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PDF Generators Weigh In --McIlroy

January 2003
In my last column I discussed some of the results from the Seybold organization's in-depth report on the state of PDF: "PDF Workflow Shootout & Usage Survey" ($450 from Seybold Publications). The 84-page report looks at two sides of the PDF problem: what do publishers (PDF generators) want, and what do printers (PDF processors) want? Like most reports, particularly those that are styled as "shootouts," the report suffers from some questionable methodology, and inconclusive results.

At the same time, this is the only comprehensive survey yet conducted on PDF utilization in the graphic arts. PDF workflows are the most important technology development in the printing industry in the last five years, and a statistical survey was long overdue.

I've already discussed the PDF processors' perspective, particularly as it relates to available PDF workflow systems. Let's now consider the PDF generators' views.

This section of the report is clearly more useful than the earlier section. The questions are better framed, and the answers easier to interpret. The survey is about as close to definitive as we get in our industry: 2,221 responses were tabulated. As the authors note: "This can be considered the largest and most comprehensive PDF usage survey yet conducted."

My top-line view of the results is that while Adobe's PDF has clearly improved the efficiency of prepress workflows, it's still a long way from delivering on its promise. It is underutilized, improperly utilized and not fully trusted. The reasons for this are the usual suspects: users are not properly trained, nor do they run the latest and best software.

Most PDF files are submitted from old versions of Acrobat, and users often also send in the original application file, just in case. Although this was a survey specifically about PDF use, most respondents still report sending in more QuarkXPress files than PDF files. Despite its unambiguous benefits, PDF, clearly, is not yet the dominant file format for most publishers.

At the same time, PDF-X/1a, the most clearly defined version of the PDF format, is employed by only a small minority of users. Enfocus' Certified PDF, a near-fool-proof PDF workflow, does not merit a mention.

Because prepress workflows are still error-prone (in both perception and in fact), both PDF generators and PDF receivers push to have original application files submitted along with the PDFs, in roughly 40 percent of cases. There's a widely-held view that PDFs are tough to edit. Certainly Acrobat continues to provide only minimal editing tools; while PDF editing software like Enfocus PitStop is too complex for the average, unskilled user.

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