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PDF Generators Weigh In --McIlroy

January 2003

PDF has found a particularly successful niche as a tool for soft proofing—it's used this way in over half of print jobs. Of course there are lots of problems using PDFs this way, both because of missing fonts and colors that don't match. And the production challenges with PDF files go beyond soft proofing. Problems frequently encountered include images missing or with insufficient resolution, and incorrect bleed or trim information (all problems that originate in the native application file).

Training Available?

This, again, is primarily an issue about training. While most PDF file receivers (printers and prepress shops) report that they offer training, less than half of PDF generators think they receive any training at all. (I've seen this problem since the dawn of desktop publishing. Crisis-based phone support is not the same thing as outbound training; most printers haven't a clue what really training their customers should mean.) The one-third of users who report they have received training employ mostly "online or self-paced training" (and we know how effective that is!)

Interestingly one of the key reasons for using PDF is for its non-print applications. Nearly half of the files submitted are intended for CD-ROM or Web publication, usually in combination with print. More than 60 percent of PDF file generators also repurpose PDF files to the Web. Some 40 percent plan to use their PDF files for searchable archives, and 30 percent expect their use of PDF to reduce their overall print volume.

With all of these challenges still associated with PDF workflows, why are they becoming so popular? Users rate "fewer cross-platform issues" as the number one benefit. Smaller file sizes are a plus, as are more efficient workflows and soft-proofing options. PDF generators often point to the repurposing and archiving benefits, as well. More than half of users expect PDF usage to increase the most in the next year, running far ahead of anticipated increases for QuarkXPress (18 percent) and Adobe InDesign (8 percent).

I see the issue in black-and-white: PDF is the future of print workflows, and the sooner that printers get their customers up to speed on how to use it properly, the sooner they will get to the kind of efficient, error-free production that we didn't even dare dream about a mere decade ago.

—Thad McIlroy

About the Author

Thad McIlroy is an electronic publishing consultant and analyst, based at Arcadia House in San Francisco. He welcomes your comments at

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