PDF In-Depth

PDF Master: Stephan Jaeggi talks with Planet PDF

May 10, 2004


Editor's Note: Stephan Jaeggi is a well-known expert in PDF technology in Europe. Before founding PrePress Consulting in 1991, he spent five years at the Swiss Graphic Arts Association, where he supported 1200 members in the transition from traditional prepress systems to desktop publishing. Jaeggi holds a degree from the Swiss Engineering School for Printing and Packaging (ESIG) in Lausanne/Switzerland. He has introduced thousands of people to PDF in his seminars all over Europe. In 1998, Stephan Jaeggi contributed to the famous whitepaper PDF for Prepress. He is also the co-author of the ISO 15930-3 (PDF/X-3) specification and the author of four free tutorials on PDF workflow, and the publisher of a popular PDF newsletter in german language. Since 2000, Jaeggi has been a member of the advisory board of CIP4 (development of JDF specification).

DAN SHEA: When and why did you first get involved with Acrobat/PDF?

STEPHAN JAEGGI: Back in 1991 I was there when John Warnock made the first public demo of "Carousel" (code name for Acrobat) in San Jose. I was immediately fascinated by the new data format. Back in that time I was specializing in PostScript and data conversion for prepress applications. "Interactive PostScript" IPS (as PDF was called at that time) seamed to be the ultimate solution for (almost) all the problems we had been fighting with for years. Although Adobe didn't seam to address the graphic arts professionals with the first versions of PDF and Acrobat I never gave up believing in PDF. A lot of people (even close friends) thought that I was crazy to push the use of PDF at the time. But they had to change their minds later...

DAN SHEA: For those who don't know, what is it that you are doing with PDF right now?

JAEGGI: As a consultant I help users and vendors to implement PDF workflows. I also teach multiple seminars in both German and English -- mostly in Central Europe, but also in Scandinavia and the US.

SHEA: Briefly describe the most significant change in the development or use of the technology, since you first began working with Acrobat/PDF, and why do you consider it significant?

JAEGGI: There were two major milestones for me. The first was the introduction of PDF 1.3 in 1999, as it solved most of the issues raised in our Spring 1998 white paper ("PDF for Prepress"). The second was the introduction of PDF/X-3 in 2002. In this ISO standard we defined all the specifications necessary for using PDF as a reliable prepress data exchange format including ICCbased colors.

SHEA: Tell me, what is it about PDF that makes it useful to so many different people?

JAEGGI: The most fascinating aspect of PDF is certainly its diversity. PDF can be created from any application and used for a number of different purposes. Over the years, many people have come up with innovative new uses for PDF. Adobe deserves some credit, but the user community has been particularly productive in this area. Originally PDF was only ment for the exchange of office documents. The first version of PDF only supported RGB color. With each version more features have been added. I am sure that this will still continue in the next couple of years. PDF is only 13 years old. It's still in its adolescence .

SHEA: What's your next PDF project?

JAEGGI: I am currently preparing a new english version of my "Workshop for Advanced PDF Users" for Seybold Amsterdam (in mid April) and Seybold San Francisco (in August). In this seminar I am showing all the tips and tricks I have learned during the last 12 years working with PDF in prepress.

I undertook a big challenge when I agreed to handle the "Problems of Greatest Concern" portion of the Seybold PDF Usage Survey 2003. I am proud that after a lot of investigation I was able to come up with solutions or at a least methods to avoid all of these problems!

There is also a chapter where I answer some of the frequently asked questions about PDF in prepress production. To resolve some of the problems we had to develop special tools in JavaScript (e.g. convert double to single pages, create overlays in PDF, print a visible trimbox). These scripts are exclusively available for attendees of this workshop.

SHEA: Acrobat and PDF are now used in so many industries and in so many ways; do you see new areas that perhaps haven't yet been tapped? Where do you see the greatest potential for growth?

JAEGGI: Despite its many applications, PDF has not yet reached its limits. I think there is a great potential in the marriage of PDF and XML: PDF to describe the graphical representation of a page and XML to define the structure of the information including meta data of all objects.

Today this is mainly used for creating accessibility to electronic document for people with disabilities, but in the future I expect that this kind of information will be also used for searching PDF archives (e.g. looking for a word only in the title and the abstract of a document) and repurposing of documents (text, graphic and images). I also think that editing tools could benefit from the logical structure in a PDF document e.g. for editing entire paragraphs or for changing the typeface of all captions in a document.

SHEA: What do you see in the future of PDF?

JAEGGI: From a prepress point of view the format is quite complete now. All of the points on my wish list where realized in PDF 1.5 (16bit images, JPEG2000, layers), however I would like to see more animation features for interactive PDF.

SHEA: What can Adobe change in the next version of Acrobat to make it better?

JAEGGI: On top of the list are transparency flattening and color transformation directly in PDF and not only during PostScript output. Better editing features and an easier preflight user interface would also be welcome, and I would also like to have the ability to define new layers directly in Acrobat. Further, it would be helpful if the prepress features were not scattered across the entire user interface of Acrobat. I cannot understand why Adobe did not add a dedicated Prepress task button like for other feature groups (security, annotations, digial signatures)!

SHEA: Can Acrobat and PDF be all things to all people?

JAEGGI: Why not? PDF is just a container for information. But it's important to understand that not all PDFs can be used for all purposes. That's the reason to define special subsets of PDF: PDF/X for prepress data eXchange, PDF/A for Archiving and now PDF/E for Engineering purposes.

SHEA: Briefly describe a common misconception about or frequent problem you've seen with Acrobat/PDF that you'd like to try to clarify for others and/or provide a tip to address.

JAEGGI: A lot of users think if they convert their layouts to PDF, all of the problems are solved automatically. That's definitely not the case. The old principle of electronic data processing 'garbage in - garbage out' is also true for PDF. Not all PDFs are suitable for imaging in high quality. In fact I would estimate that 98 percent of all the existing PDF documents cannot be used for print production. They are intended for office communication, archives or the Internet.

That's why we have created the PDF/X specifications. These ISO standards define the minimal requirements for a PDF document to be used in print production. My favorite is PDF/X-3, which allows the use of CMYK and spot colors (like PDF/X-1a), but is also ready for color management workflows by using ICC based color definition as an option.

I am sure that PDF/X will make the use of PDF in print production more reliable. This is especially true when I look at the new features of PDF 1.5 like JPEG2000, compression of object streams, optional content groups (layers). These new features are great, but it will take years until they will be supported by all prepress applications and workflow systems. To be on the safe side, I recommend the exclusive use of PDF/X files in prepress unless you are certain that the receiver is able to deal with PDF 1.5 documents properly.

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