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OPINION

The relevance of incoming PDFs for sign and wide-format shops

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By David Dilling, managing director, Markzware Europe
3 November 2011

Preflighting should be used in collaboration with PDFs to avoid costly errors

Did you know that Adobe first launched the Portable Document Format, aka PDF, more than 21 years ago in 1990? Adobe claims 'today, there are more than 200m PDF documents posted on the web'. PDF has been here almost as long as desktop publishing itself. It took some years for hi-res output-ready PDF files to become a standard, though. 

Yet today PDF is an ISO standard, and for good reason. As a sign and wide-format shop you should be embracing PDF as the preferred standard for your incoming digital print files. This is for various reasons, both technically on the repro side, as well as aesthetically on the design side.

When a PDF is created properly, it can be the perfect representation of the design both on screen and as ink on paper. The producer does not need to worry about you, the sign shop, mucking with the native contents in Adobe Illustrator, InDesign or Quark. It is what the creator wants printed. By exporting to a PDF standard, such as PDF/X-4 or even the slightly older standard for print, PDF/X-3, the sign or colour poster creator has the final say.

PDF/X-4 allows the use of transparencies and colour spacing to be CMYK or RGB (or even greyscale, for that matter). It requires that all used fonts are embedded in the final PDF and that the graphics used are of proper resolution. Surprisingly enough, this ISO standard does not call for 300dpi (effective resolution) images. (The Ghent PDF Workgroup standard does though, which is like a subset of the ISO standards) Furthermore, page size, bleed and trim are very important to specify to your customers. When done correctly, then they, and ultimately your sign shop, have a PDF ready for output.

The caveat here is 'if' the PDF is created properly. This can be a pitfall and a big one, which the science and art of preflight can help alleviate. Just asking for a print-ready PDF, even if you provide the PDF export settings, is not enough. Make sure your customers understand the need to use preflight software on their digital artwork in InDesign, Illustrator or Photoshop (source files), before exporting to the final PDF.

The goal of the preflight check is to stop missing fonts or font types which will not embed, lo-res images (72dpi), incorrectly set transparency and hairlines, just to name a few of the common errors. Just like a good pilot ensures that the aircraft will be flight-worthy, so must a graphic designer of signage or colour posters ensure their designs are print-ready. Preflight in the extended workflow will help ensure that you will get ready-to-output PDF files.

This is just a 40,000-foot view of why you should be considering the relevance of print-ready incoming PDFs. Naturally, this ignores practical reasons why sometimes signage and large posters or outdoor banners need to be delivered in the native format, but they should hopefully become the exception and not the rule in file delivery.
 

David Dilling is the managing director of FlightCheck creator Markzware Europe.

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