Native Application Files? Only in a Fairy Tale World
This month marks the third installment in a series of "Digital Directions" columns devoted to file formats. In January, we delved into TIFF/IT-P1; last month, we discussed PDF/X-1. This month, let's take a closer look at native application files.
Beauty and the beast
Native applications are software solutions we've come to know and love. We use them to manipulate images; they enable us to create breathtaking illustrations, and we employ them to layout documents, books and magazines. Native apps have been around since the pre-dawn of desktop publishing, and the graphic arts community has learned to use them in some notably creative ways.
But therein lies one of the reasons why we can't rely on native application files for final content delivery: editability. When your advertisers turn files over to your capable hands, the last thing they'll appreciate is if someone plans to "get creative" with them, unless, of course, they've authorized someone to make those changes on their behalf.
As a content creator, you expect that a digital file's ultimate recipient, the printer, will produce that document in the exact state in which you last approved it, either on screen or as a proof. The problem is that so much can happen on a file's journey from creator to manufacturer. Text can reflow. Hyphenation can be knocked out of whack. Fonts may be substituted. Color space could be altered. And so on, and so on.
Concerning PostScript, a word of caution: There's no guarantee of compatibility if the PostScript version used by the creator differs from that of the supplier, so data could be interpreted differently at the RIP (Raster Image Processor). In spite of this, PostScript is a step in the right direction—more reliable than native application files, at least.
Into the looking glass
How did we get ourselves into such a fine mess, accepting native applications as a necessary workflow evil? Native application files are not an acceptable file format for the transmission of final content. Just ask any prepress vendor or printer that's receiving them! If you're supplying native application file and you're happy with the quality and consistency of output on the printed page, I guarantee there's someone behind the scenes struggling to make them work.