Digital Publication Design – PDFs Improve the Creative Process

Over the last dozen
years, the explosive use of computer graphics has greatly
expanded, speeded up, and improved the creative process. It
has also cemented our reliance on telecommunications devices
to quickly transfer proofs and files.

Most publication designers are well versed in the
advantages of using graphics programs for the creation of
vector, bitmap, and typeset layout graphics. But good design
benefits from clarity of communication between the designer
and the client. It improves with quick feedback through a
series of proofing cycles. How can Adobe Acrobat help
improve this creative process?

PDF ‘Color Fax Machine’

The fax machine has provided a terrific means for
designers to communicate concepts and layouts with their
clients. Clients fax their sketches, specifications, and
modifications in, designers fax their drawings and
compositions back. But fax technology has some glaring
weaknesses–poor resolution, snail-paced transfer rates,
weak paper substrates for archiving, no grayscale or color,
etc. Even if someone had invented a super ‘color print’ fax
machine, it would have required that all potential
recipients have compatible hardware for receiving the

The Portable Document Format (PDF) is changing all that.
Approximately US$200 (street price for Adobe Acrobat)
enables users to create highly compressed color PDF files
with remarkable fidelity to the original. Email and internet
users can either link these files to HTML pages for viewing
on the internet or attach the files to email for group-wide
distribution. All the recipient requires to be able to proof
and print out a paper copy of the color PDF file is an
installed copy of the freely downloadable Adobe Acrobat
Reader® developed by Adobe for their specific computer

A little known capability of Acrobat is its ability to
open electronic faxes (saved in the Group IV compression
format) and save them as image PDFs. This would allow the
user to combine faxed information with other PDFs for
distribution as email or through EDMS systems. To achieve
this, simply FILE/IMPORT/IMAGE and select the fax file you
wish to convert to PDF. In some cases, these image PDFs can
be converted to text by using the Capture plug-in

PDF Advantages over Paper

The advantages of using PDFs in place of paper faxes are

  • Time Savings — PDFs can be attached to

    No waiting for the fax lines to free up before
    transmitting. Laser printing PDF files is much faster
    (pages per minute) than the printing speeds of most fax
    machines (pages per hour).

  • Simultaneous distribution — A single

    email can be distributed to groups simultaneously. Paper
    fax machines are rarely equipped to send more that one
    page to one location at a time.

  • Full resolution Vector graphics and embedded
    — Vector and embedded text graphics are always
    at full resolution.
  • Bitmap resolution is variable — Bitmap

    resolution is variable –the more resolution required,
    the bigger the file. This resolution is set in Acrobat’s
    Distiller component.

  • Proofing fidelity and scalability

    Colors are
    reasonably close to the eventual printed version. PDFs
    can be zoomed up to 1600% of size for proofing even the
    smallest text elements and vectors.

  • Risk reduction — The more accurate the

    the more responsibility for proofing errors resides with
    the client. Mistakes are usually caught at an earlier
    stage of the production process.

  • No second generation quality loss

    Most proofs
    pass through several hands–the designer, the account
    executive, and the client. Each can look at the same
    proof, forwarded up the line, with no second generation
    quality loss as is common with faxes.

  • Paper proofs and tax savings — PDF

    transfers can substitute for matchprints or paper color
    proofs. Not only are the cost of these expensive proofs
    saved, but because no physical product changes hands the
    PDFs are not taxed.

A Hardware PDF Fax Solution

Hewlett-Packard proves the PDF-based color fax machine concept by offering a new
scanner/modem/color laser printer hardware
combination called the HREF=’′
9100C Digital Sender. This workgroup device
loads up to 50 b&w or color sheets into a
hopper, scans the sheets, and converts them into
PDF image files which it then transmits to either
email addresses as attachments, or sends to other
JetSend compatible devices for output as color fax
prints. It can also scan individual pages on its
glass platen.

Of course, buying proprietary hardware for
sender and receiver defeats the whole purpose of
using PDFs for most Acrobat users. We prefer to
convert the original digital files to PDF, rather
than scan from black & white or color prints.
However, what is interesting is the acceptance of
PDF as the interchange file format of choice by no
less a manufacturer than Hewlett-Packard.

PDF Workgroup

Version 4.x of Adobe Acrobat has also provided users an
impressive array of annotation tools. While these tools are
NOT contained within the free Reader and do not work if the
file has been secured from editing, they provide a
sophisticated means for workgroup involvement on a creative

The most interesting aspect of these tools is the ability
to export and import annotations. Suppose designer ‘Dave’
has created a 50-page layout for clients ‘Cora’ and ‘Clark.’
He can email a PDF of the layout to his clients. Cora can
add her annotations to the file in green and Clark can
annotate his version in Red. They each export their
annotations by using FILE/EXPORT/ANNOTATIONS to create Forms
Data Format (.FDF) files trom within Acrobat. Compared to
the 50-page original PDF, these files are normally tiny.
Each client can then email their .FDF files as attachments
back to Dave who can then import them using
FILE/IMPORT/ANNOTATIONS onto the original PDF file he had
sent to them. He can also invoke the
give him a printable page-by-page summary of their notes.
From these notes he can make the necessary changes to the
original layout.

Final Pre-Press

Once a proof is signed off by the client, the same
Postscript file used to create the compressed PDF can be
used to create the final Pre-Press version–using the higher
resolution Press(Optimized) Distiller settings. This file is
not always smaller than the Postscript file it is distilled
from but it is suitable for distribution and/or printing by
a growing array of printing services companies.

For example, the Associated Press has made the
distribution of press optimized ads via PDF a very
profitable business. AP
is an advertising distribution service that will
take a PDF file of an advertisement and distribute it via
the internet to any of 1,400 newspapers that receive the
service. Some of the very efficiencies that hallmark PDF
advantages over paper faxes come into play here–time saved,
fidelity to the original, full-resolution graphics and
embedded fonts, etc.

Today, only a select number of printers can actively
support the use of PDF files in place of film separations.
It usually requires the purchase of a new Raster Image
Processor (RIP) and a significant training period. But the
advantages are so obvious to printers and so appealing to
their clients that the PDF standard appears to be the next
evolutionary plateau achieved in the development of print
systems technology.

So, if you are interested in improving the communication
and creative process in your work environment, implementing
a PDF-based production workflow is a cost-effective way to

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About the Author: C. Scott Miller

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