Things Were Better in PDFs Past

In the good old days you could embed most fonts and this is still possible if you use Acrobat 3, version 4 and 5 by using the PitStop plugin by Enfocus (www.enfocus.com) or an earlier version of Agfa Apogee Create.

There is no sense in complaining about Adobe’s position because it is legal, proper and should have been so from the beginning.

Transparency issue remains

There was a time when you could trust a PDF to be accurate. If it was CMYK, the fonts were embedded and the images had sufficient dpi, you had a winner!

Acrobat 5.0 introduced a new standard: PDF 1.4. This new version brought a host of improvements. Unfortunately PDFs now supported native transparency – virtually indescribable in PostScript – and prepress can’t make it a reliable image.

Dealing with transparency requires a little forethought. The flattening function will require some tough decisions on where to create vector or raster art on the way to resolving the transparency effect.

To flatten any transparency effects in Acrobat 6.0, I suggest you go to Document>Preflight>PDF/X>Save as PDF/X-1a then choose a PDF/X-1a set and save the file. The new PDF will not contain any transparency and what you see is what you get.

The InDesign Challenge

My copy came with the CS Suite from Adobe but this was largely ignored. I’d worked with the previous versions and the software did not meet my expectations. And, certainly not enough to get me to switch from QuarkXPress.

Photoshop and Illustrator are stalwart companions, but InDesignCS lay waiting for a phone call from a graphic artist struggling with a two-colour design created in InDesign 2. He had already sent it to several places for imaging without success. Worst of all, no one could guide him to the right path.

I arrived home to find the CD in an envelope inside my front door. InDesignCS converted the document on opening. Upon inspection, the links revealed themselves as PDFs, AIs and EPSes. Not the usual mix of TIFFs and EPSes found in XPress documents. I figured that this mix of types might be the source of the difficulties but I proved myself wrong.

The accompanying PDF – as generated on the artist’s own computer – was a strange product. It was obvious that the transparency effects were heavily relied on but I was viewing a very poor 100% raster conversion of the art. I blamed the quality of the PDF engine built into ID, so I Distilled it. However, it produced the same problem.

Going back to basics, I reviewed the status of the file elements – fonts, graphics and the images. They were properly linked but unfortunately not embedded. Transparency flatteners need all the image data available to make decisions on the conversion of the transparency effect. They do not work well with previews.

Once embedded, I exported a PDF from ID choosing PDF 1.3 (this is what I mean about liking the past) and out pops a beautiful PDF with an intelligent flattening effect, properly spot colour separated with the right image resolution. I have to view ID in a more positive light!

I got to thinking about how ID’s output module might smooth out some lumps in my workflow.

I was never comfortable placing PDFs in XPress 5.0 preferring to export them as EPS files before importation. An Acrobat generated EPS file contains all the elements necessary to image including the fonts. As every system recognizes an eps, I considered it my generic method of output.

Having witnessed ID’s prowess with a very odd mixture of file types, I thought I might look at some of the available features and run a few tests. I placed a few PDFs on a page containing a mix of RGB and CMYK colours and an image with an ICC profile attached.

File>Export>Save As:Filename.pdf and up pops an Export PDF dialogue. In the General tab choose your page range and set Compatibility to Acrobat 4 (PDF 1.3). Check View PDF after Exporting.

  • Under Compression I turned everything off.
  • For Marks and Bleeds everything is on except for Page Information (the fonts are problematic.) For testing purposes, I ignored Bleed and Slug.
  • In Advanced, I chose CMYK and set the transparency flattener for High Resolution. Security and Summary are irrelevant.
  • Click the Export button and in a short time you are viewing a CMYK PDF in Acrobat including all necessary printer’s marks. One can envision making simple PDF impositions in InDesign and exporting the job complete and ready to image.

Unlike previous versions, InDesignCS ran acceptably fast on my 500Mhz Powerbook. The text editor now keeps up with my rate of text entry (which was my biggest previous complaint).The Quark barrier was broken.

My biggest surprise came on opening an XPress file and finding that the translation was far superior to the previous version. However the text did overflow the text boxes requiring a little fiddling around. All the graphics and photos found their way, including rotated text that could easily have gone astray.

You can only open an XPress 4.0 file, so if you’ve used a Quark effect that isn’t backwards compatible, you’ve got a problem. Otherwise you have a good possibility of moving your entire XPress library of documents into InDesign, that is, if you are considering a change.

Other tools required

No PDF tool chest is complete without a few speciality plugins.

Quite Software (www.quite.com) offers three interesting tools that can speed up your PDF processing. The QuiteABoxOfTricks dialogue offers five areas of control including: Shrink: You can downsample your PDFs for proofing or web use without redistillation.

Colors: Convert to CMYK using profiles, gray scale and convert RGB text to K.

Fields: You can manipulate your form fields and annotations to make them printable or strip them out.

Transform: Page rotation, flip and free rotations can be performed and set a minimum thickness for graphic lines.

Info: Provides image details and font information including the name of a subsetted font (which is different from what you think). When a font is subsetted it is preprended with a randomly generated set of characters to prevent substitution at the RIP or printer. This name is invisible in Acrobat or PitStop.

Quite Revealing plugin users have the facility to see their file problems on screen in a second window. The alternate view reflects the user’s criteria as selected from a list including: font info, colour plates, transparency, etc. and includes the ability to remap colour and perform many other corrective actions.

Quite Imposing is a simple PDF-based imposition product. It will handle most impositions although it is a bit awkward to figure out how to get exactly what you want. If you have basic imposition needs and don’t mind investing a bit of time learning how to approach the software, it is a good buy.

No review would be complete without mentioning Enfocus PitStop. It is the granddaddy of plugins and offers an unimagined level of control and manipulation of images, fonts and colour space. It’s stock preflight profiles handle most PDF issues right out of the can. It is a daunting task to understand the power of Action lists and to configure your custom setups. None-the-less its correct use can literally cut your hands-on production work in half.

A PDF workflow eliminates much of the effort and skill required to image from high-end applications and can be assembled for a relatively low cost.

Your competition is accepting PDFs!   Perhaps you’d better too.        

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