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Monday, March 27, 2006

Captivate File Size Tricks for Software Training via Simulations

I've been building software training & support solutions for a long time. You can find links to a couple of articles and a list of tools in the space in this previous post.

Recently, we've been doing the production work more often using Captivate and I keep seeing people ask about using that tool because of some of its quirks (like file size). So, I asked a few of the tricks they use and here's what we came up with together...

There are a number of things you can do to manage the file size of your Captivate projects; but like most eLearning projects, the amount of leeway you have is largely dependant on the specific client requirements, such as:

1) Is audio a necessary component? If so, how important is the sound quality?
2) What is the minimum display size that will adequately present the application?
3) Are there drag-and-drop features that need to be demonstrated? and
4) Is 508-compliance a requirement?

Before you read more, I would strongly recommend visiting the Macromedia Captivate Developer Center (, and in particular, the article: “File-Size Considerations for Captivate Demonstrations and Simulations” located at


This is where you can have the biggest impact on the size of your project, both positive and negative. Planning ahead is always an important practice for good Captivate development, but if file size is a key consideration, that “good-practice” becomes even more critical.

1. Minimize the Recording Area—Before I begin recording, my first step is to determine the optimum size for the recording area. My two key considerations here are the end-user display characteristics—are they likely to view on a laptop, is the demonstration likely to be used in a school or library where monitors can tend to be on the small side—and what is the smallest size I can shrink the application I am demonstrating down to, while still adequately illustrating the tasks involved. I often arrive at a custom size and will therefore tend to use the Custom setting in the Record New Movie options, selecting the window from the dropdown menu, and then snapping the recording area to fit.

2. Fewer Colors = Lower File Size—I’m as attached to my carefully selected desktop picture as the next guy, but if I do need to include my desktop in the recording area (i.e. to demonstrate moving from one application to another), I will set the picture to None, and ensure that my desktop is now a color that is already being used somewhere in the presentation, so I am not introducing a new color unnecessarily. If I’ve really got to crunch the size, I will remove all title bar gradients as well—ever notice that every window you open has a color gradient from light to dark? See - “File-Size Considerations for Captivate Demonstrations and Simulations” for more details.

3. Sacrifice a little to gain a lot—I have found that in most cases you can sacrifice the Full Motion Tab options without losing any noticeable quality. Obviously this needs to be visited on a case-by-case basis: If I have to demonstrate mouse movements in a drawing application, then I will ensure that “Show mouse in full motions capture” is selected, and if I need to drag an object from one area to another, then “Automatically capture drag-and-drop actions” remains selected, but usually I am able to keep these deselected, and take my video quality down to 50, and still have the movie look smooth to the end-user. This is another good example of where pre-planning comes into play. If my demonstration is going to involve 10 movies, and there is just one instance of a drag-and-drop, then there is no reason that all 10 movies need to have that option selected. I also have never found myself needing millions of colors for the demo – use 16 bit instead of 32!.

4. Careful about scrolling: If your demonstration includes the use of a scroll bar, consider clicking the directional arrows instead of dragging the scroll bar.


Although the biggest saving can be gained in the recording process, there are some tricks that can be performed in the editing phase to accomplish further savings.

1. Remove Unnecessary Slides—Whether I use auto-record, manual, or some combination of the two, I always end up with extra slides. The first thing I do once I’ve recorded and moved on to my storyboard/edit window is to identify them and then remove them (having backed up my move first of course!). I tend to be able to tell just by previewing my movie and looking at the storyboard layout, but when in doubt, the Bandwidth Monitor can be a great tool. From the Macromedia “File-Size Considerations…” article: “Look for slides on the Slide Summary tab. If the slide time is less than one second, there is a good chance that you can remove it. A very short slide time indicates that very little action occurs on the slide. For example, a slide that lasts less than one second could simply show the a clicking effect on a button, which helps create a more realistic demonstration or simulation but does not make training more or less effective.”

2. Importing Files—Remember that the same rules discussed earlier apply when importing images, PowerPoint Slides, Animations, etc. Everything you import increases the overall size, so keep images small, keep color depth limited, and avoid color gradients.

3. Adding Audio—Audio can far exceed any other element of your project in terms of file size. Even though Captivate will covert the audio to MP3, it can still have a huge impact on file size. Background music, or cool sound effects can be great to have, but if bandwidth is a major consideration, and audio is not a requirement, avoid the temptation. When I do need to use audio—usually in the form of narration—I will stick to “High (FM Quality)”—a safe middle-ground, so far I have not run into any problems.


As with everything else discussed here, be sure of your client-requirements before deciding on your publishing options, but generally I will go with the following settings (under Movie > Preferences):
  1. Select Advanced Movie Compression—Yes
  2. Compress Compiled SWF file—Yes
  3. Include Breeze Metadata—No. Unless you are going to use the project with Macromedia Breeze, there is no need to include this.
  4. 508 Compliance—Be careful here! If you don’t need it, then deselect as it does increase file size, but be sure your client is aware of Section 508 and informed on whether it is something that applies to their website. You can always juts point them to for more info.
  5. JPEG image quality—Much like choosing 16-bit over 32-bit video, there is really no need to exceed 50% here, unless you are dealing with high-quality photographs or video.

Breaking up Files

The last thing to consider is how many slides are contained in your movie. Usually I have a good idea in the planning stage of roughly how many slides a movie will pan out to, but I have on occasion found myself arriving at the storyboard screen with over 100 slides. Macromedia recommends not exceeding 60 slides in any one movie, with 30-50 being the optimum.

When this happens, the solution here is simple—break the movie up into manageable chunks. Instead of one movie with 100 slides, I will break that up into 3 or 4 movies, each with 25-30 slides. Depending on how I am presenting my demonstration (i.e., is it housed in an html shell as part of a larger application or is it a stand-alone demo), I will either link my movies into a single string by going Movie End Options > Action, select Open Other Movie, and then linking to the next movie in sequence, or if I’m just sticking them into a pre-existing navigation, I just make sure I have a logical naming structure and title accordingly.

You can also create a menu system within Captivate using the MenuBuilder Feature. For more info visit the Captivate Developer Center (

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