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Commentary & Analysis

The Expanding Role of PDF


By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: May 16, 2007

--- Digital Wordflow The Expanding Role of PDF A few minutes with Mark Maragni of Compart By Carro Ford May 16, 2007 -- PDF, Adobe’s Portable Document Format the spawn of Adobe Acrobat software, is one of the most widely known software tools available today. A key standard spanning many industries and applications, it is used in virtually every type of business from one person companies to the largest corporations. Schools and government agencies all use PDFs for a variety of documents, as do a growing number of transactional service bureaus and direct mailers. All value the broad flexibility and utility of a document format that can used on a wide range of platforms, prints reliably on nearly all output devices and which continues to evolve in ways that make it increasingly useful--and powerful--in an age when print must co-exist with electronic media. But as ubiquitous as PDF may be, many of us still don’t appreciate the depth of its capabilities. To get a closer look, ODJ talked with Mark Maragni, Vice President of Compart (www.compart.net), a German company that provides software components and services for document management and output management systems. Mark provided some new insights into this familiar standard. ODJ: Mark, what are the advantages of PDF for print service providers (PSPs)? MM: There are several major advantages for the print services provider (PSP). First, PDF documents are universal and easy to produce, view and send. Anyone can use PDF. In addition, they support full color. A PDF can also be easily repurposed, with portability to the Web. And finally, there’s an established pre-press workflow for print providers. Very simply, PDF addresses the needs of the customer and the PSP. As long as you do a fair comparison, including resource handing and resolution, the efficiency of a PDF print stream may surprise you. ODJ: What document workflow functions benefit from PDF? MM: Let’s look at this in a couple of ways. First, consider PDF from the PSP perspective. It is very often the de facto workflow for the printer, from prepress through plate making. That means there are print-based verification tools on the market, in addition to the PDF/X prepress standard. The net is that PDF provides the standard, making it more efficient and faster to process jobs. Another way to look at workflow is from the end customer side. PDF works well with smaller documents sizes and run lengths. It’s easy to create a small number of PDFs and have them universally print on almost any printer. Or various PDF documents can be merged into a single print spool, making these runs more economical to print. In addition, PDFs can be easily repurposed as email attachments, sent to a print queue or re-purposed for use in an archive. For example, Compart has tools that work quickly and effectively to convert other print streams into PDF, or take a large PDF file and segment it into pieces for easier processing through the PSP’s production operation. From there, sensitive copy can be revised for call center use, then that same PDF document content can be analyzed, with the resulting metadata applied to the PDF to make archival searching easier. ODJ: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions we have about PDF? MM: One of the biggest misconceptions is that people see it as a viewing format, not as a print data stream. Another is that PDF is not as efficient for bigger print files. As long as you do a fair comparison, including resource handing and resolution, the efficiency of a PDF print stream may surprise you. And finally, PDF is not just for forms and web documents; it can also be effective in a variable data printing workflow. ODJ: Are there different “flavors” and how are they different? MM: Yes, there are different flavors of PDF, and all are supersets of the PDF function set. We talked about PDF/X in the traditional print process, but PDF/E focuses on handling the big images generated from engineering and drawing applications, and PDF/A is the standard for effectively archiving PDFs over the long term. PostScript will eventually be replaced by PDF as it avoids the production problems associated with poorly formed PostScript. ODJ: Besides PDF, what other document formats are important today? Are there any that are in the early stages of adoption, and perhaps not so well known yet? MM: AFP is still the legacy data stream of choice in the enterprise, and since AFP now supports color, it will be around a long time. The big difference is sophisticated end users who want control over their workflow and can write their own programs to build and modify AFP. This is especially true in the insurance and banking industries, although they have been moving to third party composition engines over the last few years. Still, this is much harder to do with PDF. PostScript has been gaining in production color in the short term, but it is expected that PostScript will eventually be replaced by PDF as it avoids the production problems associated with poorly formed PostScript. The one new, potentially disruptive technology to watch is Microsoft’s new XPS format. Although it is primarily designed as a print output format, it is available free as a plug-in to XP and ships with every seat of Vista. This could provide a longer term challenge for Adobe. ODJ: As PDF emerges as a standard for so many things, archiving documents will increase in importance. Tell me about the PDF/A Competence Center. Why should PSPs be aware of this? MM: The PDF/A Competence Center (www.pdfa.org) is an association where organizations can go for up-to-date information on the PDF/A standard to help them avoid downstream archival problems. The first iteration of the PDF/A Competence Center was initiated by software component providers to help their customers understand how PDF/A can help them. As the organization grew, many solutions providers subsequently joined. Now as the organization is becoming more mature, the first end-customers are starting to join. It is important to be aware of the organization because of the complexities involved with archiving. By participating in the PDF/A Competence Center certification process, an organization can validate its archival quality initiatives. This ensures the archived documents remain readable and usable well into the future. You can always reach Carro Ford Weston at her new email address: carrof@earthlink.net. See More Exclusive Articles



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