PDFs generated by Keynote unreadable by Adobe Acrobat (macOS Catalina, 10.15) – use a browser!

Update – if you stitch PDFs with macOS’ Preview, the Adobe Acrobat for Mac (and PC) will be unable to read the entire file. Even on Big Sur Beta 11.3 Beta 5. Solution: “export to PDF” from within Preview.

I dived into macOS Catalina since I had few 32-bit applications. Also I was feeling reckless and did not wait for the end of semester like I typically would. Thankfully, most of my apps were updated to 64-bit and I could afford to abandon the few legacy apps.

There was just a problem with PDFs. I print my Keynote lecture slide deck to PDF for distribution to students. NXPowerLite Desktop 8 reduces the file size by 90% for a manageable download of 10-20 MB. 

But after macOS Catalina installation, my student Ivy Yeo, who uses Adobe Acrobat on a PC, alerted me that she could not open my PDF. I duplicated the problem on macOS Adobe Acrobat which also returned a blank page and the error message, “There was a problem reading this document (14).”

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Uh-oh! Unreadable lecture notes!

A few minutes later, though, she suggested using browser to open the PDF – she used Chrome on a PC while I used Safari. The printed PDF could now be read by Adobe Acrobat. 

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Phew! Ivy’s solution – use a browser to read and print the PDF

After consulting forums and webpages, I suspect that Keynote on macOS Catalina is now adding metadata which Acrobat is choking on. The simple pdf readers inbuilt in browsers dump that additional data and could read the stripped file. 

The workaround is excellent, but adds a couple of steps each time. So I hope one of the macOS Catalina updates fixes this soon!