Go West, Young Standards Seekers
It's been nearly a year since PDF/X-1 became an accredited standard. So why aren't more agencies and publishers relying on it?
Maybe it's the history of its pioneer spirit, or maybe it's the predominance of maverick publishers on the West Coast, for it seems as though the use of the latest publishing standards—PDF/X-1, in particular—is far more prevalent on the "Left Coast" than anywhere else in the U.S., and we hope that will soon change.
From the start
Chaired by Harlequin's Martin Bailey, a PDF/X-1 task force assembled more than two years ago to address the would-be standard, and it was accredited in October 1999. Even so, many realized that some lag time would elapse while developers created their supporting tools. Fortunately, they were quick about it. In March 2000, several vendors touted tools at the DDAP (Digital Distribution of Advertising for Publications) conference. At the same conference, the DDAP announced its PDF/X-1 Verifier—a preflighting tool that tells users if the file is really PDF/X-1 compliant. And later came the announcement that Time Inc. had already printed the first ad delivered as a PDF/X-1 file. The Bayer ad ran in an earlier edition of TIME magazine as TIFF/IT-P1 file. Willing to try the PDF/X-1 new standard, the publisher asked the ad's creator, DDB Needham Worldwide, New York City, to send the ad file to Quality House of Graphics in Long Island City, NY, where it would be converted to a PDF/X-1 using CreoScitex's PDF2Go on a CreoScitex Brisque. The file was sent on to the printer, which converted it to a DCS 2.0 file for platesetting, and the ad ran beautifully. From accredited standard to implementation in less than six months!
Certainly, the speed at which PDF/X-1's adoption moved may be a result of the graphic arts community's cry for help: "We want PDF-based workflows!" But the shouting soon subsided, and activity seems to have quieted on the PDF/X-1 front.
As members of the publication community, we feel it's important to revisit the reasons why we should all be interested in PDF/X-1, so let's take a closer look at the file format. The PDF/X standard represents a series of file formats designed for a variety of applications. PDF/X-1 is aimed at digital ad delivery, hence the support of organizations like the DDAP and the Newspaper Associ-ation of America (NAA).
Adobe's PDF is extremely flexible, which in the case of advertising, causes some concern. So, PDF/X-1's purpose was to limit the format's flexibility without limiting its usefulness and richness. Here's how PDF/X-1 differs from PDF:
Fonts: Fonts in a PDF document, for example, may be embedded, while in a PDF/X-1 file, they must be embedded. High-Res/Low-Res: With a PDF, you can use OPI (Open Prepress Interface). With PDF/X-1, OPI is out of the question, for all high-resolution data must be embedded.
Color: With standard PDF documents, the creator can chose from a variety of color spaces, but PDF/X-1 only allows for CMYK and spot-color designations.
Embedded files: PDF provides no allowance for embedding legacy file formats within the document, but PDF/X-1 does.
File formats: With PDF, there's virtually no limit to the number of file formats that can be included in the document. PDF/X-1, however, limits the files to: TIFF/IT-P1, DCS five files (also called DCS 1) containing only CMYK raster data, DCS 2.0 containing only CMYK raster data and EPS, also with only CMYK raster data.
Trapping: A recipient of a PDF 1.2 file can't tell whether the file has been trapped. PDF/X-1 (and PDF 1.3 or higher) offers a "flag" that alerts operators about trapping.
Boxes: With PDF, there is an allowance for media, art, trim and bleed boxes, but they are optional. With PDF/X-1, art and media boxes are mandatory.
If you consider each of these items individually, you may not expect any one to cause to major problems during print production. But collectively, they're the cause to a makegood effect. Granted, they can all be controlled through Acrobat's job setups, but dealing with them individually requires meticulous operator attention.
PDF/X-1 is a graphics file's seatbelt. So why isn't everyone using it? Perhaps because we fear change. Just look at the amount of film our industry continues to consume! These are the days to pioneer new digital territory, and a few are doing that with PDF/X-1.
Western Laser Graphics' clientele is 70 percent publishers, 30 percent commercial print buyers. More than 50 percent of page files produced each month are transmitted in digital form. Similarly, Easyriders, Augora Hills, CA, a multi-title publisher, delivers 100 percent digital files since going CTP more than five years ago. We've taken the digital plunge. Now it's your turn, so we offer this advice: It is always better to work with accredited file formats. It limits vendor finger-pointing; it saves the publisher from makegoods; and it protects the advertiser. Next, try not to rely on native application files. There is too great a risk for "accidental editing," reflow and missing elements.
Finally, we recommend that you do more research on file formats before you decide on your specifications. Organizations like the DDAP, Digital Ad Lab and SWOP are excellent resources.
-Alan Darling and Michael Weinglass
Alan Darling is Western Laser Graphics' president and COO; he's also chairman of the DDAP. Michael Weinglass is vice president of production for Easyriders and a member of the DDAP's Executive Steering Committee.