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Photoshop PDFs – Creative, Sweet!

As part of the Creative Suite, Photoshop offers a very nice integration with other CS products, including one that you may have overlooked – Adobe Acrobat. Photoshop can create native Acrobat PDF files directly from the File Save feature, but that’s not all. Oh, no, that is not all!

Acrobat’s PDF format offers some very useful features, not the least of which is its nearly ubiquitous format. Nearly anyone on any computer platform can open and view a PDF, so when you create your PDF from Photoshop, you’re generating a file that is as universally readable as a JPG file.

But, the PDF file format offers some great additional features that you may be able to integrate into your workflow. Specifically, I’m talking about document security, and round-trip editing capability. Yes, round trip from Photoshop to PDF and back again, with full editing capability. What’s more, you can mix and match security features with the editing capabilities in some very creative ways.

Let’s take a look… we’ll start with this layered Photoshop file, which we want to distribute in PDF format:


In order to save this as a PDF from Photoshop, we choose File > Save As… and then, in the Save As dialog box, we change the type to Photoshop PDF:


At this point, we get a simple warning informing us that the changes we are about to make in the next dialog box can override those in the previous (Save As) dialog:


Next, we get the Save Adobe PDF dialog box, which is chock full of options on several tabs. At this point, we’ll focus on just one key option: Preserve Photoshop Editing Capabilities:


This is the magic option – when this is checked, the PDF file will behave exactly like a PSD file if you open it again in Photoshop. Let’s leave this and click Save PDF. This yields yet another warning, that earlier versions of Photoshop will not be able to open this file as a “Photoshop PDF.” We’ll click Yes to continue:


The file is saved. At this point, go ahead and close out of the document in Photoshop. Start from File > Open, and browse to your new PDF:


The file opens, it is a PDF – but it contains the full set of layers, including layer masks and all. Any text layers, shapes, paths, etc. are all preserved and can be edited at will in Photoshop!


So, what does this mean? You have a PDF, you can send it to anyone and they can open and view your file with Acrobat or Reader. Plus, you or anyone else with Photoshop can open and edit the file just as if it were a native PSD file – all from one single source document.

Let’s take this a step further. Let’s say we want to add security. You can require a password to open the document, which applies to anyone who wants to view the document – in Reader, Acrobat, or Photoshop.

To do this, go through the File Save process as shown above, and when you get to the Save Adobe PDF dialog, visit the security tab. Just check the option to Require a password to open the document. You’ll need to create a password (don’t forget it!) and type it in as well:


This time, when you click Save PDF, you’ll get a confirmation box and you’ll need to retype the password:


Now, when you try to open the file, you’ll be prompted for the password before the program will allow you to open or view the file.

But wait – there’s more!!

With PDF security capabilities, it is possible to restrict the editing of the document with a password, but WITHOUT requiring a password to open the file or view it. In this case, we need to make some changes to the options as we’re saving. Leave the option unchecked for opening the document, but DO add one to restrict printing, editing and other tasks:


The default options allow NO printing, NO changes of any kind, and NO copying of text, images and other content. You can mix and match these permissions in any way you choose. For example, in the scenario below, we’ve restricted printing to only permit low resolution printing, and we’ve restricted editing completely. However, anyone can view the document and no password is required for viewing:


With these options set, if we attempt to open this document in Photoshop, we get the following dialog box:


If we enter the password correctly, the file opens up with layers intact as before. If not, it won’t open in Photoshop.

If we open the same PDF file in Acrobat, we see that the document is SECURED – and the editing tools are greyed out and completely unavailable – no changes may be made to this document, even in Acrobat:


If you think about it, there are many ways this type of capability can be used in your workflow, whether it be with clients and customers, or with colleagues in a collaborative environment. Give it a try, and link your Photoshop documents more closely into a Creative Suite workflow!

About Michael Hoffman (224 Articles)
Mike has been a photographer, artist, educator, and technophile for most of his life. Early in his career, he created technical illustrations and photographs for electronic equipment manufacturers, and taught classes in computer aided drafting and 3D modeling software. When digital cameras became widely available in the late 1990s, the move was a natural one, and has led to a happy combination of technology, software, photography and art. Mike is an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop and Acrobat, and is well versed in Lightroom and Photoshop Elements, as well as Illustrator and InDesign. He has also contributed his time and efforts to the excellent work being done by Operation Photo Rescue, in restoring photographs damaged by natural disasters. As an active member of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, he continues his quest for excellence in art, excellence in design, and excellence in education.

3 Comments on Photoshop PDFs – Creative, Sweet!

  1. Great info, the only thing I would like to mention is when printing ‘low resolution’ is 150dpi. When you print these files on laserjet, inkjet, or color copier they look really good. I wish Adobe would allow us to change the resolution even lower or to add a stamp/watermark from within the dialog box.

  2. MSJ,

    That would be nice indeed. I tend to simply disallow printing when I need a restriction. If you have Acrobat, of course, you can add an invisible, print-only watermak, but this capability isn’t in Photoshop.

    Thanks for your comments!


  3. Thanks for the tip. Never thought of saving my work this way.

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