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A new era for PDF-based workflows

May 1, 2008 12:00 AM

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Conventional prepress workflow solutions control processes from data entry through plate exposure. There are dozens of PDF workflow solutions, including Agfa's :ApogeeX, Heidelberg's Prinect, Kodak's Prinergy, Fujifilm's XMF, and Screen's Trueflow. And as we go to press, Xanté has announced OpenRip Symphony 3.0 for small and midsize users.

Mighty engine

Things are now moving in this market thanks to Adobe's PDF Print Engine which, following its announcement in spring 2006, is finding its way into workflow solutions. Up to now, PDF data has been converted in Adobe's RIPs for output in PostScript. As PostScript doesn't support transparencies, these have to be flattened. This means transparent elements are converted, depending on complexity, into vector or bitmap graphics. This can cause problems in trapping or color management. Now, thanks to the PDF Print Engine, color management and trapping can be applied directly to transparent objects; correct processing in the RIP is guaranteed.

The PDF engine promises increased production reliability because it is based on the same technology as the tools in Adobe Creative Suite. This means Acrobat 8 Professional renders a PDF using the same engine as the output RIP, which upgrades the screen proof. However, Adobe has not yet delivered a “common renderer.” Softproof in Acrobat does not allow raster preview, which means, for example, trapping cannot really be checked 1:1.

In some cases, PDF Print Engine presented workflow solutions developers with major challenges. Many had already implemented their own trapping solutions, which will be rendered obsolete by the corresponding functionality of PDF Print Engine. Fujifilm has made the most radical move in response to PDF Print Engine. It has launched a completely new workflow solution in the form of XMF (from Cross Media Workflow).

Media-neutral workflow

The integration of PDF Print Engine in popular workflow systems will help the new PDF/X standards gain greater acceptance. It can be assumed that a large proportion of the workflow systems at Drupa 2008 will support PDF/X-4. The concept of a media-neutral workflow, as already allowed by the standard PDF/X-3, also will gain in popularity with the native PDF workflow systems. The images and graphics in the PDF file are in the RGB color space and are only transformed into the CMYK color space of the print setup in the RIP. This means increased flexibility for different print materials. For example, an advertisement no longer needs to be processed separately for a newspaper and a magazine.

Because many workflow systems derive core functions from the same Adobe PDF Print Engine, vendors will aim to differentiate their products by means of additional functions and, above all, by better integration of the full workflow process beyond the boundaries of prepress. We expect many exciting workflow developments at Drupa.

Martin Spaar is editor in chief of the Swiss magazine Publisher and a director of PDFX-ready (