Putting PDF into Production
Streamlining prepress production with PDF optimizes cross-platform functionality and consistent, predictable output. While some commercial printers are content to watch PDF's development, others are embracing the still-emerging technology full force. Which approach is yours?
BY MARIE RANOIA ALONSO
This is the second installment in Printing Impressions' ongoing look at PDF workflows in practice at a variety of commercial printing and digital prepress operations. Part I appeared in the June issue.
PDF FILES are independent of platform or operating system. PDF files are small and self-contained, with fonts, images and graphics embedded within each PDF document, streamlining electronic transmission and preflighting. PDF files offer unique benefits for both document creators and print production professionals, with consistent, predictable output the goal of all PDF documents.
Who doesn't love PDF? In some ways, that may be a loaded question. Not every commercial printer is flocking to the world of PDF—although it certainly seems that way. PDF workflows, from Agfa's Apogee to Prinergy, marketed by CreoScitex and Heidelberg Prepress, are now joined by a virtual flood of PDF workflows and new PDF plug-ins targeting the world of print.
Still, there are those commercial printers that reserve the right to be cautious in their zeal over PDF. One such cautious visionary is Tim Poole, vice president of Sacramento, CA-based Dome Printing, a family owned, $20 million, high-end commercial printer. Dome Printing is among the next wave of independent printing companies: Digitally smart, willing to invest in new technologies, ready to grow and change with the increasing pressure of the printing industry's very digital times.
Dome Printing, like many commercial printers, has tested the merits and boundaries of Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF) packaged within a complete workflow system. And although Poole believes PDF will, without question, be the file format for the future of print, he is content to continue building his company on the backbone of Adobe's PostScript 3.
"I know PDF will replace PostScript; it is only a matter of time," Poole states. "I view PDF as an emerging and improving technology. And while it might be good to be on the cutting edge of such a workflow-changing technology, I'm content to eliminate as many variables as possible from my prepress department, which, for right now, means relying on the proven capabilities of PostScript."
Johnson Printing, of Boulder, CO, is more extreme in its perceptions of PDF. Operating a 100-percent PDF workflow, this web and sheetfed operation was one of the first U.S. printers (in 1998) to set its sights on building a PDF workflow. "We sought streamlined, digital productivity in our prepress department, which would expedite processes and allow us to get more done in the pressroom," explains Bob Graham, general manager.
To achieve its goals of increased productivity and the adoption of streamlined, digital tools, Johnson Printing took to the extreme, investing in an Agfa Galileo platesetter, Agfa's Apogee PDF-based workflow solution and Adobe's Extreme architecture.
The Apogee system uses Adobe Extreme to create PDF files and automate production tasks, allowing printing companies, including the 100-plus employee Johnson Printing, to complete more prepress tasks and maintain high pressroom productivity. By incorporating Adobe Extreme, Agfa's Apogee workflow separates file form from file content, and uses digital masters to repurpose content for multiple output options. The efficiency of Apogee is gained by the use of job tickets to control the workflow, and the reliability and production capabilities of the PDF format.
After submission to the system, all files are translated to PDF using the Adobe Extreme PDF generator and a job ticket is created to track job progress and define production characteristics. The resulting job, in PDF, can be used throughout production as the digital master of the customer's original intent, with all fonts and graphics embedded.
At Johnson Printing, once files are ready for imaging, they are sent to either the company's Galileo digital platesetter or to an Agfa Avantra 44 imagesetter. For these devices, a PostScript stream is created for the Apogee Taipan AX RIP, which uses Adobe PostScript 3 features, such as 16-bit screening and smooth shading, to improve print quality.
Notes Chris Dyson, Johnson's prepress director: "Our productivity has really grown. PDF is an ideal solution for attacking, or eliminating, problematic files. If PDFs are created correctly, the productivity and accuracy of prepress departments improve immeasurably."
While Johnson Printing is experiencing workflow boosts with PDF, Primary Color, a 240-employee, Irvine, CA-based prepress, printing and digital service provider, is turning to PDF for soft proofing, color control and time savings.
Presently, Primary Color is utilizing Adobe's Acrobat InProduction for better control of the PDF process. Designed for print production professionals, InProduction reportedly enables PDF files to be processed easily, efficiently and reliably through a color printing workflow.
Prior to InProduction, Primary Color—with sales in the $31 million range—had to rely on a piecemeal solution to complete its PDF workflow, particularly for the conversions of spot colors to process colors and other separation functions.
InProduction's Separator tool, one of five InProduction tools designed to offer better control and improved workflow performance, currently allows Primary Color to specify and perform conversions of spot colors to process colors, as well as specify printer's marks.
"We have been waiting for a tool like Separator; it solves many prepress problems for us," reports Jay Sato, prepress R&D manager at Primary Color. "The Separator tool gives our team complete control over output, including converting and remapping spot colors to the correct plate. Separator allows us to soft proof files much more accurately because it shows overprints and traps."
InProduction's Preflight tool, which Sato anticipates will join Separator as a lead tool for Primary Color, compares PDF files against a set of user-defined profiles to check for time-consuming errors. It scans for problems in the document structure, pages, images, fonts, colors and output settings.
InProduction's Trim/Bleed tool, also high on Sato's list to be a production streamliner at Primary Color, allows users to create production-ready PDF files. Its functionality provides the controls needed to define media, trim, bleed and art boxes on a specific page, giving users the ability to ensure accurate page positioning for imposition.
InProduction also delivers Color Converter and in-RIP Trapping tools. Color Converter enables CMYK conversions from L*a*b, RGB or CMYK color modes using industry standard ICC profiles. Adobe in-RIP Trapping enables users to specify page and regional zone-based trapping parameters for later execution in an Adobe PostScript 3 RIP that licenses Adobe in-RIP Trapping.
"I foresee Primary Color utilizing the Preflight and Trim/Bleed functionalities extensively," Sato reports. "Separator, to date, has been a good tool to incorporate into our workflow. I foresee, for example, Preflight being an equally good tool to incorporate, allowing us to perform the front line assessment of files, as well as be a great tool on the back end, which adds another layer of quality control before we ship the files."
At present, Primary Color offers color separations, electronic retouching and image manipulation, imagesetting, digital photography, digital asset management, multimedia and Internet services, press proofing, ad reprints and commercial printing. With facilities in Irvine and Culver City, CA, the company—led by principals Dan Hirt, Ron Hirt and Mike Hirt—is a large, progressive provider of prepress, printing and new media services, with an elite list of clientele.
PDF, too, is a staple technology at Primary Color. "I don't think it'll be too long before PDF will be the preferred format for internal workflows and external file exchange," Sato adds. "PDF is an enabler that allows us to do things we could not do before. With PDF, we can represent almost all of our jobs, no matter which application they originated, in a self-contained, common file format."
Another example of PDF in action is seen at Portland, OR-based Premier Press, a full-service commercial printing operation that uses PDF to streamline its prepress production by 50 percent. In 1998, the management of Premier Press decided to convert the company's prepress area, bit by bit, to a PDF-based CTP prepress department. The executives at Premier Press wanted more streamlined prepress workflow operations, with quantifiable time savings and increased efficiencies throughout its prepress department.
The managers wanted Premier Press to fully utilize a PDF workflow, working in tandem with a digital platesetter, to effectively execute a fully integrated PDF-based prepress environment, capable of empowering Premier Press to deliver the most accurate and controllable print results in the shortest amount of time.
The technology employed: The Agfa Apogee PDF-based workflow and an Agfa Galileo digital platesetter. Today, PDF accounts for more than 90 percent of all prepress work at Premier Press and, as Pat McIntyre, electronic prepress specialist, reports, PDF has allowed Premier's prepress department to boost productivity, cut production costs, achieve greater accuracy and respond to customer production demands faster.
"We receive files in every format and condition imaginable," McIntyre states. "File preparation continues to consume most of our prepress operator's time on any given job, but this capability is part of the value that Premier adds. Once we convert the file to PDF, Apogee creates an extremely reliable workflow that stretches all the way to our presses."
For Premier Press, Apogee PrintDrive is an important element of the prepress workflow. With Apogee, the traditional RIP function is split into interpreting and rasterizing. By saving rasterization until the final step, Apogee enables late-stage edits without the extensive rework normally associated with a PostScript workflow.
Apogee and a PDF-based environment allow Premier Press to operate more efficiently, resulting in faster turnaround times and better calculated proofs. "Since Apogee is a comprehensive PDF solution, our operators simply get more done in less time. PDF saves us a lot of headaches," McIntyre reports.
There are many ways to view the PDF momentum within the graphic arts industry. Dome Printing's intelligent caution, yet visionary acceptance, of PDF's placement in the industry and future impact on print production is one way. The 100-percent PDF stance of Johnson Printing is another. The progressive approach of Primary Color, and its work with Adobe's PDF bridge technology, InProduction, is yet another.
Regardless of the current PDF positioning of any specific printing organization, the fact that PDF will continue to take root in the printing industry is undeniable. Prepress technology companies from Agfa to CreoScitex to Heidelberg to Fujifilm to Screen to IPTech, and on and on, it seems, are developing new PDF workflows or enhancing tools and capabilities in existing PDF workflows. The number of third-party PDF solutions is growing at a healthy pace as well, further enabling PDF to the mass market of commercial printers looking to go digital.
Introducing PDF to any print production workflow is a dramatic step. While it can streamline processes and create a more flexible, predictable prepress environment, PDF done incorrectly is a workflow nightmare. Educating the design community and the print buyer to the proper ways of creating PDFs will be the best insurance that PDF, in practice, will be successful for any commercial printer.
The PDF Message
As PDF gains momentum, so too does a new cadre of third-party plug-ins, designed to enable and enhance any PDF workflow. Why are these tools important? The variety of third-party PDF proponents, available from the developers or directly from Adobe Systems, do everthing from converting multi-page PDF files to image file formats like TIFF, JPEG or BMP, to turning PDF documents into archiving solutions.
While Adobe is working to educate the graphic arts community (visit www.adobe.com) on the merits and implementations of PDF, the responsibility to truly get designers, publishers and the comprehensive print buying community pointed in the right PDF dir-ections may fall on the shoulders of the printer—cautious or pioneering—to put PDF, truly, into production.
To help in bolstering any printer's understanding of PDF—or any print buyers', for that matter—the following sites are on the World Wide Web: www.pdfzone.com, www.planetpdf.com, www.purepdf.com. Also, there is never a shortage of interesting PDF banter on www.printplanet.com.
PDF is making major steps in the printing and publishing environments. Read all about it.
Enfocus, PDF & PitStop
Born soon after Adobe debuted its PDF format, Enfocus Software is today a leading provider of production tools for ensuring PDF document workflows. Because the company's focus is entirely PDF, Enfocus' worldwide growth and success in just a few short years can be seen as a barometer of PDF adoption, especially in the conventional printing and publishing segment.
PDF has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a read-only format. Today, it has been adopted by virtually all software and equipment providers in printing and prepress, and continues to evolve in many ways. In fact, PDF is now the most popular way to post print-format documents to the Internet.
The printing and publishing segment itself is multi-faceted and sufficiently varied.
Recently, Enfocus identified the need to split its product development to meet different user requirements. In fact, at Seybold San Francisco the company will launch a new suite of solutions representing the spectrum of conventional through cross-media publishing workflow PDF applications.
A new product development path that will be devoted to Enfocus' core audience in the graphic arts will begin with a turbo-boosted version of PitStop, Enfocus' flagship product. "PitStop Professional," says Enfocus Director of Marketing John Sugnet, "is destined to be Enfocus' crown jewels. All of our best and most sophisticated PDF intelligence will be brought to the highest end publishing customers via this solution."
PitStop Professional is full-featured and includes preflight, editing, global change and action lists. The product will offer new and unique features Enfocus previewed in Germany at DRUPA 2000. Seybold will also mark the official launch of Enfocus PowerUp, a PDF editor engineered to give larger segments of the PDF print/publishing community simplified access to powerful PitStop tools. PowerUp PDF will be offered at a significantly lower price than PitStop Professional.
"PowerUp was designed as a simplified text and graphics editing program for those who are just getting started on the path to PDF workflow," Sugnet says. Enfocus will also debut WebPerfect, a Web optimization tool that allows users to take PDFs originally formatted for four-color print to the Web via easy downsampling for reduced file sizes. Sugnet reports the company will show Seybold attendees an upgrade to PitStop Server, the solution for those working in high volume PDF environments. He reports that PitStop Server's dramatically enhanced speed will be of particular value to organizations working with big documents such as books.
As PDF matures, Sugnet and Enfocus expect to see even more specialization. "We're ahead of the PDF curve, and ready for everything users throw at us, because we're taking the time to figure out what they'll do with PDF even before they start having problems with it."
Dome Printing's prepress department incorporates a series of Mac workstations and a CreoScitex Spectrum digital halftone proofer.