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A PDF Progress Report --McIlroy

November 2002
I happen to be a big believer in PDF. I think it's the best technology driving workflow improvement today, and that it will bring even more benefits to workflows in the years ahead. Now that's hardly a controversial statement—you could even call it a widely-held belief in our industry.

But I know there are lots of people out there, both publishers (in the broad sense of the word) and printers (ok, in the broad sense of that word, too), who, while they have a generally positive attitude towards PDF (how could they not, after all the good press we've given it?), still have some doubts, and a few questions they'd like answered.

PDF workflows are deceptive. There's Adobe Acrobat, and there's Creo's Prinergy and Agfa's Apogee, and then there's . . . what? That seems to be the #1 question surrounding PDF and PDF workflows. Is it enough just to buy one of these three systems to get a workable PDF workflow?

The answer, as some of you know, is "yes, sort of, maybe".

OK, then a follow-up question. If I buy Acrobat and Prinergy or Apogee, can I just plug them in and push print? If not, what else do I need to know?

And this is where I need to sit you down and say, "Have you got a few hours? I can give you about half of the answer in that time."

The fundamental problem with PDF is that it is, in a way, too good. It's too powerful, too flexible, too malleable. There are a great many things you can do with PDF, and literally hundreds of software tools and systems available to help you do them. I guess we all like powerful, flexible technologies. But when it comes to graphic arts prepress workflows we want our powerful and flexible tools to behave consistently and reliably, to chug through the toughest files and produce predictably perfect results.

Pedal to the Metal

With most of the prepress systems we grew up on, you'd ordinarily have to really "push the pedal to the metal" to chug through the toughest files and produce predictably perfect results. With PDF workflows it's the opposite. You grab the steering wheel tight, take your foot off the accelerator, and position it right next to the brake. Good PDF workflows take careful positioning and some restraint.

The Seybold organization has just released the results of an ambitious project to try and find the answers to some of the tough questions that surround making PDF workflows work. (I worked with Seybold 'till 2001—but not on this project.)
 

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