PDF Tool Talk with Stephan Jaeggi

Note From Seybold:
Few people know the ins and outs of PDF and PDF workflows better than Stephan Jaeggi of Pre-Press Consulting in Switzerland. We sat down with him to discuss some of the PDF tools in the market and how to implement a PDF workflow.

Stephan Jaeggi: These topics will also be covered in a new tutorial titled ‘PDF Workflow’ with Stephan Jaeggi at Seybold Seminars Boston on Thursday, April 12, 2:00-5:30 p.m.

SEYBOLD: You have been observing the development of various tools for years. How would you assess the functionality of the available software products? Are products from the large vendors better?

Stephan Jaeggi, PDF Guru

JAEGGI: Not necessarily. Large vendors are often ponderously slow in adopting new technologies. On the one hand, the specification, development and quality control of new software versions takes considerably longer in large companies. On the other, the established vendors must keep their installed base in mind, in order to guarantee continuity for their customers. Newcomers and small developers have an easier time of it and can often react significantly faster. It is easy to observe this in the area of PDF imposition software. The programs from the small vendors were able to impose PDF directly (without a detour via Postscript) much sooner.

SEYBOLD: What opportunities and what dangers do you see in assembling a
homegrown PDF workflow?

JAEGGI: Workflows assembled out of individual tools offer the user a number of advantages. The user has free choice of each component and need not become dependent on a particular vendor. Today’s integrated PDF workflow systems are actually closed systems, in which each component must be matched with the others. If you buy a complete workflow system from a single vendor, you become dependent on that vendor, just as with high-end systems in years gone by. These days, with all the surprising acquisitions and mergers in our industry, you never know how long a vendor will be able to support and develop its system.

You can acquire the basics relatively quickly. The problem is, however, that practically every firm has a slightly different workflow, so there isn’t an out-of-the-box solution that is valid for everyone. Every user must evaluate and implement the right tools for him or her.

That’s why many of my clients prefer to assemble their own workflow out of components from various vendors. That way you can always swap components if a vendor disappears or a better product comes on the market. But when you assemble individual tools from multiple vendors, you generally give up the automation of the various work-flow tasks. While a few tools permit batch operation using hot folders, the joining of components into an integrated workflow can be complicated. Recently, we’ve seen the first tools for this — for example, PdfBatchProcess from Callas, MarkzScout from Markzware, and Purup-Eskofot’s new offering, CaslonFlow. The problem with this hot-folder-based approach, however, is that every variation in every single parameter requires a new workflow chain to be defined. For the user, that quickly becomes unmanageable.

SEYBOLD: Isn’t there a better solution?

JAEGGI: Sure. You need to have the appropriate processing parameters travel with the PDF file. This need was not originally anticipated in the PDF specification, since PDF is a device-independent file format. So Adobe had to create a new data object, the Portable Job Ticket Format (PJTF), for its Extreme architecture. With PJTF, you can define the parameters for the ?job ticket processors? of an Extreme workflow. These job tickets can be embedded in the PDF file itself.

Another approach is controlling the individual workflow components with the aid of a central control component (for example, a database). The parameters can be transferred using inter-application communication [provided by the operating system]. If you utilize various individual tools, you obviously need a standard interface for them all. This is the area where I have high hopes for the new Job Definition Format (JDF), with which processes and resources can be described in an application-independent and vendor-independent way. That means support for JDF will become an important criterion for judging PDF tools.

SEYBOLD: By now, almost all the traditional workflow systems are able to work with PDF. Where do the differences lie?

JAEGGI: Over the last year, I’ve been investigating the support for PDF in these workflows, and I must report with dismay that most of them don’t work with PDF internally. True, these systems can import PDF files, but they are then promptly converted into PostScript or a proprietary data format (often even a bitmap format), after which the subsequent processes (color transformation, trapping, imposition) are done the traditional way.

To some degree it is possible to re-export the file later as PDF. But often, the resulting file consists of ripped pixels, making it large and inflexible. When you convert PDF to other formats, you lose the advantages of PDF in subsequent processing (smaller file size, editability, security), not to mention that every file conversion carries the potential danger that something will get changed in some data element.

SEYBOLD: You are very active as a seminar leader and trainer. How difficult would you say it is for the employees of a mid-size company to get familiar with the details of a PDF workflow?

JAEGGI: You can acquire the basics relatively quickly. The problem is, however, that practically every firm has a slightly different workflow, so there isn’t an out-of-the-box solution that is valid for everyone. Every user must evaluate and implement the right tools for him or her. In some cases, this can be an expensive process. Naturally, you avoid this if you buy a complete workflow system from a single vendor. However, you don’t have to switch to a PDF workflow all at once, the way you did when you had to switch from a proprietary high-end system to a PostScript system.

That’s a big advantage. You can take it step by step, and run the PDF workflow in parallel with your existing PostScript workflow. That way, you can give yourself as much time as you need to make the transition.


Sampling of Seybold presentations by Stephan Jaeggi

PDF Workflow booklets

  • PDF-Workflow is a series of four booklets by Stephan Jaeggi, directed at different target groups

Presentations from PDF in Print Publishing Workflows session at Seybold San Francisco, August 2000

DRAFT International Standard PDF/X-3

  • PDF/X-3 [PDF: 89kb], Prepress digital data exchange – Use of PDF – Part 3: Blind exchange suitable for colour-managed workflows

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