The Usual Suspects
PRINTACTION February 2004
Or there will be a plug-in that says I can make it a dig-
ital master right now but you will need a $40,000
receiver to really make it work the interpreter.
Ballantyne (St. Joe): Yeah, and you are sitting there
with a $20 tool, when you need something like that
Smyth: There is a huge industry that has been able to
make its livelihood out of botching things together.
How does PDF/X help to stop botching files?
Ballantyne (Qbc): In a PDF/X workflow you are going
to a device that you have no control over, so you are still
going to need some type of management in that device.
Even though the PDF/X is colour managed, it is the file
that is colour managed and you are still going to need
some control over the device.
Should the PDF be embedded in the file or in the
device or both?
Kew: One of the things that we talked about at the
CGATS meeting, and it became quite a debate, was
manufacturing versus people.
Ballantyne (St. Joe): Were you awake for that part?
Kew: We talked about when you send a PDF file to a
proofer, an online remote proofer, and you have to reset
the ribbons and all that stuff. So the argument was,
`Well it's my proofer, I know it really well, so I want
people to adhere to my device when a file comes in'.
Well, the person who is sending the file will say, `Hold
it, I know what I am doing, I can get that proof to look
the same at the five locations that I send it to around
Ballantyne (St. Joe): But you need a profile embedded
in both to do that; you need your target profile and
your device profile. They have to interact and if they are
both set-up properly you can do that on an IRIS or a
Pictro or something.
Kew: Right, so you have to have it in both. The argu-
ment was that the receiver has to do something with the
file over there. We all know this because the profile
might be different right. But in the standards world we
are asking why? Why do they have to be different from
the management side of the device?
Ballantyne (St. Joe): Because you can never control
your target device. It's not always in your realm.
Kew: If it's a custom device to your shop?
Ballantyne (St. Joe): Well, you have to profile the device
yourself because, unless we have perfect equipment
manufacturing processes, no two printers, even of the
same brand and model, are going to be exactly alike.
Ballantyne (Qbc): The bottom line is that there is more
than one colour-managed workflow, right. So it is going
to depend on whether it is within in your realm,
whether it is self-contained or something that you have
no control over.
Ballantyne (St. Joe): In general, I think it is best, if even
just for consistency's sake, to make sure that profiles are
embedded in everything all the way along the line. That
way you are kind of honouring the profile right from
the source, the camera, the scanner, whatever, right
Kew: So you would honour a profile right from the
receiver? You would honour a profile right through?
Ballantyne (St. Joe): Well, they should all be allowed to
play nice with each other.
Kew: It's great if you have a controlled workflow.
Smyth: A closed workflow sounds great for a studio
shop or retail catalogues. It would be quite different to
implement, as we all know, in an open workflow where
you are getting stuff from 10 different people from 10
Ballantyne (St. Joe): Yes, then I guess, I am kind of talk-
ing from the Sears retail side. If I talk from the St.
Joseph Media publication side then yeah that is pretty
much with no profiles. It is all CMYK all the way
through because you don't know where anything is
coming from or necessarily where it is going.
Smyth: I think you can save a lot of money, and you
guys would know this better than I would, on the retail
end, where I had to get it to three different sites and
make it look the same at those sites for approval.
Kew: So we agree. We just embed the profile in a con-
Ballantyne (St. Joe): And in the file.
Kew: In the file and with a supplied workflow.
Why do we have PDF/X for RGB?
Kew: They just don't let go of X3. Who do you know
that has seen a PDF/X-3 file? Nobody. We know
PDF/X-3 is for the European market where people use
RGB workflows. Who else works in RGB workflows?
Ballantyne (Qbc): The file formats have come out of
the workflow that exists today and right now workflows
in North America work in CMYK. All of the retouch-
ing, the colour correction, and I think you are looking
at a learning curve for all those trade people who have
been doing it for so long.
Ballantyne (St. Joe): So they can either separate
upstream. The whole idea with RGB or LAB in the PDF
is so that they can separate for different processes.
Kew: Well, there is a big difference between LAB and
RGB a really big difference.
Ballantyne (Qbc): For sure, but the reason why we have
PDF/X as a standard in a CMYK model is because that
is the way North America works.
Ballantyne (St. Joe): I would say that LAB and RGB can
be grouped tighter than CMYK, and it's out there fur-
ther than you think.
Kew: But there is a lot of talk about PDF/X-3 out in the
marketplace and really it is not used a lot in North
Smyth: I don't know anybody who is using an RGB
workflow for magazine publishing anywhere in North
America. But with re-purposing files a lot of people are
taking the CMYK and going back to RGB for the Web.
I will call it a lesser-quality Web source. It would make
much more sense doing it the other way, but you have
such an entrenched workflow is it worth the pain of
going back to RGB?
Ballantyne (Qbc): Not to mention all of the content
that is out there in CMYK, in the archives.
Ballantyne (St. Joe): And still screen displays are so
poor for the people viewing on the Web it really does-
n't matter if you come back with CMYK.
Smyth: Unless you have a crispy new Apple cinema dis-
play, the room light is right...
Ballantyne (St. Joe): And you are using IE, hooked into
ColorSync, and all of that. But I think where it could be
beneficial having LAB, or even RGB, in a PDF workflow
is if you are going to multiple print media.
Ballantyne (St. Joe): Yeah. Where part of the job is
going to offset and the other part is going to go gravure,
so you will have to re-separate.
Smyth: Would you do that in a retail workflow where
you are doing online catalogues and print catalogues?
Ballantyne (St. Joe): We are actually kind of looking at
that right now because we are doing the three things
with the Sears stuff. We are sending all of the gravure
work to Dave [Quebecor World], and the offset stuff is
kind of spread around with some of it going to St. Joe
and some of it going to Quebecor, and then there is the
online portion as well. Between the catalogue, which is
still gravure, and the retail flyers, which are all offset,
there needs to be more reused images between the two
and workflow could help. Otherwise, you have to go
back to the source and try to re-separate.
Kew: The issue that I have with PDF/X-3 is that a lot of
people are talking about how great it is and all the cus-
tomers go back and start saying I want to do X3. I want
to do X3 files now. But they don't exist. The other issue
is that we understand newspapers do RGB workflows,
which is why we keep it open, but now soft proofing
comes into effect. This is getting really hot, where you
go,`Well, you know I want to work in RGB workflow
because our monitors are RGB and I don't want to look
at LED tables and all of that stuff '. This is where the
customer base is going to pull us into this whole mess.
Ballantyne (St. Joe): That is where you really have to
colour manage the print. It goes back to the profiles and
you really have to have accurate profiles, managed pro-
files embedded everywhere.
Kew: So all the customer hears is that this is really sexy.
RGB, Photoshop, all of it's on my monitor, it should be
the same. It's been an issue all along: `What do you
mean, it isn't the same on my monitor?' All of that is
coming our way.
ith today's compressed schedules and
pricing concessions given for delivering
RIP-ready files, the role of PDF/X is more
important now than ever before. The upstream
shift of responsibility in the workflow has created
the need for simplification and standardization of
the entire process. One of the byproducts of this
new workflow is an increased level of technical cus-
tomer service and support provided by the printer.
As workflow facilitators, we must rise to the chal-
lenge and provide this service to our customers
participating in a PDF/X workflow.
If not clearly explained, PDF/X can be confusing.
As printers, we must do more to simplify the
process and educate our customers on how and
where PDF/X fits in a production workflow. We
need to offer the tools and technical support in
order to give them every opportunity to succeed;
no different than in the past, now it is just with a
new file format.
We are seeing encouraging features and functions
being built into many of the right places within pre-
press and design software. Page layout applica-
tions, PDF conversion tools and job delivery sys-
tems are now not only PDF/X aware, but work to
build compliant and correct files. These strategical-
ly placed features are the enabling technologies we
have been waiting for. The next step in the process
is to establish the procedures and rules for using all
of these features; with the goal of delivering a vali-
dated PDF/X file to the printer.
Action plan for a printer
For printers working to implement a PDF/X work-
flow, here is an easy-to-follow action plan to use as
Educate yourself and your staff. Understand
all of the tools, functions and requirements of
the process. You must have an expert for you and
your customers to rely on to make it all work;
Document the process. Open the lines of com-
munications and tell everyone exactly how
everything works. Be sure to communicate in a
manner that your customers can understand; steer
clear of too much technical jargon;
Share your workflow with your customers.
You can't expect to have the cooperation of
your customers if you don't tell them what you are
Solicit feedback. Refinements will have to be
made even with the most careful planning.
Bottom line: when a bad PDF arrives in the shop,
there is little if anything a printer can do with it to
make it work. In a PDF workflow the risk level is high-
er, so therefore we all must work together to ensure
that only good files make it to the printer. Proactive
communications and training sessions are essential
to a successful PDF workflow. PDF/X is the container
that will transport a properly built file. If we do not
collaborate with and educate our customers, PDF/X
will just be another confusing acronym.
By Mark Witkowski, The Sheridan Group