How to set up a “watched folder” in Distiller

So you can spend more time designing and less time making PDFs

At just about every newspaper I worked for we set up a “watched folder” in Acrobat Distiller to make our PDFs. Acrobat Distiller is a product that ships with Acrobat Professional or Standard. It will turn PostScript (the language of printers) into PDFs. A “watched folder” watches for a PostScript file to be dropped into the folder then picks it up and makes you a PDF. The advantage to making PDFs this way is that you can spend more time working in Quark while Distiller makes PDFs for you.

Here is what you need to do:

Watched FoldersFirst, make two new folders wherever you like to store things. I usually make a folder on my desktop. Name one of them “For Print,” name the other folder “For Web”. You’re making two different folders for the two typical PDFs you might want to make. “For Web” will be a low resolution, RGB PDF that you could send for review. “For Print” will be a high resolution PDF that is ready to ship off to your printer.Second, launch Acrobat Distiller. At the top of the window you will see the words “Default Settings.” It is important to change these settings to what type of watched folder you want to make. The first folder you will make is the “For Web” folder. Acrobat Distiller ships with the setting “Smallest File Size,” which usually works pretty well. The only things that I see wrong with this setting is that the images are set to downsample to 100 pixels per inch, for any image that is over 150 pixels per inch. For the Web you only need 72 pixels per inch, so by changing that setting you could make a smaller PDF. Not only that, but if the client has not paid you for your design it is always a good rule of thumb to send the lowest resolution possible so they can’t take your design and run. And yes, that really does happen.

Another thing to consider is if you want the fonts to be embedded. “Smallest File Size” does not embed the fonts, and I have seen this become an issue for some companies.

Watched FoldersIf you need to edit the Distiller settings, choose the setting you want to edit, like “Smallest File Size” from the Default settings drop-down menu, then go up to the File menu and choose Settings> Edit Adobe PDF settings. You can then go under the “Image” tab and change the settings to whatever you like. Then once you have set up the “For Web” PDF settings, click on “Save As in the bottom left of the dialog box and save them as “For Web.”

Now that your settings are ready, you can make a “watched folder”. When you make a “watched folder”, it remembers the last setting you picked in the default setting area. So make sure your default settings are “For Web.” Choose Settings> Watched Folders. Click on the Add Folder button on the right and navigate to the folder you created in the first step named “For Web.” Once it is selected, click Open. (As a side note, notice there is no new folder option when you are in this window, that is why I had us create a folder first. However, on a Mac you can use the shortcut Shift-Command-N to get a new folder dialog box in this window.) This folder will be checked every ten seconds for a PostScript file. If it finds any it will make a PDF for you. Click OK in the top right.

Now you will make the “For Print” settings the same way. You could choose Adobe’s “Press Quality” but I recommend talking to your printer first. A lot of printers post screenshots of exactly the PDF settings they want. And I would suggest inputting these settings the same way we did for the previous folder and saving the setting as “For Print”. Then create your “watched folder.”

Watched FoldersThird and lastly, launch QuarkXPress, and open the Preferences window. (Edit > Preferences on Windows, QuarkXPress> Preferences on a Macintosh.) Under Application choose PDF. The radio button next to PDF workflow is set to “Direct to PDF”; change it to “Create PostScript for Later Distilling.” Then check “Use Watched Folder.” Click Browse and navigate to your “For Web” folder, inside this folder you will see an “In” and an “Out” folder. Choose the “In” folder. The “In” folder is for PostScript, the out folder is for the finished PDF and it also deposits the PostScript file in that folder once it is done distilling. Click Choose. (You may want to set the default as “For Print” instead so that it automatically makes you a high resolution PDF every time, but I want to show you an easier PDF workflow) Then Click OK. You have now set it so that every time you choose File> Export> Layout as PDF, it does not make you a PDF; it saves a PostScript file to the “In” folder and makes you a “For Web” PDF.

Now that it is completely set up, here is where the fun begins. Open a layout and choose File> Export> Layout as PDF. Notice that it wants to save the file in the “In” folder of “For Web” as a .ps file. Click Save and go back over to Distiller, wait for it… After 10 seconds you will see Distiller churn you out a PDF. Go check out the “In” folder, and you’ll see your PDF right next to the original PostScript file.

Enter the time saver. So imagine that you send this file off for review, and it gets approved with no changes. Instead of making another PDF through Quark, you just take the PostScript file from the “Out” folder in “For Web” and drop it into the “In” folder in “For Print” — the PostScript file has all the data Distiller needs to make either a high or low resolution PDF. Think of it: any low-res PDFs you send out and get approval on can immediately be regenerated into a high resolution PDF just buy re-using the PostScript file! And this allows you more time to have fun and design in Quark