PDF WORKFLOW--Still a Juggling Act
BY MARK SMITH
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.
PDF/X is a subset of the general format, and is designed to increase the reliability of transferred files in terms of processing and the printed result. A system that produces and/or consumes PDF files doesn't automatically support PDF-X.
As PDF use grows, it will become increasingly important to be clear about what specific file format is being requested and delivered.
For those shops looking to make the move to PDF-based production, the list of potential workflow solutions continues to grow. Besides PDF (PDF 1.3 and PDF/X) support, a fairly standard set of features has been established for competitive workflow systems. The exact configurations and implementations vary, but these systems typically offer:
- client/server architecture (usually Windows NT) for scalability, including multi-processor support;
- automatic preflighting and normalizing of incoming files;
- automation of other tasks through the use of electronic job tickets, templates and hot folders;
- trapping, imposition and OPI functions;
- support of PostScript, EPSF, TIFF/IT-P1 and 1-bit TIFF file formats; and
- generation of CIP3 PPF files for use in press (ink-key presetting) and postpress operations.
One point of differentiation that has gotten some play is whether a workflow system is "100 percent" PDF or uses some other interim file format. The issue boils down to, if a system accepts and outputs PDF files, while faithfully rendering the data, then does it matter what happens in the middle? It's up to individual buyers to decide.
So how do the systems differ?
Prinergy is a family of page-based workflow tools that use PDF as the internal file format and have an Oracle database at their core. Currently the product line is being developed by CreoScitex, but the system also is marketed by Heidelberg USA.
Prinergy Direct is the entry-level product that provides file processing capabilities to Mac and PC users. It can be upgraded to the greater functionality of Connect, which supports volume production and receives files from the Direct system. Powerpack is a configuration that has been optimized for offset and flexographic packaging printers and trade shops. InSite enables users to create a secure Internet portal through which they can interact with remote print buyers. (www.creoscitex.com or www.heidelbergusa.com)
CreoScitex also is committed to the ongoing development—including expanded PDF support—of its Brisque front-end solution, says Mark Sullivan, the company's business development manager. Brisque provides an entirely raster-based workflow, as opposed to the mixed raster and vector environment of Prinergy, Sullivan explains. It is based on the Power PC platform.
Agfa ApogeeSeries2 system components include Pilot (production manager), PDF RIP and PrintDrive (output manager). The system maintains files in the PDF format, with the latest upgrade adding support of a page-based workflow. Apogee reportedly is designed to be an open system so it can work with non-Agfa RIPs, output devices and workflows. (www.agfahome.com)
Fuji Photo Film USA's PDF workflow solution is the CelebraNT Extreme RIP, based on Adobe Extreme technology. CelebraNT Plus features a modular design that allows users to start with a basic RIP and upgrade to a full workflow system. It drives all of the manufacturer's output devices, and offers Fujifilm Quality Screening in both conventional and FM modes. (www.fujifilm.com)
Trueflow, from Screen (USA), features a Web browser-based user interface, and can be enhanced with several options. FlatWorker is used for laying out multiple files on a single plate. TrapEditor, which runs on a separate Windows NT platform, provides additional control of trap settings and support for object-based trapping by width and color. (www.screenusa.com)
Purup-Eskofot's NewAge is based on Harlequin RIP technology, and can mix PDF and PostScript pages within the same flat. It supports replacement of single pages (PDF or PostScript), so late corrections can be made in the original application or third-party PDF editor. (www.purup-eskofot.com)
Barco's FASTLANE also uses the modules approach to add functionality. CERTIN interprets and normalizes incoming files, but a "Normalize Only When Necessary" feature can be used to keep selected file types in their native format. FASTCONTROL is used to manage workflows and provides e-mail notification of task completion or problems. FASTIMPOSE is a wizard-driven imposition program. TRUEVIEW enables overprints to be viewed on screen. IMPOSEPROOF! creates backed-up proofs on duplex printers and copiers. (www.barco.com)
DALiM Software supports PDF in its TWiST and SWiNG products. The TWiST workflow automation and management system includes Setup (user administrator), Editor (for designing workflows), Manager (job administrator) and Server modules. Users can graphically drag-and-drop more than 125 different tasks, known as "Basic Tools," to create a workflow. It runs under UNIX and Linux. Based on TWiST technology, the SWiNG family of pre-configured workflows includes Trap, Normalizer, Proofer and CT/LW-2-PDF. All SWiNG workflows handle preflighting and normalization of incoming data. It runs under Linux. (www.dalim.com)
Some of the systems cited incorporate either the Rampage RIPing system or Harlequin ScriptWorksRIP with MaxWorkFlows technology. Both products support PDF and are primarily marketed by OEMs, although Rampage also is offered by dealers. (www.rampageinc.com and www.harlequin.com)
While not in quite the same league, Enfocus recently introduced its Certified Workflow concept and Certify PDF plug-in for Adobe Acrobat. Part of the concept is to move preflighting responsibility upstream to job creators, through the use of the plug-in, Acrobat and preflight profiles supplied by print providers. The preflight profile and results are attached to the PDF document, so the receiver can verify success of the preflight.
Print providers also can use the technology in conjunction with Enfocus' other PDF tools to keep a detailed log (contained within the file) of all changes made to a PDF document and by which user. A "roll back" mechanism enables users to revert back to a snapshot of the file at any early stage of production. The company also has committed to making the code available to third parties so their products can be Certified Workflow compliant. (www.enfocus.com)
For a look at some utilities that can help to support a PDF workflow, visit www.piworld.com.