How to Reduce a Heavy PDF Sheet Music?

by | Jan 21, 2018

We know It can be frustrating sometimes when you simply want to upload and share a file, yet there are size issues and obstacles in the way. That’s why we have put together this in-depth article on how to reduce your PDF size, in the most effective and efficient manner.

Heavy PDF files can become an issue when:

  • Sending emails (most email providers limit attachment size to 25MB); and
  • Storing an entire digital library.

Before we start looking at how to reduce heavy PDF files, it is important to remember that compressing a PDF will generally affect its quality. So when it comes to file sharing we recommend using online file sharing platforms such as Wetransfer, Dropbox or Google Drive. These platforms generate download links after the file was uploaded to the server, which can then be shared with any recipient. Free versions limit file size, depending on the platform, whereas paid subscriptions often offer users unlimited sharing and storage space.

Below are some tips for controlling and reducing the size of a PDF document.

I) Before Scanning Sheet Music


Tip1: Scan in black and white

Color scans result in much larger files than black and white scans. A 10-page piece of sheet music scanned at 300 DPI in black and white mode might result in a 0.8 MB file, whereas the same document scanned in color mode could reach anywhere between 10MB to 60 MB!
While scanning in grayscale mode will result in smaller documents than color scans, the resulting file will still be unnecessarily heavy.

Overall, we recommend that librarians identify the pages where color is important and scan these separately in color mode (using at least 24-bit color). All the other pages – such as sheet music covers – can be scanned in black and white to save significant amounts of space.

Tip 2: Avoid Scanning at a High DPI

DPI settings have a huge impact on file size. For example, an A3 piece of sheet music scanned at 600 DPI results in a 66 MB file. Scanning the same A3 sheet music at 300 DPI dramatically reduces the file size to 17MB.

II) Reduce File Size Using a PDF Editor


We compared the compression features of three PDF editors – Adobe Acrobat Pro, iLovePDF and SmallPDF – on a 27.1 MB PDF sheet music file. Here are the results:

Option 1: Adobe Acrobat Pro

Acrobat’s Reduced Size PDF feature automatically reduces file size without significantly harming the quality of the PDF document. When we ran the tool on our 27.1 MB file, it was automatically compressed to 19.6 MB without damaging the image quality.

We found that the only cases where image quality was affected occurred when the resolution of the original PDF document was very high (more than 600 DPI).

Option 2: Free online PDF editors

  • iLovePDF
    iLovePDF offers three different levels of compression: “Extreme”, “Recommended” and “Less”. We tested all three options for the purpose of our comparison:

    • The “Extreme” option reduced the file to 3.2 MB, resulting in a very pixelated and unusable score.
    • The “Recommended” option reduced the file to 8.3 MB. Image quality was also reduced, but the compressed score was certainly usable and far less pixelated than the one compressed using the “Extreme” option.
    • The “Less” option reduced the file to 10.9 MB. The quality was not far off from the original and the file was light enough to attach to an email.
  • Smallpdf
    Smallpdf offers a single Automatic Compression option. The file we compressed was reduced from 27.1 MB to 6.3 MB, and was ultimately very pixelated compared to the original.

Comparison Results


Original version (27.1 MB)

After Comparison


Adobe Acrobat Pro (19.6 MB)

iLovePDF/Less compression (10.9 MB)

iLovePDF/Recommended compression (8.3 MB)

Smallpdf (6.3 MB)

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