Trying to generate a vector-based PDF map, which includes transparencies, for quality purposes. However, I'm finding that transparencies get rasterized instead and is lower quality.

Is there any solution to this other than exporting the PDF to Illustrator and manually applying transparencies there?

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    What sort of layers have transparencies? Is there a raster anywhere in your layout? – Patrick Aug 17 '11 at 19:16
  • Polygons of coverage areas. – EightyTwenty Aug 17 '11 at 20:45
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    Are you aware of our procedures for voting and for accepting answers? These are an important part of the process. Please take a quick look at the FAQ and consider accepting answers to some of the questions you have asked (as well as upvoting any answers that might even be partially helpful). – whuber Nov 28 '11 at 20:32

Any transparency layer gets lumped in with the images pdf layer.
From the advanced pdf features section:

Layers that cause rasterization, such as transparent layers, or layers that use a picture fill symbology consolidate all the layers below them into a single layer with the name Image


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As @Brad already answered - not possible. Transparencies are rasterized in the PDF resulting in HUGE file sizes. Very very poor PDF engine in ArcGIS as you no doubt have realized.

You can turn the transparencies off then export to PDF and open in Illustrator or CorelDRAW and apply transparencies in post processing. Time consuming but possible.

Do not waste your time on exporting to AI. That's even flakier then to PDF.

Other than that you can export from ArcGIS as TIFF (300 or 400 DPI) which produces an enormous file and use Adobe Acrobat Pro 8 or better to convert the TIFF to PDF. Adobe has an awesome rendering engine so it produces a great result. The resulting PDF will be smaller than anything out of ArGIS and much cleaner. It has to be TIFF to PDF Acrobat conversion JPEG to PDF for example will not work the same. Alternatively, you can use Nitro PDF version 7 (might still be in beta) to do the same. It has to be the new version 7 as this is the only version that features the new completely re-written rendering engine. (Don't waste your money on version 6 Pro) The results are comparable or better to that of Acrobat except that Adobe has a better display rendering. In other words - create the PDF in Nitro 7 but use Adobe Reader to view it. Hope this helps.

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    Exporting to Illustrator would not be a waste of time if OP turns off transparency first, as he mentioned. He could then reapply it in Illustrator. – Patrick Aug 17 '11 at 19:52
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    And frankly, exporting to Illustrator is never a waste of time if you have the option and quality is important. – Patrick Aug 17 '11 at 19:54
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    And why create pdf when you can go strait to ai (native illustrator) – Brad Nesom Aug 17 '11 at 22:38
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    Folks, Export to AI messes up halos in annotations many fonts and complex symbology. A typical map with several raster backrounds, 50 annotation classes, 50 - 100 vector layers and several layer masks does not export well to AI. Simple maps with a few layers are probably fine. When ESRI gets it right I will try again. Even when I finish my maps in AI it is mostly layout elements, legends, design components... To not mess things up, I export cartography as TIFF and add it into the AI project as image. Works for me. – Jakub Sisak GeoGraphics Jun 28 '12 at 16:45
  • @Tanner - thanks for the edit... ESL, not a native speaker. I should be doing a better job reviewing my grammar & spelling. – Jakub Sisak GeoGraphics Jun 28 '12 at 16:46

This has already been touched on a bit, but I wanted to highlight/clarify that layers in your table of contents that are below the set transparent layer will be lumped into the PDF raster.

To reduce the number of layers that become pixelated in your PDF slide the transparent layer as far down as possible in the table of contents in the mxd prior to exporting to PDF.

(just my two cents)

On a similar note, The issue I'm coming across is that I would like to create a layered PDF (for Adobe Acrobat Pro) where I can turn on and off the transparent layer ONLY. To my knowledge it does not seem possible. The best idea I could come up with was to try overlaying a new data frame of the same extent and size over the main data frame. This new data frame would be at the top of the table of contents and only house the transparent layer. However, when I tried this the "transparent" layer did not display the imagery from the other data frame behind it, so the effect was just a lighter solid color for the intended transparent layer. So, I gave up...

It would be a great feature to be able to overlay data frames with the same functionality as a layer. (Maybe something to add to the overstuffed suggestion box)


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  • I would create a separate question rather than provide an answer with a question in it. This thread is old - and won't receive a lot of attention. Start your own so you can get some feedback! – GISKid Jun 4 '14 at 15:18

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