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PDF WORKFLOW--Still a Juggling Act

March 2001

PDF is supposed to stand for Portable Document Format, but "pretty darn frustrating" has been a more fitting moniker in many ways. When Adobe introduced the Acrobat software family, with PDF as its core technology, it was billed as the answer to the shortcomings inherent in the PostScript language, among other things. The coveted benefits of PDF include the ability to generate relatively small, self-contained (including fonts) files that can be processed more efficiently and reliably.

Yet, more than five years later, PDF only now seems in a position to become the standard or even generally preferred file format for the bulk of printing work. Part of the problem has been that expectations were set too high from the beginning. Creating good PDF files hasn't turned out to be the simple, error-reducing process that was hoped.

As the brief product overview that follows will show, the technology and tools for processing PDF files continue to improve. However, there still is a troublesome gap on the front end—specifically, seamless support of PDF at the job-creation stage. With Quark Inc. providing only limited integration of PDF in XPress and Adobe InDesign failing to be the "Quark killer," most print creators are still faced with having to buy additional software and add a production step if they want to submit jobs as PDF files.

Since print creators generally have been shielded from the "pain" that often comes with processing native application and PostScript files, they have no incentive to make an investment in PDF. For years they've been allowed to brush aside a myriad of production nightmares with a simple statement, "It looked fine on my screen (or printout)."

From the print creators' perspectives, it's a case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Why should they spend $249 for Adobe Acrobat on up to $895 for Agfa Apogee Create, per seat, to solve what has seemed to be someone else's problem?

Therefore, it will take some effort to sell the creative community on the benefits of PDF. One option would be to offer a financial incentive to change or, conversely, a disincentive for maintaining the status quo. Either way, the move to PDF-based production could be an opportunity for the industry as a whole to finally establish a policy that any file "fixes" will incur a fee.

There is another issue that could complicate adoption of PDF on the front end. Not all PDF files are equal, so there is the potential for confusion when people talk about PDF-based workflows and production. A variety of organizations, companies and interested parties are participating in the effort to establish the PDF/X standard file format. This effort initially is targeting applications in the advertising/publication market, but the standard is also expected to have value in the broader commercial printing arena.



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