By Digital Output Staff
PDF is the gold standard for moving files from one part of production to another in a way that won’t disrupt file formatting. Ideally, files would be print-ready every time. However, issues like low resolution, dropped fonts, insufficient bleeds, incorrect color, and missing cut marks are often presented at press time.
In these situations the ability to check and fix errors—either automatically or manually—is essential. Various software tools enable this without having to send the native file back to the document owner.
Above: Onyx Job Editor uses powerful tools to modify the size, orientation, color, and appearance of an image.
Keeping the Work Flowing
Keeping the PDF moving and not letting the workflow stop is crucial to a streamlined production print process. The ability to check and edit PDFs quickly is a helpful capability for many print providers. “Deadlines are crucial and of course money is involved, so being able to go right in to edit the PDFs on the fly can be crucial with making sure you meet those deadlines,” says Mary Gay Marchese, public relations, Markzware Inc.
“Prepress and designers are often involved in making file alterations for final customer approval or to be print ready,” says Jonathan Rogers, international marketing manager, Onyx Graphics, Inc. “As an example, a print buyer may have provided a design file for a hanging banner without the required image bleed or grommets needed for the finished product. Software that offers the ability to make these changes quickly and easily can directly impact production speed and efficiency.”
Advanced PDF software solutions are popular for two different but essential areas of the preflight process—automated checks and fixes and visual inspection and editing.
With automated checks and fixes, PDF objects such as page boxes, fonts, image resolution, color space, color management, correcting thin strokes, black overprints, white knockouts, and bleed extensions do not typically require visual inspection and are checked and edited or fixed using automated preflight engines, according to Santosh Mulay, VP, business development, InSoft Automation Pvt. Ltd.
Beyond this, certain objects in PDFs require visual inspection and editing, such as trapping, color correction, and retouching of images and graphics.
Specific to wide format printing, editing PDFs manually is used to create cut paths and change PDF bleeds and dimensions as per final fabrication such as pole banner or canvas mounting. “These checks and edits require technical know-how and specialized tools to ensure objects in the final print-ready PDF are ideal for high-quality printing and accurate finishing,” adds Mulay.
The preflighting process scans PDFs and alerts print providers to errors within the document. These are handled by the print provider or sent back to the document owner to be resolved prior to print. However, the latter will delay the production process.
“The files sent by the customers are not always perfect for printing,” admits John Dean, product manager PitStop, Enfocus, an Esko Company. They can contain errors like low resolutions, missing fonts, incorrect spot/CMYK/RGB colors, missing bleeds, etc. So it is important to use a tool like Enfocus PitStop to preflight the files to detect these errors and solve as many as possible without having to ask for a new file from the sender.”
For preflighting, tools that utilize rules-based automation make incoming PDF files compatible with the print process they are assigned to without slowing down the production workflow. Mulay points out with this type of automation, files are only flagged for manual editing when the PDF does not comply to the set rules.
The number of unique jobs is high in these cases, but the volumes are small. “To keep pace with delivery schedules automated preflight checks and fixes are the only option and human intervention is when the PDF fails,” he adds.
Pros and Cons
Depending on the print segment one is working in, Mulay says PDF editor needs vary, and therefore so do advantages and disadvantages of a particular program.
For example, in a commercial print segment, he feels all PDF editors offer full functionality in preflight checks and fixes for page boxes, fonts, image resolution, color space, color management, correcting thin strokes, black overprints, white knockouts, and bleed extension.
But for the packaging segment, he believes all PDF editors fall short as they don’t offer trapping and dynamic marks generation required for final production. “For these functions, one has to rely on specialized applications and prepress workflows,” he suggests.
Dean says while PDF editors are great for flagging all errors before printing the job—saving a lot of time and money—the disadvantage is only the PDF file is corrected, not the native file.
Rogers agrees, noting that in relation to just PDF editors, while they offer the ability to make fast edits to PDF files, there may be looming errors in the updated file if the prepress operator does not have items such as embedded fonts, changing the updated file from what was intended in the original.
Most Utilized Features
No matter what the format size is, proper file preparation is essential. For wide format prepress, specific advanced PDF features are utilized.
“As a software solutions provider for wide format printing, having the ability to make small adjustments to design files to get them print ready is integral to production efficiency as well as providing quality output that meets print buyer expectations,” explains Rogers. He points out that ideally, these edits can be done on the fly and include many file types in addition to PDFs.
“Prepress is keen to be above the ability to make edits that make a file print ready,” comments Rogers. “This includes adding finishing marks or cut paths or nesting files together depending on the production need and print application.”
Demand for these tools continues to evolve. “Technology keeps improving in the market, including the wide format space,” says Marchese. “There is a demand for faster adaptability to design trends, lower production costs, and reduced waste.”
Dean says wide format users typically look to correct document size and/or scaling, fix colors, add bleed and cut lines, and split a document in tiles when it is too wide for the printer.
He adds that Enfocus has features like calculating the length of the cut lines, creating trace paths, and adding hems, which are important tools for wide format work.
Specifically for wide format printing, Mulay says the most utilized features are preflight check for PDF objects, page boxes, scaling, automated bleed extension, adding grommet marks, cut path creation, and generating white separation.
“In the past couple of years, wide format printers are adapting web to print (W2P) platforms to extend their reach and tap new customers and geographies,” notes Mulay. He says the majority of files customers upload on W2P platforms are image formats or designs in RGB with missing bleeds or cut paths.
In these cases, you can’t ask for a new, corrected file and the customer may go to another printer offering these services. “A printer today just can’t afford to lose a customer. Also based on the final fabrication, the input file needs to be edited. The features such as automated bleed generation, cut path creation, and white separation are mandatory to have in a wide format printing setup,” adds Mulay.
PDF tools are not intended as a substitute for traditional design programs like Adobe InDesign, Adobe Photoshop, or CorelDRAW, but print providers can justify implementing these tools to streamline the production process.
“Very often, print providers only receive the PDF file. It is the best exchange format, with file, fonts, and images embedded. However, if some things are not correct, they have to correct them using Enfocus PitStop,” shares Dean.
“We feel that there should be a variety of editing solutions available,” offers Marchese. For example, Markzware offers solutions that help prepress operators with designers on staff or desktop publishing skills to help make proper, professional design changes.
She says PDFMarkz helps make changes by offering standalone conversions of complete PDFs into Adobe InDesign. “Creative people on the design side can do the edits and then export a new PDF file once the edits are made,” says Marchese.
Mulay stresses that each application has an important role. “If the input format is PDF, you need a PDF editor to handle these files, as opening the PDFs in traditional design programs can result in unexpected output,” he adds.
PDFs are designed to move without losing attributes, like images, fonts, and color. However, there are many cases when a print-ready file isn’t up to par. Therefore, PDF editing tools are important. Print providers—and by extension, clients—rely on advanced preflighting processes and PDF editing tools.
Oct2022, Digital Output