The Usual Suspects
PRINTACTION February 2004
Is PDF/X saturating the market?
Ballantyne (Qbc): Now that Acrobat 6 is out, it is making
a big difference.
Smyth: The only problem with that is that they didn't
put it in the cheaper version, so the business enterprise
and the like are not going to get the professional model
because they do not need the other tools in there. If it
had been in the standard version I think it would have
helped a lot. About 15 per cent of our files come in as
Ballantyne (Qbc): The thing is that Adobe has adopted it
as a standup so I think that is going to help. Before we
were having to go to the community and say these are the
set of job options and this is the way that you have to do
it at my place and now it's way easier just to say send me a
Ballantyne (St. Joe): And that is what makes it possible for
a small- and medium-sized printer to receive a PDF/X file
and know that it is going to work on their CTP device.
Are you surprised by the lack of CTP out there,
I mean there is some, but there are still a lot
more film-based printers out there?
Ballantyne (Qbc): I think it is a question of economics,
though. I don't think it has anything to do with the
technology not being mature.
Ballantyne (St. Joe): The big printers are 100 per cent
Ballantyne (Qbc): Yeah. I think the small printers can
still get a conventional plate for a lot cheaper. Film
imagesetters are so fast now that you can output a set of
film, with pre-punched plates. I mean it is so fast in a
conventional film-type workflow, so it is all about eco-
nomics. I think until the plate prices come down, the
cost of imaging devices go down... if I'm a small print-
er, I'm saying forget it.
What is your best-case scenario for soft proofing?
Smyth: Cheap. Cheap is a good case for soft proofing.
There are some excellent solutions out there for reliable
quality, but they are expensive. Maybe you guys have had
more experience, but the ones we've looked at, they can
cost, depending on who you are going to, $10 per proof,
versus very economical contract-quality paper proofs. It
depends on whether you are trying to get to a different site
of geographical distance to save courier costs.
Ballantyne (St. Joe): You are talking about remote proof-
Ballantyne (Qbc): I think one of the reasons that [remote
proofing] will not certify is because you need to calibrate
the device. Soft proofing comes down to the ability to
"quote" control that device wherever it is.
Ballantyne (St. Joe): It depends on what you are proofing
for: are you proofing for colour or content? For us, the
bulk of it is proofing for the content. We do it all on screen
and online. That is where you keep all of the Web data or
asset management, so you can open up a PDF in Acrobat
at the same time as someone else and our notes are syn-
chronized back and forth to each other and we edit.
Smyth: And you can get a report at the end, with clean
Ballantyne (St. Joe): Yeah, because it's all in a database.
Then in about half a second it can be XMLized and you
can run that into a presentation system. It would be kind
of like a change-entering system.
Ballantyne (Qbc): For me [remote proofing] has
always been about four things. People were not ready to
do it in the past, which I think they are now. The anno-
tation tools and the ability to markup the PDF work.
The other thing is colour, which still has a way to go
because it is difficult to get a solution where you can
control the device with it. And the other thing about
soft proofing is that a lot of things in a proofing cycle
are about workflow and the way that the user is accus-
tomed to going from step to step. They see everybody's
comments and they like the control in letting the junior
person see it before the senior person does, before the
big guys see it. And they like that. Nobody wants to see
it before the other guy and I think these tools have to
start incorporating some workflow consideration.
Ballantyne (St. Joe): We have actually built our own
around the Web-data theme. It's really a queue where it
kind of bumps it to the next person down the line. And
they have a certain way of coming back to view it and if
they don't then their superior gets notified.
Ballantyne (Qbc): From where we are, colour is big in one
respect and you just don't do it over a soft proof. Content
basically is getting revised as a person is checking it
because they still have a copy of the source file. I think
Acrobat 6 is taking more advantage of the annotations,
but it is still not as sophisticated as what you need.
Ballantyne (St. Joe): Yeah, because that workflow isn't
included, like Dave was talking about. So basically we built
our own Web collaboration system with the workflow
part and it is like a Web data server just to synchronize the
annotations in Acrobat 5.
Will the agency world ever build press-ready PDFs?
Ballantyne (St. Joe): The agency community has been
able to rake people out of prepress companies and they
might have a little bit of knowledge in building these
Ballantyne (Qbc): I think it has been the lives of the
people in this room, for the last couple of years, to go
out to that community and make sure that they are able
to do. Whether you are a publisher or a printer, it is in
your best interest if you can get a good file.
Smyth: Without speaking specific numbers, year over
year, for the last three years there has been a specific
increase in the PDF files and a significant decrease in
the amount of money that we have to spend converting
Quark files or fixing files. So I think it is being taken up
in the industry as a whole, whether it is the creatives or
not, the tools are out there to make the files. With the
latest version of OS X 10.3, and a little bit of set up, any
application can create a PDF/X file.
What about the migration to Mac OS X?
Ballantyne (St. Joe): Are you going to get a G5? Do you
really have to do that, or would you buy a PC. If you are
the person signing the cheque somebody better have a
really good story for you, as to why you are going with
this over that. When the application interfaces are so
similar on the operator level, but the efficiencies in the
economy are so different.
Smyth: It is phenomenally cheaper to go with a PC.
Kew: The corporate bean counter doesn't understand
that more than half of the graphics industry is already
Mac based. This is a big question. It is getting tougher
and tougher to tell a story about why we should spend
twice as much money to go Mac.
Is there a migration to Windows?
Ballantyne (St. Joe): We are actually seeing a migration
the other way. We found that if you go pound for
pound on a branded PC, like a Dell or IBM or whatev-
er, and consider all of the same features that you would
be getting in a Mac box, you end up at around the same
price anyway. What we have really found in the IT sec-
tor at St. Joe's is that your cost per year spent on the
maintenance of a Mac box is cheaper than on a PC, and
you can keep them on the floor longer and you can cas-
cade them down to other people.
Smyth: That's good to hear, because some of the con-
cern here is for the need to create another function of
the IT department, to support what essentially are
unsupported operating systems right now.
Ballantyne (Qbc): Where there are 5,000 computers in
a company, if only four of them are Macs then they are
all in the creative department. These people are on their
own, isolated. IT won't talk to them and they do not
have any budget for software.
Ballantyne (St. Joe): No support. We found even at
Sears when they had their whole catalogue presence
that IT wouldn't even let them on the network. They
had to buy their own hubs to connect to the internet
ublishing has been evolving to better suit the
diverse market requirements of cross-media,
and the PDF format has a distinct advantage in
meeting these needs by maintaining both the
integrity of the content as well as the intended con-
text of a document. This advantage has helped
drive PDF adoption as the de facto standard across
a broad range of publishing needs.
However, while the PDF format can and is used
to address a fairly large assortment of document
requirements, the specific needs of the print pub-
lishing process, the virtual instant turnaround
needs in the marketplace, have driven the need for
a more specific global standard. As a result, the
PDF format has been tuned into a global PDF/X
The PDF/X standard ensures the compliant file
meets certain specific requirements. In all cases, it
ensures that there are no non-printable elements
like animations, movies or comments included. It
also ensures the file includes all fonts, specific
information about the printable page area and the
identification of any included trapping information.
The PDF/X standard currently comes in three dif-
ferent variations: PDF/X-1a, PDF/X-2 and PDF/X-3.
Each variation addresses certain additional produc-
tion requirements. PDF/X-1a supports CMYK plus
spot colours. PDF/X-2 supports the use of refer-
enced but not included images (OPI). PDF/X-3 sup-
ports the use of device-independent colour spaces
like RGB, LAB and colour managed workflows.
PDF/X file creation is supported by most of the
current graphic arts and design applications.
Processing of PDF/X is supported by most of the
current RIP versions available in the market,
although full PDF/X-3 support has only recently
been added to most of the RIPs. You are encour-
aged to check with your output vendor or RIP man-
ufacturer to ensure this support is available in your
If you are interested you can test your individual
workflows PDF/X-3 compliance with the Altona
Suite developed by the ECI (European Color
Initiative). This series of three PDF/X-3 pages test a
full range of process instructions including the
proper handling of colour instructions, colour man-
agement and overprints. These files are available
with no cost at www.eci.org.
Using PDF/X as a document exchange format for
print publishing ensures that the files meet certain
common conditions to minimize the problems
associated with non-compliant bad files that are
entering the production process. However even
with the use of the PDF/X standards, there are many
additional process requirements that are specific to
process applications like magazine publishing,
newspaper publishing, commercial printing, pack-
aging, etc. that are not addressed.
Enter PDF/X-Plus. Developed by the Ghent PDF
Workgroup, an international community comprised
of users groups and interested software vendors,
these specific profiles and application specific set-
tings takeover where the PDF/X standards leave off.
These profiles and setup instruction sets were
developed to ensure that a file prepared in New
York, Toronto, Paris, Bonn or anywhere else will be
compliant with production in any plant around the
world for that specific profile's intended application.
Currently there are nine different process applica-
tion scenarios that are supported by PDF/X Plus.
Support for PDF/X Plus is increasingly available
through many PDF creation and preflight applica-
tions. More detailed information on PDF/X, and
PDF/X Plus profiles and instruction sets can be
found at www.pdf-x.com and www.ghentpdfwork-
PDF/X From North America to Ghent
By David Zwang, Zwang & Co.