How to Compress Computer File Sizes for Sending, Sharing and Storing

January 11th, 2017 - Get new posts sent straight to your inbox, click here. John R

Though we may live in a world of big data, streaming video and music, there are still a number of reasons to compress files before sending them on. We take a look at some of those reasons below, suggesting some of the best ways to archive and compress files, as well as some handy tips for specific file types. This is Aussie Broadband’s guide to compressing common files for sending, sharing and storing.

Reasons to compress files

Saving data

With the prevalence of mobile coverage giving us more options for where, when and how we work, data management has become more important than ever, especially near the end of the month. Compressing file size can save you precious data when on the go, and make it easier to transmit in areas where coverage is patchy.

Inbox management

Mail exchanges are intended for delivery, not storage. To prevent users from using their inboxes as file storage, many organisations place strict limits on the size of attachments in mail delivery, and on the amount of data stored in a mailbox. Compression is a great way to get around this and keep your inbox neat and tidy.

Secure encryption

Some file compression and archiving types provide encryption, adding an extra layer of security for transmitting  sensitive files.

Types of compression and archives

Compression archives not only reduce file size, but allow you to combine multiple files into a single source file, making the files easier to manage, store and send. Here are some of the most common types of file compression and archiving:

Zip: The most common format

Even if you’re only a casual user of computers you’ve probably heard of the Zip format. It’s the most widely used and the easiest to manage on both Windows and Mac (as well as mobile platforms). If you’re sending a file or files to someone without a specific requirement, then Zip is probably your go-to compression type, as the receiver won’t need any special software to decompress the files.

Zip Pros

  • Fast – compresses in a flash
  • Open – most people can use it

Zip Cons

  • Low compression – Zip won’t knock that much off your overall file size

Tar.gz for Linux

Tar.gz is most commonly used by Linux operators. Like Zip to Windows and Mac, Tar is the file format you will want to use if sending to a someone who uses any Linux OS.

Tar.gz Pros

  • Fast – speedy compression of files
  • Good compression – compresses better than Zip
  • Tar.bzip2 – slower than Tar.gz but compresses better

Cons

  • Not as common for Windows & Mac

7z: The gold standard

7z is a Windows compression and archive format made popular by the 7zip program. It’s semi-exclusive to Windows but command line tools exist for Mac and Linux users.

7z Pros

  • High compression – greatly reduces file size
  • Archive splitting – 7z archives can be broken apart and put back together. Great if sending large archives over email

7z Cons

  • Slow – takes a while to complete the compression
  • Less common – especially among Mac users and Linux

RAR for the Win

RAR has all the features of 7z but doesn’t compress as well (with the exception of MP3s). It’s limited to Windows through WinRAR program.It can be decompressed on Mac and Linux but not created on these platforms.

RAR Pros

  • High compression
  • Archives can be split

RAR Cons

  • Can’t be created on Mac or Linux, only opened
  • Less compression that 7z (MP3s excepted)

Photoshop PSD compression tips

There’s a few little tips and hacks you can use for reducing the size of Photoshop files. Some of them simple, others pretty wild. Either way, we recommend making a backup copy of your file in case something goes wrong.

Solid Colour Hack

This one’s pretty out there, but stick with us, it makes sense.

For every file Photoshop makes, it also creates a high quality file preview that can add a whole bunch of heft to the file size. You may have come across this hack previously if you’ve ever downloaded PSD pack and seen all the previews were plain white (or black). Simply put, overlaying a solid colour over your Photoshop file makes the preview image super lean and reduces the overall file size.

Flatten out the layers

If you’re sending a file to a client, printer or someone else that isn’t going to edit it, then flattening out the layers is a great way to reduce file size. Just be careful, as it greatly reduces your ability to edit the file in the future (that’s why we recommend making backups).

Others:

  • Add Layer Mask – simple way to reduce file size
  • Rasterize Smart Objects – takes away the intelligence from the object and reduces file size
  • Implement Adjustment Layers – quite technical, check out Creative Market’s step by step guide if you’re not sure

Reducing PDF size

Beyond the compression tools we’ve already mentioned, there are a couple of tools that work specifically with PDFs to help reduce their size and make them easier to send via chat, email and more:

Small PDF web service

SmallPDF.com is a web service that allows you to upload files via the internet. You don’t need any software or a particular device or OS – just navigate to the page, upload your file and SmallPDF.com will spit back a smaller file within a few moments.

Nuance Power PDF

If you deal in PDFs on a daily basis then Nuance Power PDF could be the tool for you. It’s a premium software package that includes OCR scanning, file splitting, merging, watermarking, encrypting and more. Perhaps the most important feature, though, is Power PDF’s ability to reduce the size of a PDF file while making it still searchable. It is well worth the cost for anyone who creates and distributes large PDFs.

About the author

John Reisinger

John Reisinger is known as one of the fastest coders in the business. He’s the one at Aussie Broadband dreaming up and developing new products for our customers. Sometimes, you can find him performing with his theatre group at the Melbourne Comedy Festival.