originating documents that are entirely text, like a resume or a Word document that’s been converted to a PDF without any sort of optimization, it can make a huge difference, and you may see a file sized from 1MB shrinking down to under 100k.

Keep in mind that Quartz Filters are basically image processing filters, but unlike apps made for lossless image compression, the PDF file will be processed in such a way which may result in lossy compression and artifacts appearing on embedded imagery. That’s not always desirable, which makes this trick best for PDF files that are heavy on text, simple graphs, charts, spreadsheets, or basic vector drawings, and not complete images or photos where high image quality is desired. Again, this is a benefit to using the “Export” command, since you can compare the two documents easily when it’s finished, which is recommended. You don’t want to overwrite the original PDF file with the compressed version without knowing if the quality is up to the standard you require.

For PDF files that have not been optimized yet, the Preview app in Mac OS X can often reduce the file size considerably by passing it through an export filter as described, sometimes shrinking a document by 40% or even more than 90% depending on the PDF file and the contents. This works particularly great for shrinking the size of text heavy PDF files, but it’s not a perfect solution for every document out there, so you’ll want to run through the process with the document in question and compare it to the original PDF to see if it helps or if the quality of the outputted reduced PDF file is sufficient for your needs.

Counterintuitively and in some less common situations, beginning with an already optimized and compressed PDF file may result in a larger file being generated using this reduction filter. This really depends on the application that created the PDF to begin with and if the file was compressed at all, but for situations where a PDF is generated through something like Adobe Acrobat Pro you may find it to be the case.

Regardless, you might want to get the file size of the documents in question both before and after the compression. On the Mac that’s quite easy to do with the “Get Info” command, selecting the PDF file in the Finder and going to the “File” menu to choose “Get Info”.

* Note that if Preview app is no longer the default application associated with PDF files, you can set the default PDF viewer in Mac OS back to Preview with these instructions. Preview is a great app on the Mac with a huge variety of capabilities and features, and it is more than capable of handling and viewing many image formats and PDF files regardless of their size.

This trick will work in basically all versions of Preview on all versions of Mac OS system software, whether it’s in macOS Big Sur, Catalina, Mojave, High Sierra, Sierra, El Capitan, Yosemite, Mavericks, Mountain Lion, Snow Leopard, etc.

Was this trick effective for you to shrink a PDF file? Do you know of another method of compressing PDF files or shrinking down a PDF document to reduce the file size? Share your experiences and information in the comments!


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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Dilraj says:

    made my 49MB file into 117MB….

  2. rupesh says:

    Yeah it works

  3. Byron Alexander says:

    I capture the image with Grab (utilities), which is a jpeg. Then export or print/save as a PDF that image/page. If its multi-page, you have to stitch it back together.

    I am very non-technical but on a project I was just working on a 4.3mb file essentially became a 840kb file, and now I have something that is easily emailed when needed.

  4. jonny says:

    This tool is terrible

  5. Faiqa says:


    I reduced the size by preview! size is reduced but the pages are kind of blur not clear to read. Does any one know how to fix it?


  6. RHP says:

    Wow, I did not know about this option but it worked brilliantly with a HUGE PDF that was too big to email, but once reduced is not a problem. Thanks for the tip.

  7. Michelle says:

    Thank you, I was trying to shrink a 88mb PDF to something small enough for emailing. Your post was a huge help!

  8. Alex says:

    The default filter compress way too much. I was resizing an scanned contract, and the result was, indeed, very small, but the result of the text was almost unreadable.

    I found this solution to make your own compression filters so you can have a range to choose from.

    I just tried and works like a charm!. Now I have 4 reduction scales to choose. Kudos for Kirk McElhear (@mcelhearn)

  9. RBurnside says:

    Perfect! Thank you for this piece of advice!

  10. Shifa says:

    this worked and saved my time

  11. Tamsin Clarke says:

    I found that the compression in Preview doesn’t work well for scanned documents with text and/or figures as it indeed compresses the image too much and the text/figures become blurred. What worked for me was opening the scanned document in Preview, whether it was jpeg or pdf, then going to File/Take Screenshot/Selection, selecting the page, taking a screenshot, then again going to File and selecting Export as PDF for the screenshot document. That then brought my scanned documents down from around 10MB each to around 350KB and the figures were still clear and readable.

  12. 33rpm says:

    Best way to reduce image heavy pdf’s, using preview, is to first export the pdf to jpeg and reduce pixels/inch to 150. Then export to pdf.

    Unfortunately, this has to be done page-by-page.

  13. Rob says:

    I had a 12 page scanned PDF document that was 3.2MB and this method reduced it to ~250kb – amazing! But then I opened the file up and it was extremely fuzzy, to the point that the text was unreadable. Looking for a better solution.

  14. TooMuch says:

    yes it works thanks sooo much life saver!

  15. Josiah says:

    I tried this, and the file went from 4.1MB to 16.3MB. Great tool!

  16. NemethF says:

    With an image intensive file I faced the problem that you warned at the and of the article: the file became larger than the original one. As Ben suggested above PDF Squeezer did the job well.

  17. Padric says:

    How do I find out the size of the document. I don’t neciserly need to refuse it I just can’t find out how to see the size of the file. Thanks in advance👍🏻

  18. Salvolino says:

    Great advice. Thank you so much!

  19. YuriV says:

    Wow great! My file was 1,2 mb and after compressing it became 2,2 mb! Just what I needed!

  20. Borgendorf says:

    To do this on Lion and above, choose File:Duplicate and then File:Save. You’ll be prompted with the dialog that has the Quartz filter in it.

  21. JohnB says:

    The issue I had was that a 20mb pdf (derived from a 40mb png file from a scanner) was reduced to a 20kb file that was very grainy, albeit perfect for viewing as an icon, not so good when using it as a scanned building layout.
    My solution was to scan the 8″x11″ document in a lower resolution (300x300dpi) then converting it to pdf. The size was a reasonable 5.5mb afterwards.

  22. alissa says:

    Doing this just doubled my PDF file size (from 3. .3 MB to 6.7)… ???

  23. Michelle says:

    This reduced a file from 4MB down to 38kb—way too small. I tried to find a way to change the default setting but couldn’t do it. I wonder what happened to the “save as” key?? (I just upgraded to Mavericks from Snow Leopard)

    • Becky says:

      Instead of export to “Reduced Size File”, choose Gray Scale instead. Mine reduced from 8MB to 350KB instead of 51KB wehn I chose Reduced Size File.

      • Blake says:

        Thanks, I had the same problem! “Reduce File Size” dropped a 33MB file to like 20KB and was very fuzzy! I tried the grayscale and it’s still easy to read but only like 18MB! Thanks!

  24. Steve says:

    Works absolutely great thank you for your help.

  25. Darryn says:

    Hey how did you get the ‘save-as’ command in Preview? I’m on lion 10.7.5 and it was dropped since the last osx upgrade….so annoying :(

    • Margie says:

      Hold down the option key when clicking on the file menu and “duplicate” changes to “save as.”

  26. Ben says:

    Preview always uses the same filter. But there are some apps on the Mac App Store that allow you to choose from different filters such as PDF Squeezer.

  27. RB says:

    Yup, works well on text PDF, not well on image heavy PDF.

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