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Fools and Their Foolproof Workflows --McIlroy

April 2003
In my last two columns I reviewed "PDF Workflow Shootout & Usage Survey" (from Seybold Publications), an 84-page report that I called "the only comprehensive survey yet conducted on PDF utilization in the graphic arts."

I was wrong. Another survey has come to my attention, and it's a very good complement to the Seybold study. In a comprehensive new report from GATF called "The PDF Era: PDF Usage in the Real World," author Julie Shaffer, director of the Center for Imaging Excellence at GATF, provides an in-depth examination of "the experiences of the people who work with PDF files 'in the trenches' of print production."

The Seybold study segmented its audience into "PDF Receivers" and "PDF Generators," with a much higher response rate from generators. GATF, albeit with a smaller sample size, focuses exclusively on the receivers, mainly commercial printers and prepress shops.

Some of the questions, naturally enough, were the same (or very similar) and it's worth comparing the responses from each survey.

Seybold asked "Which file types do you currently receive for print output most often?" and GATF asked "In what primary formats do your clients submit page layout files?" Seybold reported QuarkXPress at 40 percent and PDF at 29 percent. GATF reported QuarkXPress at 53 percent and PDF at 23 percent.

We knew that QuarkXPress is still the dominant format for page layout, and now we know that most QuarkXPress users are not yet creating PDFs from their files before submission. That's too bad, because PDF is a better workflow. But more about that later.

Both reports reveal that a substantial minority of PDF generators submit their original application files (QuarkXPress, or whatever) along with their PDF file, just in case. The reports reveal that this is often a requirement from printers and prepress shops, or, in some cases, the customers insist. There are a lot of opinions on the whys and wherefores of this odd workflow redundancy. For some it's just a precaution. But clearly the PDF files submitted are far from error-free, and sometimes it's appropriate to make corrections in the original application file.

Oddly enough neither report asked the simple question: What percentage of the PDF files you receive require additional work? How does this compare to the percentage of QuarkXPress files requiring rework? Is the reworking of PDF files, on average, easier, the same as, or more difficult than the reworking of QuarkXPress files?

The Seybold study asked "What are the three best things about working with PDF?" and the top responses were "fewer cross-platform issues" (55 percent mentioned), "more efficient workflow" (35 percent) and "smaller files" (32 percent).
 

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