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Some Lessons on JDF --Waldman

November 2003
Last spring, I got a call from Mark Michelson, editor-in-chief of this magazine. I probably shattered has eardrum with my reaction.

"What! You want me to write a 4,000 word article explaining JDF? Mark, I know what JDF is, but I am not an expert. How about six words and a few exclamation points?" Mark, in his usual unflappable manner, simply replied, "Become an expert."

I moved to a higher octave as he explained to me that even though Printing Impressions was hiring me to write the article, it was a piece sponsored by Adobe and Heidelberg.

All I could imagine was that I not only had to face the scrutiny of both Mark Michelson and Technology Editor Mark Smith, but also the corporate review of Adobe and Heidelberg. But Michelson kept encouraging me to do it.

I did it. It appeared in the June issue and I hope you read it. Not because I wrote it, but because it was easily one of the most fascinating, exciting and rewarding writing assignments I have experienced. I learned, and then realized, that JDF is destined to play an integral role in the future of the printing industry. It's definitely something you need to know about. I realize that's a big statement, but bear with me on this.

At first, I assumed that Adobe and Heidelberg had standard corporate motives, and that I had to tout them in the article. They didn't. Their sole objective was to convey and educate about the critical importance of JDF. In fact, they hardly altered a word of what I wrote. They did, however, put some great resources at my disposal, particularly Adobe's Mathias Siegel, senior product manager, publishing technologies and services; and James Mauro, product manager for Heidelberg's Prinect press products.

Both were extremely knowledgeable and their enthusiasm was contagious. Robin Tobin, senior manager of marketing for Adobe, also responded quickly with whatever information or resource I needed. And CIP4's Website, www.CIP4.org, was invaluable, as were articles that Mark Smith wrote in previous issues of this magazine.

I'm sure that many of you were way ahead of me on understanding JDF, and what impact it will have on our industry. But for those that are not as familiar, let me offer a brief explanation. JDF (which stands for Job Definition Format) is based on XML or Extensible Mark-up Language. In simple terms, it allows information to piggy-back with a file. For example, if you created a job in your favorite JDF-compliant desktop publishing program, details like page size and number of pages are already known and can be incorporated into the JDF file automatically. Other information, like quantity and delivery details, would have to be entered manually.

Smart Files, Machines

The file can also interact with devices if they are JDF compliant. For example, it can capture color settings on its trip through prepress and automatically set the ink fountains on the press. It can report back any job information to your accounting department, provided that your MIS system is JDF compliant. It can let you know exactly where it is in the job cycle, with the option of reporting this information directly to your customer.

So as this file is whizzing through the shop, it's collecting and dispersing information. Plus, it's controlling equipment. Moreover, JDF can interact with other databases like CRM and supply chain information if, of course, they are JDF compliant. This is important because it can help printers do more for their clients. For example, automating the coordination of external components that accompany the brochure you just printed—those value-added services we have all been talking about.

JDF was developed by four of the most prominent companies in our industry—Adobe, Agfa, Heidelberg and MAN Roland. Much of it was based on prior work like Adobe's Portable Job Ticket Format (PJTF). Now here is the amazing part: These four companies made the format non-proprietary. In other words, anybody can use it. Is our industry altruistic or what?

Actually, Adobe, Agfa, Heidelberg and MAN Roland realized that for JDF to work as intended, it couldn't be their exclusive property; that would create a counter-productive, proprietary situation. So they gave it to CIP4, an international operating standards body located in Switzerland, to ensure that all would be able to capitalize on the critically important benefits of JDF and guide it to become a truly universal format.

I said earlier that JDF is destined to play an integral role in the future of the printing industry. Let me tell you why. Those that have been reading my column know I have been preaching that print's biggest competition is electronic media. For print to maintain its status in the future, it must become faster and cheaper. An automated workflow that's PDF-based will become a necessity. But an automated workflow also needs automated information and process control to be totally effective—JDF does just that.

I believe that this automated workflow must start with the customer. Web document submission tools like Adobe PDF Transit are already available and can link the printer to the customer's desktop. The client can make a PDF to your specifications in one click.

Now imagine that this PDF is transferred to you automatically with all of the job ticket information. Of course, you have to add production information, but much of it can be picked up automatically from the estimate or a database source. This could finally mean the end of the job jacket, as this file whizzes around your shop collecting and imparting information and controlling the process.

How far away is JDF? You probably saw it touted by some exhibitors at the recent GRAPH EXPO. But the big JDF show undoubtedly will be DRUPA, where you will see JDF compliancy everywhere, including the pressroom.

Prepress is already rapidly embracing JDF. In September, Adobe released version 3016 of PostScript 3, which is JDF compliant. Many of the RIP manufacturers using Adobe PostScript are already using 3016 and incorporating JDF. Heidelberg's Prinect software is JDF compliant and its MetaDimension RIP was quick to incorporate Adobe PostScript version 3016. With the RIP at the core of prepress, a JDF compliant RIP is essential.

By the way, Adobe's latest upgrade to PostScript 3, version 3016, really deserves a close look. It's not only JDF compliant, but offers much faster throughput. Any prepress manager knows that a speedier RIP is not a luxury, but a necessity in today's world of shorter run lengths, quick turnaround and digital presses.

Moving back to the main topic, JDF, I want to leave you with this thought. Learn, and then keep learning more about JDF. It's truly the future and I am sure that all of you want to be there.

—Harry Waldman

About the Author

Harry Waldman is a consultant and has been in the printing industry for 30 years. As a former company owner, he was well-known for implementing cutting-edge technologies. Waldman is also an author. His book, Computer Color Graphics, published by GATF Press, enables readers to learn today's graphic software quickly by teaching the essential concepts. He can be reached by e-mail at harry@harrywaldman.com.
 

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