Batch optimizing PDF sheet music in Acrobat

After reading numerous posts (like this one) that pose the question, I decided that it’s about time to share my methods for batch optimizing my sheet music scans using Acrobat.

“Optimizing” PDFs, if you’re not familiar with the term, basically does a few things – deskews (straightens), despeckles (removes background noise), and shrinks the file size.  That last one is the one that most iPad users are after – more space means more music you can fit, and means faster loading on the iPad.

The standard way to do this is to open the PDF in Acrobat and select Document > Optimize Scanned PDF.

Optimize command in Acrobat

Getting to the Optimize command in Acrobat

Having to do this with each document individually , however, gets tedious.  Luckily, Acrobat actually has a pretty powerful Batch Processing function that allows users to create a series of commands that can be automatically run on a group of documents, that will save the user tons of time.  Here’s how I created my Batch Optimize action (instructions created on a Mac, running Acrobat 9.5.1, FYI):

  1. Go to Advanced > Document Processing > Batch Processing…

    Batch Processing

    Batch Processing menu item on Mac, Acrobat 9.5.1

  2. Select “New Sequence…” and name it something meaningful (e.g. “Batch Optimize”)
  3. On the next screen, click “Select Commands…” – you should be able to find Optimize Scanned PDF in the Document folder on the next popup.  Select it, and click “Add >>” to add it to the sequence.

    Adding the Optimize action to the sequence

    Adding the Optimize action to the sequence

  4.  Double click the Optimize Scanned PDF action on the right side to adjust the settings for the action.  Here are my settings that I find to produce good-quality scans for a new iPad with retina:

    My optimize settings

    My optimize settings

  5.  Click OK to return to the main window for your new Sequence.  Keep #2 (Run commands on:) set to “Ask When Sequence is Run.”  You can choose your own preference for #3 (Select output location) – if you leave it at “Same folder as originals,” it’ll overwrite the originals.  For me, that’s fine, but if it’s not for you, then you can select either Specific Folder or Ask When Sequence is Run.
  6. Select OK when you’re done, and now your new Batch Sequence should appear in the menu.  Select it and click “Run Sequence” – choose your files and go!

For what it’s worth, I have created another Batch Sequence for tagging my music, forgoing the outdated forScore app for Mac.  Most of the music I tag is guitar music for church, so I’ve created a Sequence (using the Description command) that will tag the PDFs (using Subject and Author, which forScore will interpret as Genre and Composer), and leave the title as is.  So, as long as I title my pieces correctly while scanning, I run two Batch Sequences and my music is forScore-ready.  Heck, if I wanted to, I could even combine those two into one Process – maybe I’ll get to work doing that.

So, there you have it.  Granted, I do have access to Acrobat Pro through work, so I didn’t have to fork over the money for it.  For those of you in a similar situation, I hope this helps.  Acrobat is capable of so much more than I even know, so in a way it’s overkill, but you can’t argue with results.

14 thoughts on “Batch optimizing PDF sheet music in Acrobat

  1. Thank you, Matt! This is exactly what I wanted to know about PDF optimization in Acrobat, and the batch tagging instructions are very helpful too. I’m going to update my blog post with a link to yours.

    • No problem! I enjoy the opportunity to “collaborate” like this – it’s where blogging really shines, if you ask me. Thanks for the link-over as well.

      • Hi Mr. Thanks for you sharing. I have some questions please :

        Which should be the max file size of jpg before converting to pdf? I have some 200 and 300 dpi mixed and file sizes from 300 kb to 3 mb to put on the ipad the fourscore app.
        I think storage space is not a problem. Maybe the turn speed could be slower for the larger files.

        Another question is if you can give me more instructions abou tagging the musics to the scoremusic app. do you use a program for doing that? or i can use the acrobat to it? where is this Description Comand.Thanks a lot.


  2. Hi All,
    What is the best way to Deskew scanned music? The Deskew in Adobe Acrobat doesn’t work well with music. I’d like to type in to rotate in arbitrary degrees 0.2 to 0.7 degress etc. till it looks straight. Maybe perhaps draw a line and make that the reference point or something. Photoshop, Illustrater, and everything else adobe has this feature… =(

    • Hi Kenny,

      In my experience, Acrobat’s “Optimize Scanned PDF” feature works well to straighten my music – but it’s possible that I’m also not that picky about it. I’m not sure what else to suggest – perhaps someone else will have a good idea…

      — Matt

  3. Thanks Matt,

    You are right in that it does work. I find sometimes it picks up the wrong line and straightens to that. (Yes, not a big deal if its slightly off) Mostly I find that afterwards the image is much softer! Even with compression and other setting off. I like a nice crisp image. Does this have something to do with how it re-samples the image on a rotation?

    Sorry that I commented a year later…

    • Kenny,

      No problem. I haven’t ever had it really screw up a straightening…but I do agree that it does soften the PDF a bit (it’s not as sharp or crisp, as you suggest). The only thing I can think of to change this is to adjust the slider on the Optimize function to maintain more quality…but the files won’t get as small. I don’t think this has to do with the rotation as much as the other things that the Optimize function does.

      Would be curious to see what your settings are now, and what your PDFs would look like if you maxed out that slider…

      — Matt

  4. Hi Matt, I just wanted to thank you for posting this. You’ve changed my life! I work for a school and am always scanning PDFs for teachers to try to save them copying time – they work so hard! Now I can save teachers’ time and my own :)

    • Elissa,

      Glad you’ve found this information helpful. Optimizing PDFs is a real space-saver; my forScore library is a bit over 1 GB in size, but has a ton of music in it…I always thought it’d be bigger. Guess I can thank the optimization for that!

      — Matt

  5. Hi Matt, I routinely cut and past sheet music (piano-vocal scores) using paper, scissors, and tape. But I would prefer to scan the music and do the cutting and pasting in my Mac. I have a free trial of Adobe Acrobat, but I have not been able to find instructions on how to do it. Can you possible help me out or guide me to someone who can? Thank you. DB

    • Hi Doug,

      Thanks for the comment. The short answer to your question is that Acrobat isn’t going to be your weapon of choice. It’s not built for chopping up PDFs and gluing them back together. For this, the best solution I’ve come across is a photo editor. I personally use Photoshop – I would scan the pages into the application (or in as general JPGs) and then cut/paste/move away. A free alternative is GIMP; it’s a bit clunky to use at first but would get the job done. In either application you can set your canvas (document) size to be standard US Letter, A4, etc. so that you know what you’re working with, and then you can set guides at the 1″ mark so that you leave yourself a margin to work with.

      From there, once you’ve got your final product, you can save out to whatever format, and use Acrobat Pro to create a PDF from an image.

      That might be my best suggestion for workflow.

      Hope that helps!
      — Matt

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