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The X factor. Adding the X to PDF/X

We all know PDFs. Here we are over a decade and a half into the 21st century and chances are you have probably already read one or more this week and are probably carrying a few around in your pocket right now. Not bad for a file format that originated in 1993!

The longevity of the PDF is down to the fact it still serves a useful purpose. The simple way that PDFs can be created and distributed really does live up to its full name of ‘Portable Document Format’.

PDFs retain the appearance of any designed page. Accurately positioned text, fonts, illustrations and images are embedded inside them so can be reproduced on-screen or in print wherever they go, even when offline. And all at a file size easy to download, email or share – even on the most sluggish connections.

In short, your mum and maybe even your granddad can handle a PDF.

Where the PDF came from

Adobe founders John Warnock and Charles Geschke with Steve Jobs of Apple.
Adobe founders John Warnock and Charles Geschke with Steve Jobs of Apple.

Today Adobe lists 112 different products but back in the early 80s it started building its empire on the PostScript (PS). This was a clever way to package complex print instructions into a single file. But this file could never be visualised until it was printed. Extra tools were needed to let people create, view and edit them and the EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) followed soon after.

EPS was good. But it couldn’t handle much beyond the basics. The PDF was introduced as the replacement and was cleverly built in such a way that it could be developed and expanded upon over the years. Adobe Acrobat is their paid-for tool for creating, checking and manipulating PDFs. It now comes in Standard or Pro versions.

Where the PDF ended up

Each time Adobe brought in new features in Acrobat the version of PDF increased to keep up. PDF1.0 started with Acrobat 1.0 but rather confusingly as the version of Acrobat updated in whole number to 2.0, 3.0 etc. the PDF only updated in points so PDF1.1, PDF1.2 and so on. So in 2001 when Acrobat 5 brought in  transparency the PDF version that first supported transparency was PDF1.4. Simple huh?!

PDF1.7 was the 8th and final version before Adobe generously made PDF an open standard with ISO 32000-1.

A modern-day PDF is more like a folder which, as well as holding page content, can also contain multiple layers, security, interactive forms, embedded audio, video, 3D graphics, annotations and more.

InDesign offers lots of options for creating interactive PDFs.
InDesign offers lots of options for creating interactive PDFs.

Adobe’s vision for the PDF was for use in a ‘paperless office’ concept and I’m told to this day the largest user of PDF is actually the US tax office. The fact that we in the publishing industry latched on to the PDF and now send all files to print as ‘print ready PDF’ was not the reason for its conception.

You can’t print a sound effect

Of all the wonderful things that the later PDF versions expanded to include, many are just not applicable to print and publishing. For example:

  • Security has its place but not when it stops your print supplier opening your files.
  • Layers might be a nice idea but not when they might disappear or you print the wrong ones.
  • Audio and video don’t translate well to inked dots!

And here is the reason that PDF/X is so important…

 PDF/X is a subset and a required list

The X stands for ‘Exchange’ or more completely ‘Blind Exchange’ which is when a system can interpret what it is supplied ‘blindly’ – without the need for human interaction.

Supplying your ad this afternoon for tomorrow’s newspaper as a PDF/X means that it will print without a doubt.

PDF/X is an agreed list of what a PDF must contain and also what it must not contain in order to print.
For example the commonly used PDF/X-1a states:

  • Your PDF MUST contain all fonts.
  • All graphics MUST NOT be RGB.
  • Your PDF MUST contain a colour profile (info on how colours should appear)
  • Your PDF MUST NOT contain transparency.

Plus lots of other rules which are required for successful printing.

Different types of PDF/X

PDF/X started in 2001 and comes in different flavours. The latest version is PDF/X-5 of which, slightly confusingly, there are various types. An early incarnation was PDF/X-1a and that remains suitable more most print jobs but if you really want to know more about the differences check the excellent prepressure.com site for a good list.

InDesign now offers various PDF/X standards to choose from but not PDF/X-5.
InDesign now offers various PDF/X standards to choose from but not PDF/X-5.

Why a PDF/X is your starting point

Using PDF/X correctly avoids 100% of printing errors. Guaranteed.

But the fact that your PDF will print does not automatically mean that it will give you the results you want.

A simple example is image resolution. Printing a low res image is not an error. Recommended resolution will vary with print methods so what may be deemed a low res image in an illustrated book, may be perfectly normal for a newspaper.

There are no rules about image resolution in PDF/X. Think of  using PDF/X as a solid base that you can add other requirements on top of.

How to know whether a PDF is a PDF/X

The good news is you don’t need to know everything PDF/X contains. But if you create or deal with files going to print you should know what PDF/X is and know how to check if a file is a valid PDF/X.

Output using a well made PDF Preset in InDesign will make your PDFs into a perfect PDF/X every time.

Preflighting software such as Adobe Acrobat Pro can also be used to check PDFs against the PDF/X standards and by building PDF/X compliance into the PDF Preflight profiles you use you can achieve a smooth workflow that lets you know all the files you send to print will actually print as expected!

Ken Jones is a publishing software expert with over ten years experience as Technical Production Manager, software trainer and developer at DK and Penguin Group UK. Ken’s company ‘Circular Software’ provides software tools and services for a range of illustrated book publishing customers including Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Thames & Hudson and Nosy Crow. Contact Ken via twitter @circularken or www.circularsoftware.com

creative cloud

Text Black, what it is and why you should no longer be using it

Image 1

Being Upfront

As every good production controller knows the cost of a print run is upfront. For illustrated books in particular, a major investment of time and hard cash is needed to get artworks and photography done, edited content completed and layouts finalised, proofed and signed off.

Only once the printing plates have been made and the presses are rolling do we start to get close to having a saleable product.

With modern digital printing techniques short runs become a little more cost effective, but even when considering this, a large and largely fixed set of costs have to be be swallowed before getting your book to this point.

But… this also means that once your book is on press, actually the incremental price of producing one more book is tiny in comparison. It comes down to the physical costs of a few sheets of paper, a small amount of ink and similarly small and incremental extra finishing and shipping costs.

Mixed up in gambling and gangs

Publishers are gamblers. They take a punt on creating a product that they hope is going to sell and are willing to put their money where their mouth is.

Back in the1970s the newly formed Dorling Kindersley (now known as DK, part of Penguin Random House) took the really smart move of hedging their bets and asking other, foreign language publishers, to join forces in a cooperative effort to extend their print runs and lower their unit costs.

This forty year old idea of ‘co-edition’ printing was such a good one that it remains in use by many publishers today. Printers use the term ‘ganging up’ to describe combining multiple jobs in a single print run.

Image 2

The publisher benefits by spreading the cost of production between co-edition partners and the reader benefits from professionally researched, illustrated and designed books in languages and niche subject areas that would not have existed otherwise.

Now for the science bit

In order to reduce production costs, the co-edition publisher typically provides their translations in a single colour. All their text, and also any images that are specific to their language, must be in one colour – Black.

Back in the seventies, when printing plates were made from photographic film instead of digital files, an extra film called a ‘separation’ was supplied to make this ‘Text Black’ plate.

The most basic way to create editions in multiple languages was to print a set of colour pages that can then be printed again with the translations. This method, called ‘overprinting’, requires two print runs – one for the full colour CMYK images and another using just a single colour press which is cheaper to setup and run.

A more efficient process was to use a larger five colour press which could be used to print the CMYK and the Text Black plate at the same time, with the press only stopping to swap the Text Black plates for each language. The Text Black is still being overprinted.

When Apple and Adobe brought us the desktop publishing revolution back in the 1980s the concept of an ‘overprint’ setting arrived in our page layout software. This meant a ‘Text Black’ colour could be used within the software to identify the translated text which could then be used to make the separate printing plates.

Image 3

Text Black is as cutting edge as the Fax machine

Fast forward another thirty years and we now use PDFs instead of film and we can now use layers, not Text Black, in our page layout software to isolate translations. The translation layer still typically only uses black which is set to overprint but with some careful setting up, images and translated text can be combined more easily and visual effects are possible that were not possible in the old days of Text Black such as mixing text with images whilst still keeping a single plate change for translations.

Image 4

These days printers actually combine the black translation file with the common images and print a cheaper four colour (CMYK) only job, whilst still only needing to change the black plate for different language editions.

I helped DK remove Text Black from their workflow over ten years ago but still find myself advising well known publishers to this day that there really is no technical reason to still be using Text Black in 2016 and in fact it is outdated, unnecessary, confusing and restrictive.

Ken Jones is a publishing software expert with over ten years experience as Technical Production Manager, software trainer and developer at DK and Penguin Group UK. Ken’s company ‘Circular Software’ provides software tools and services for a range of illustrated book publishing customers including Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Thames & Hudson and Nosy Crow. Contact Ken via twitter @circularken or www.circularsoftware.com

Why design matters: a photo/twitter blog

On Wednesday night EMC Design kicked off their 25th birthday celebrations in style by partnering with BookMachine to host our event ‘Why design matters: collaborating with your design team’. Our speakers for the night were David Pearson (cover designer behind some of Penguin’s most beautifully designed covers), Dan Franklin (digital publisher at Penguin Random House UK) and Ken Jones (founder of Circular Software).

Here’s a round up of this sell-out night through tweets and pics:

Head over to our Facebook page for more photos of the event.


How to create a catalogue automatically using ONIX and InDesign

This is a guest post from Emma Barnes. Emma is co-founder of General Products, and indie publisher Snowbooks. General Products is the company behind FutureBook-award-winning Bibliocloud, the web-based all-in-one publishing management system.

Did you go into publishing so that you could spend your days copying and pasting ever-changing metadata from spreadsheets, emails and databases into InDesign? You did? Great. No need to read on.

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Advance Editions puts final draft in readers’ hands

This week sees the launch of Advance Editions, a platform for crowdsourced editing allowing readers early access to soon-to-be-published books in the hope that they’ll spot any previously missed errors – factual, linguistic or otherwise – or be able to provide any other suggestions on how to improve. The idea is that, having already been professionally edited, books will be uploaded to the site for three months ahead of their official release, with the site’s users able to download either the first half for free or the complete book for a 60% discount on the RRP. Readers can then suggest changes through the site for the authors to make prior to final publication.

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