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FILE FORMATS & STANDARDS -- Practices Make Perfect

March 2005
BY MARK SMITH

Technology Editor

Since the earliest days of the digital revolution in prepress, choosing a data format has brought trade-offs in file flexibility, portability and processing consistency. For almost as long, the unique requirements of the print advertising workflow have driven a quest to achieve a universal workflow. Now, more than 10 years after its introduction, Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format) is finally providing a foundation for realizing that goal in advertising applications and beyond.

The effort to establish an open, yet predictable, workflow started with DDES (Digital Data Exchange Standard). It took a sustained effort by the DDAP (Digital Distribution of Advertising for Publications) association, however, to achieve a measure of success in the form of TIFF/IT.

With the rise of PDF, followed by the PDF/X standards initiative, the role of DDAP was eclipsed. As of press time, an agreement reportedly was still in the works to merge the association into the IDEAlliance (International Digital Enterprise Alliance) organization as a network group. The plan under discussion was to continue the organization's focus on educating the market with an individuals-based membership.

David Steinhardt, president and CEO of IDEAlliance, points out that a precedent was set for this move by the Digital Ad Lab (DAL) becoming part of the organization about a year ago. DAL is now set to expand its education program from the New York City area graphic arts community to two other cities, most likely Chicago and one West Coast location, Steinhardt reports.

Picking up where the PDF/X standard development effort and DDAP leave off, the Ghent PDF Workgroup (GWG) is attempting to establish "best practices" for the gamut of print applications. It's leveraging and expanding the work done in the advertising arena by using PDF/X-1a:2001 PLUS as a foundation.

The group's work to date has centered on nine print applications, including newspaper ads; magazine ads; web offset printing, coldset (CMYK only or CMYK/spot color); web offset printing, heatset (CMYK only or CMYK/spot); and sheetfed offset (CMYK only, CMYK/spot, CMYK/spot with low-res images).

Noted industry consultant Dave Zwang is serving as vice chairman of GWG and is its point person in the United States. "The PDF/X standard is extremely broad, as all standards are," he says. "As a result, you can create a PDF/X file that might not represent the requirements of the print process that you are using. The Ghent Workgroup is developing application-specific 'best practices' that further filter the PDF/X requirements."
 

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