Under the VDP bonnet
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By Sophie Matthews-Paul
26 July 2011
The Durst Rho 1000L supports the latest PDF/VT file format
Earlier in the year I looked at why variable data printing, or VDP, was becoming a must-have for many users of wide-format digital platforms. Its value both as part of the print itself, and for batching and logistical purposes, has now proved itself in production houses where versioned and customised jobs have made it a practical and time-saving addition. By importing elements from a database, users have also been able to reduce vastly the margin for error when individual components are required in an application and the only alternative would be for an operator to key in text and manually place changing images.
VDP might appear to have attached itself more to high-end production printers but its capabilities are far-reaching and are just as useful to those outputting jobs on more modest equipment. Some years ago I was asked by a sign-maker if there was a method he could use to produce sequential numbering, individual names and a variety of club logos onto bibs being used in a sporting event. The total order was for 500 and each required personalisation but, with the printer and RIP he was using, it wasn't an option and, as a result, each had to be painstakingly created manually.
This example shows how, for any job where volume incorporates customisation, the value of VDP comes into its own. In small-format digital production, personalisation is common but the workflow is rather different; time and processor resources don't need to be set aside to RIP and process large graphic elements which provide the background to an application while the data and versioned objects change from print to print.
The disadvantages formerly associated with handling variable data effectively so that time savings can be generated in wide-format print are now being helped with the latest Adobe PDF Print Engine (APPE 2.5). This uses the PDF/VT model for standardising variable data printing without any compromise to graphical elements and, as PDF/VT is non-vendor specific, users are not restricted to a particular type of rendering or output device.
The current PDF print engine now enables a common cross-platform electronic method of document exchange. Nonetheless, the PDF model has been slow in its acceptance within the wide-format sector partly because many RIP and machine suppliers chose to remain with their own proprietary output formats.
Today's PDF format incorporates native rendering technology which provides more options than PostScript's imaging model which doesn't support layers or live transparency options. The portable document format also has full support for ICC profiles, vital when working with colour managed and standardised files across varying small- and wide-format output devices.
The native transparency in the PDF format has also increased its effectiveness for variable data printing as APPE 2.5 is able to use cacheing options for handling repeat elements during the RIP process. The PDF/VT specification is founded on pre-existing standards, these being ISO PDF/X-4 and PDF/X-5 which encompass overall document structure, layout and content plus graphical objects which support live transparency, layers and full ICC colour management. Thus, using PDF/VT means that variable content can be generated using a common format not restricted by the output device and it now has its own standard in the form of ISO 16612-2, based on PDF 1.6.
A workflow allows for the generation of a VDP application for output in PDF/VT format and, currently, wide-format RIP developers are actively seeking to incorporate the benefits of the latest Adobe PDF Print Engine. The intention is to simplify the ability for end users to utilise a single workflow for all types of application, with particular emphasis on variable data printing. Other benefits include JDF compliance and the use of XObjects for repeated print elements, or object reuse, will make is easier for text or graphic items to be stored once in the PDF yet referenced repeatedly.
There are several VDP options becoming available to the wide-format sector, with Roland's VersaWorks including this feature in its software, Agfa's Vibe, and HP's SmartStream Designer plug-in for Adobe InDesign helping to automate customisation. Durst is also taking the issue seriously with some of its Rho models that support the PDF/VT file format, along with the Caldera RIP which adopts the ISO 16612-2 standard. Before long we can expect it to become commonplace that optimised multi-page PDF files will be part of workflow procedures to bring greater options for VDP and versioning to users of wide-format engines.
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