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

What do you think?

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.



Comments in chronological order (Total 0 comments)

There are no comments yet for this article.

What do you think about this article?
Sign in or register to comment it takes less than 30 seconds.

Sign in


Your email and password were not correct, please try again. 

Forgotten your password?



Your registration was not successful, please try again. 



Ready for take-off: preflighting


The generation game: redefining the RIP


Enfocus releases v11.2 of its Connect workflow range


Wave of new updates with launch of Prisma v5


Dutch digital print specialist opts for Screen Truepress flat-bed


Kiian Group launches K-One dye-sublimation ink at InPrint 2014

20 Dec 2011

What is the difference between the PDF/X numerals? They all help to achieve consistency

19 Dec 2011

What is the difference between PDF-X 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5? It's a variety pack

8 Nov 2011

What's the difference between PDF and PostScript?

7 Nov 2011

What is the difference between PDF and PostScript? PDF is more than a printing PostScript

1 Jun 2011

What's so great about PDF and the PDF/X series? It's designed to make your life easier

31 May 2011

What's so great about PDF and the PDF/X series?





Colour to feature heavily for Onyx at FESPA Digital


EFI continues software acquisition trail with Group Rhapso


West-Camp Press invests in super-wide VUTEk GS5000r


YPS to show Mimaki MAPS upgrade at Sign and Digital 2014


QPS to launch new ink at Sign and Digital UK


Caldera to showcase industrial print workflows software at InPrint 2014

ATS Hybrid Mimaki FESPA Digital Colourgen