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1/22/14
Original Poster
CollingS

I uploaded a colour PDF to google drive to share it, and the colours look all weird.

I uploaded a colour PDF to google drive to share it, and the colours look all weird and low res. Any idea why? Help is much appreciated!
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Steegle
1/22/14
Steegle
You're looking at the PDF either in the Google Drive Viewer or the Google Drive Preview: this is to give you a quick view of the file without having to install any software, e.g. a PDF viewer like Adobe Acrobat. If you want to see the PDF in full fidelity then download the file and open in a PDF viewer.
Bas Braams
1/22/14
Bas Braams
<<I uploaded a colour PDF to google drive to share it...>> The OP (Original Poster) is using Google Drive for its intended purpose. Really it is very reasonable to expect that the pdf file should display to its viewers more or less as it would display if it were a file on the PC and viewed through the ordinary browser interface. Unfortunately, since May 2013 and possibly longer, if a pdf file (or a Word file) resides on the Docs+Drive file system (on a location such as https://drive.google.com/file/d/...) and one attempts to view it, then the Google Drive viewer takes over from the standard browser viewer and the color rendition is awful. In an earlier posting [1] I tried to identify what kind of technology is used. As I wrote there (with pointers to appropriate examples), the color rendition in the Docs+Drive viewer looks quite similar to that it in the IBM-AT (1984) and the Atari ST (1985).

For example, consider these 2 files: one pdf and one Word. The pdf file is on my Dropbox space and for the Word file I use a web link.

The first file is just one composite color/grayscale image and the second file is text that includes some images. Here is a copy of that composite image from the pdf file and a copy of the first image in that Word file as they display on any browser that I have tried: Chrome, IE9 and Firefox.

Here are the same two files stored on my Docs+Drive filespace and shared to anyone with the link.

GDocsImagesGrayscaleColorComposite.pdf on the Docs+Drive cloud, original link from the share dialog:

[Word] Carolee Schneemann

The reader can follow the link and if things are as they are today and have been since May 2013 then the images will appear approximately like so.

A careful study of this and other examples shows the following. Color images are rendered using 32 colors (standard these days is 24-bit RGB which gives 16777216 colors), grayscale images are rendered using 32 grays, and if the image is diagnosed to be a mix of color and grayscale then 16 colors and 16 grays are used.

There are comments on this forum according to which the behavior is reasonable; after all, the Docs viewer is only a viewer. (Sometimes it is described as a previewer.) I don't buy it. If we view the pdf file through the standard built-in Chrome or IE9 or Firefox pdf viewer (nothing special needs to be installed for this) then the colors look fine. However, if the file is stored on the Docs+Drive cloud then this option isn't available (except via first downloading the file); the Drive viewer takes control. Really I would want to see a statement from the Docs+Drive side that this is intended behavior before I could begin to entertain the thought that this would be the intended behavior. Even then I would probably conclude, as in [2] on a different occasion, that the Docs+Drive is deriving the intended behavior from the actual behavior.

I suspect that the whole thing is just a silly coding error, maybe just a bad setting in a control file. As was observed by Darren Tay in [3], when the Docs+Drive viewer starts up, very briefly the colors display correctly and then the system switches to the low-colors view.

There are two or three work-arounds.

1. Whenever one shares a file on the Docs+Drive system and the file contains color images, apologize to everyone with whom one does the share for using such a low-quality, cheap unprofessional product.

2. Do not share any file that contains color images through the Docs+Drive file system; just share it through Dropbox or any other medium.

3. Use the technique discovered and shared to us by Maria Radice in [4]; it involves a modification of the link that one gives to persons with whom the file is shared.

[1] (2013-12-01) Re: Google Drive PDF viewer is so bad in displaying color

[2] (2011-10-11) Re: Serious confidentiality issue

[3] (2013-11-22) Re: Google Drive PDF viewer is so bad in displaying color

[4] (2013-12-16) Re: Bad images display in pdf files and doxs.
1/23/14
Original Poster
CollingS
Thanks Bas Braams for this very detailed and comprehensive reply! I have ended up making each page of my pdf into a high res jpeg and putting them in a google doc folder in sequence, so not ideal but at least the colour space is accurate! I do agree that google should amend the pdf viewer on google drive as the colours do look awful, especially if you're sharing a pdf for work (which I am doing). Thanks very much for your response. It was very helpful.
Steegle
1/23/14
Steegle
On Wednesday, 22 January 2014 20:12:26 UTC, Bas Braams wrote:
I suspect that the whole thing is just a silly coding error, maybe just a bad setting in a control file. As was observed by Darren Tay in [3], when the Docs+Drive viewer starts up, very briefly the colors display correctly and then the system switches to the low-colors view.

After this length of time I do not believe it's a "silly coding error" and I'm fairly sure it's intentional. 
Gill
1/23/14
Gill
<< I'm fairly sure it's intentional. >> But why?
adapt.erik
1/28/14
adapt.erik
I just ran a quick test -- using a pdf with an embedded photo, ghostcript (which can convert a pdf to png), and gimp (linux image program) for tweaking the color palette. I'm able to produce pdfs that pretty much look like what Google is producing -- the same size, the same general quality, the same color issue.
 
The color problem is caused by using "indexed color" in which the normal palette of millions of colors is reduced to just a few, in this case 32.
 
I'm sure the usage of a small color palette is to make for smaller files. An image of a doc with just one photo and the rest text is 80K. When I did it manually, it came out to 73K. Why? Snappier viewer rendering, less bandwidth (cost to google), and lower disk space (I'd guess they cache the pdf preview image on disk.)
 
Playing around with the size of the indexed color palette can lead to much more pleasing images. In general, the better the quality, the larger the file size. With full 24bit color, the image size was 360K, 32bit 73K, and everything in between. For example, at about 100 colors and with dithering (which gives it a more "noisy" but less blotchy look) and some optimization (web optimized palette, and removal of unused colors) , the file size about 100K -- the resulting image is much more pleasant to look at at a cost of about 40% larger file size.
 
I don't know how much control Google wants to give us in controlling the viewer output, but I think it is clear that in the balancing act between quality and file size, they have erred on the side of lower file size and lower quality. In this day, scrimping 30 or 40 or 50K from a page view and serving the world crappy images sure seems silly.
 
(Yet a peek inside the viewer page itself yields a fair amount of unoptimized css and inline javascript ...)
1/29/14
Original Poster
CollingS
Thanks so much for posting the results of this test adapt.erik. This is very interesting.
 
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