PDF In-Depth

PDF Workflow: Doing It Your Way

March 05, 2003

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Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF) has solved numerous problems for the publishing industry. Prepress shops in particular are exploiting the advantages of this standard data format and making use of its many possibilities. Unlike other digital document formats, there is no need for separate text files, fonts, image files or vector art. Acrobat Distiller can incorporate them all into the file during PDF generation. This means that PDF, with its platform and media independence, can be used as a "virtual job jacket," to which all necessary prepress ingredients can be added. As an object-oriented format, PDF is resolution-independent. Depending on the need, it can potentially be used either for high-end output on a platesetter or filmsetter or, by using data compression or downsampling, for the Internet or CD-ROMs.

Originally, PDF was developed by Adobe as a data format for the paperless office, but it quickly found a place in the prepress environment. PDF data compression, for example, offers great advantages. It reduces the data for an entire plate -- originally several gigabytes of PostScript code -- to only a few hundred megabytes. Catalog production operations, such as those of German printer Sudwest-Rolle in Stuttgart, show a reduction from about 1.8 GB per plate to 140 MB. This is important not only for archiving, but also for editing and moving the data over a network.

Given PDF's potential, it is not surprising that printing industry system and software developers have introduced its advantages into their workflow systems."

Nevertheless, like every new technology, PDF has its disadvantages. These include certain technical shortcomings, which can be (and we expect will be) addressed in future Adobe releases. Usually, though, the non-technical issues are more difficult; many users have yet to become familiar with file manipulation and other unique aspects of the format. Production problems will inevitably arise during the breaking-in period that follows the adoption of a PDF workflow.

The Integrated Approach

Given PDF's potential, it is not surprising that printing industry system and software developers have introduced its advantages into their workflow systems. Pioneer Agfa entered the market early with Apogee, while CreoScitex and Heidelberg also selected PDF as the basis for Prinergy. The key feature of these workflow systems is the initiation of all processing steps from a single, homogeneous user interface and the transfer of PDF data from one processing step to the next without significant operator involvement. (For a closer look at integrated workflow systems based on Adobe's Extreme architecture, see Vol. 29, No. 7.)

System vendors approach this ideal with integrated workflow modules. For example, a complete Agfa Apogee workflow system consists of Apogee Create (the Agfa Normalizer for generating PDF), Apogee Pilot (the central control panel for the workflow), Apogee PDF-RIP (interpretation and output file generation), Apogee PrintDrive (output management) and Apogee InkDrive (a tool for generating CIP4 data for automated press and bindery operations). Agfa charges about $50,000 for all the workflow modules, including five Normalizer licenses but excluding the hardware.

Prinergy is also a modular system. It consists of a Normalizer (the OEM equivalent of Adobe's Distiller), a high-resolution and a low-resolution Renderer, an Archive module, a Trapping Engine and a driver module for proofing devices. Other elements of Prinergy are a color management engine, PrintLink (a module for generating CIP4 data) and a minimum of five client licenses for the workflow system. In the background is a central database that monitors all processes. The basic system, without hardware, costs about $56,000.

PRODUCT SELECTION

There are many more PDF plug-ins and PDF-compatible applications than are described in this article. The author has deliberately omitted many of them, in order to present a clearer picture of a basic do-it-yourself workflow. Some products, including simple imposition plug-ins (priced as low as $40) were omitted because the author deemed them less than ideal for professional prepress production. Many others could arguably have been included, but were problematic, or, in the author's opinion, not yet ready for professional use. An entirely different class of PDF tools, including Solico from OneVision, LiTHO from Dalim and ORIS Page from CGS, was also left out of consideration. The professional quality of these systems was not an issue (although PDF compatibility issues persist). However, they did not fit the "do-it-yourself" criteria for the article. Often costing thousands of dollars, these PDF systems encompass the entire workflow, in effect attempting to replicate Apogee or Prinergy.

For users, the advantages of such a system are clear. It has a single user interface, with a single system designed for all components, all of which are continuously being improved by a single supplier. Incompatibilities between different modules are generally avoided, and the user can, after training by the vendor, count on uniform output quality. All processing steps -- from PDF generation, to preflighting, to editing and repair of the PDF, to color adjustment, trapping and separation -- are controlled and automated in an integrated system; operator errors are reduced to a minimum.

Paying the piper

Vendors are well paid for providing this security. There are often new license fees (including update fees, additional hardware and service contracts) for each new seat. These can make the use of a high-end workflow system a costly undertaking. Perhaps worse, these "hidden" costs make it difficult to estimate and budget the overall cost of owning a system such as Prinergy or Apogee.

As a result, many users decide not to put in an integrated system, but to assemble their own workflow from individual products. This has the immediate advantage of low startup costs, but it places a high premium on the know-how and commitment of the individual employees, who must learn to deal with each tool without losing sight of the overall workflow. Furthermore, they must develop and enforce the conventions concerning the parameters used in each application, the definition of each processing step, the naming of files and so on. If the processes are optimally designed, however, it is possible to obtain advantages in flexibility and cost savings.

Components of a PDF Workflow

A homegrown PDF workflow, like a high-end system, can be broken down into steps. These include:

  • PDF Generation
  • Preflight
  • File Repair
  • Editing & Color Transformation
  • Recompositing
  • Trapping
  • Imposition
  • Separation
  • Imaging

This article will examine some of the professional tools that can be used at each step. (NOTE: See a list of all workflow tools and services cited in this article.)

PDF Workflow Diagram

PDF Workflow: The above diagram outlines the steps of a typical PDF workflow, including some products designed to tackle each of the steps. [Click on the image for an enlarged view.]

PDF Generation

The primary application for PDF generation is Adobe Systems' Acrobat Distiller, the heart of the $249 Acrobat product family, which also includes the PDF viewing environment called, simply, Acrobat. Distiller is a PostScript 3 interpreter that converts PostScript data into PDF. Users are required to select various job options governing image compression, font inclusion and other settings relevant to prepress shops.

In both of the integrated workflows mentioned earlier, an Adobe Normalizer takes on Distiller's role as a PDF generator.

In most respects, Normalizer is the functional equivalent of Distiller, but it has a different user interface and some additional OEM functions. Agfa offers a stand-alone version of Normalizer, Apogee Create, for $895. It can be used without the rest of the Apogee workflow, and it contains a set of useful add-on functions, such as job ticket control and a built-in preflight tool. However, the user must decide whether the advantages of this Normalizer implementation outweigh the disadvantages.

Agfa Apogee Create Normalizer

Parameter-driven pdf creation: Apogee Create uses hot folders to control pdf generation for specific prepress requirements. Each input channel can use predefined job profiles and action lists to detect and repair common error conditions. [Click on the image for an enlarged view.]

For example, Apogee Create 1.0 generates PDFs containing unnecessary image data. A sample PostScript data file of 42 MB, converted with the current version of Acrobat Distiller (4.05), yields an output PDF file of 1.2 MB, while Apogee Create 1.0 yields a 13-MB PDF. In spite of this, users of Normalizer/Extreme PDF files can be confident that they meet Adobe's specifications and will print on most Adobe-based RIPs.

There are other products capable of producing PDF data, but these generally should be avoided. The most common, Adobe PDFWriter, is not appropriate for prepress. Designed for office use, it creates PDF files from any application, based on Macintosh QuickDraw or Windows GDI routines.

PDFWriter does not make use of PostScript and is therefore incapable of creating PDF with the quality and characteristics needed by the printing industry. For example, EPS graphics will typically be rendered at screen resolution, with a "jaggy" appearance not appropriate for professional imaging. For the same reason, shareware tools, such as James W. Walker's PrintToPDF for Mac OS ($20), or Win2PDF ($35) from Dane Prairie Systems, are not good alternatives to Distiller.

Only applications containing a PostScript interpreter, such as Ghostscript, a freeware package for Mac OS, Windows or Unix, or Jaws Systems' Jaws PDF Creator ($99) for Mac or Windows, can reliably interpret PostScript into PDF. Ghostscript uses a command-line interface, and is therefore unsuitable for ordinary users. Furthermore, because they use non-Adobe interpreters, neither Ghostscript nor Jaws PDF Creator can be guaranteed to meet the current PDF specification -- often to the detriment of the user. For example, Jaws PDF Creator does not support embedding of ICC profiles, bicubic resampling of images or output of PDF 1.3 files. As a result, the first choice for generation of high-end PDF is usually the current version of Adobe Distiller or a compatible Normalizer.

Preflight

When working in a high-end environment, one must always be concerned about having the correct parameters in a PDF file. Checking the parameters and consistency of a file can be done visually, to the extent that the layout elements are visible. However, to verify the most critical elements, such as font embedding or image quality, a preflight tool is required.

PDFToolbox Preflight

The Usual Suspects: A profile in PdfInspektor can search for a variety of common prepress-critical errors. [Click on the image for an enlarged view.]

Well-known preflight tools include Adobe's multi-purpose InProduction 1.0.1 ($699 without Acrobat) and PitStop Professional 4.6 from Enfocus Software ($399). Both of these are Acrobat plug-ins and can accomplish more than a visual check. Both support file analysis based on a predetermined set of parameters (called a "preflight profile") and generate a report following the analysis. Users of Apogee Create can also access some of the preflight functions of PitStop's preflight engine, which has been incorporated into Agfa's PDF creator.

PitStop Professional generates an error report in the form of a PDF file with direct links to the location of the error in the subject PDF file. InProduction simply exports a normal PDF-format report with a detailed explanation about all the errors. Although Adobe's tool suggests how the problem might be repaired or gives general guidance for correcting the data, the advice is often less than helpful. Both applications lead the user from one error to the next, and each comes with a set of predefined preflight profiles for a number of applications, which can be supplemented and customized by the user.

The PdfInspektor module, which the German firm Callas Software includes in its PdfToolbox collection ($299), also allows the inspection of errors directly in Acrobat; it lists the errors in a separate window. As in PitStop, an error report can be exported as PDF. This can be sent to the user who generated the erroneous file, forming the basis for a discussion of needed corrections.

Stand-alone programs such as FlightCheck from Markzware or Preflight Pro from Extensis can also be used for preflighting. Unfortunately, given the many options for these packages, some users find it overwhelming to set up a proper profile for preflight inspection. In some instances, both these programs have encountered problems diagnosing high-end PDF files.

More recently, the trend in preflight has been to offer the service online, such as Extensis/Creativepro's Preflight Online (an evolution of the stand-alone product). However, the efforts of Adobe and Extensis to support online preflight checking often seem more like an online demo than a practical tool. These packages invite the user to send PDF files to a Web server that runs a preflight application and returns the results. For small PDF files, the approach can make sense, but larger PDF files (such as those used for CTP) are better handled locally.

Enfocus Pitstop Global Change

Make It So: One of PitStop Professional's most powerful features is its ability to make global search-and-replace changes to a pdf file. In this case, all occurrences of a particular font (e.g., one that is corrupt or missing) will be replaced by a more appropriate one. This change can also be saved as an Action List that can be replayed by PitStop Professional or automated in PitStop Server. [Click on the image for an enlarged view.]

Error Correction & Editing

One of the great advantages of PDF is that the user of the free Acrobat Reader software can't edit or modify the PDF file. This is particularly important when it comes to responsibility for the subsequent printed results. In the PDF workflow, the originator has final responsibility for the supplied file (though this responsibility may be transferred, along with the text and image data, to the operator who handles any final corrections and output steps.) Changed line endings or page breaks, missing fonts and many other errors are impossible in properly generated PDFs.

Nevertheless, PDF leaves open the possibility for last-minute corrections and allows the publishing professional to make extensive changes to the data. Acrobat itself (the viewing application included with Distiller) provides a TouchUp function, a tool that supports minor text and image modifications. Text changes can be made directly in Acrobat, although text flow and line breaks are almost impossible to preserve. Modifications of images and vector graphics require that the user has access to an external program, such as Adobe Photoshop (for bitmap graphics) or Illustrator (for vector graphics).

If the user selects an image with the TouchUp tool, Photoshop can be invoked automatically. Acrobat turns the image data over to Photoshop; the user makes the changes and saves them back into the PDF file. This is good for last-minute changes, although the convenience of the tools leaves something to be desired. Comprehensive PDF modifications require more powerful tools. PitStop Professional includes extensive PDF editing functions, as well as automatic search-and-replace modification. The package's full range of editing functionality has made it a de facto standard, reinforced by its licensing to many other workflow vendors.

Quite a Box of Tricks

Abracadabra!: Quite A Box Of Tricks gives the user four types of color conversion, including conversion of rgb text -- a common problem with pdf files generated from Microsoft Office applications. [Click on the image for an enlarged view.]

With PitStop, a PDF file can be modified in ways similar to page modification in a layout package. Text and paragraphs can, within limits, be modified and repositioned; almost everything in the PDF file is editable. In many cases, it quickly becomes clear that complex changes are better done in the original layout application. However, making corrections to the file, such as after-the-fact font embedding, changing the color of objects, or font changes, are easily done with these tools.

Enfocus also recently released a "lite" version of PitStop, called PowerUp PDF ($99). Although intended more for the design market, it has potential in some prepress shops. It provides the object-editing capabilities of PitStop, including text changes and object modification, but lacks advanced features such as global changes or action lists. Shops could consider it as a low-cost, but completely compatible supplement to PitStop Professional.

Also well-known is Quite a Box of Tricks (or QABOT, $204) from Quite Software. Like PitStop, it combines a variety of useful fix-up functions. In addition to color changes, modification of page geometry, after-the-fact compression of PDF data and the conversion of Acrobat forms into printable elements, it can also collect information about the PDF file and its components. QABOT is often used to convert images within PDF files from RGB to CMYK.

Another collection of tools for correcting PDF files is PdfToolbox from Callas. It contains a page-cropping tool, a plug-in for making precise measurements of the geometry within a PDF file, a function for placing crop marks and the previously mentioned preflight tool. It also includes PdfOutput, a plug-in that exports platform-independent EPS files that include all fonts -- useful where PDF files need to be placed as EPS in another application -- and PdfBatchmeister, a scripting tool for Acrobat Distiller. The latter can generate flexible hot folder definitions and includes more than 30 predefined Distiller settings files, making it ideal for PDF novices. BatchProcess, also included, controls the Callas plug-ins within Acrobat and permits such things as batch conversion of PDF to EPS.

Color Transformation

Manipulation of color in PDF is not a simple business. Acrobat itself does not support color conversions such as RGB to CMYK or spot color to process, nor can the handling of ICC profiles and spot colors be influenced using the basic version of Acrobat. The user can only accept the values in the PDF file as received. (Distiller allows files to be converted for color management, but the use of this feature often leads to production problems later on.)

Fortunately, there are a number of products that can help in this area. Adobe's InProduction, for example, supports interactive and batch conversion of LAB and RGB to CMYK and it gives the user the option of embedding or removing ICC profiles. If a document contains duplicate spot colors, InProduction's Separator module can convert them to a single spot color.

Color conversion options are fewer in QABOT. The tool simply does RGB-to-CMYK conversion, allowing the user to specify conversion of text only, images or other page elements. The use of ICC profiles is optional. The color conversion module, RGBGone, is also sold as a stand-alone product. If more comprehensive color work is required, stand-alone packages may be helpful. Iqueue from GretagMacbeth (currently in beta testing, but expected to be available by Seybold Seminars Boston in April) will permit batch-mode color changes and transformations. Developed jointly by Logo (a German subsidiary of Gretag-Macbeth) and Callas Software, the package will run on Windows NT or Mac OS. It will provide the widest range, to date, of ICC profile modification options for PDF files. PitStop Professional offers color transformations with ICC profiles, but its speed leaves something to be desired. We expect that several of the larger prepress vendors may also develop software tools and color management for PDF data later this year.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM ADOBE

The current version of Acrobat (4.05) is based on PDF 1.3, which offers considerable support for prepress-crucial applications. Last summer, Adobe released Illustrator 9, which uses the next version of PDF (1.4) as its native file format. Photoshop 6 was released in September, adding the ability to save images as Acrobat 4 or Acrobat 5 documents. As we go to press, however, Acrobat 5 itself has not been announced. From the clues found in Illustrator and Photoshop, it's clear that PDF 1.4 will support object transparency, which has implications for prepress workflows. Trapping and overprint preview applications, like Supertrap and S2C Plateview, may have to be modified. The general question remains, however, on whether the Acrobat plug-ins described in this "do-it-yourself" article will retain their value as Acrobat evolves.

Adobe has a history of incorporating into its core products features similar to those developed by third-party developers. (Drop-shadow effects in Photoshop, once the domain of plug-in developers, are a case in point.) At the same time, Adobe has also encouraged and supported developers whose products are too 'vertical? to fit its business model. We believe that the latter tendency will prevail in the prepress arena.

When object transparency (and any other prepress-relevant aspects of PDF 1.4) finally emerge, we expect the leading Acrobat plug-in developers will adapt and continue to innovate. Whatever Acrobat 5 looks like, we believe that previously successful developers will thrive, and their products will remain worthwhile. -- John E. Parsons

Recompositing

Until recently, a major hurdle for a comprehensive PDF workflow was dealing with color-separated data such as preseparated PDF, DCS 2.0, TIFF-IT or copydot scans. Quark Xpress has turned out to be a great impediment to the PDF workflow, since it cannot output trapped files in composite PostScript (the format most often desired for PDF generation). If trapping is applied in Xpress, the only option is to output preseparated PostScript files (one for each ink color) and subsequently distill them. The user is left with separated PDF files, each color represented as black or shades of gray, which are extremely difficult to work with.

To relieve this situation, CreoScitex offers Seps2Comp ($399, or $499 with S2C Plateview). It is the first product to recomposite (merge) separated PDF data, not only from Xpress, but also from even more problematic applications, including Microsoft Publisher. Recompositing PDF also opens up new possibilities for the production of language versions. Text can be defined as a color layer and can be combined with another four-color file without requiring the full file to be recreated as a PDF for each version. Seps2Comp includes the full Pantone library, and the handling of ink sets and spot colors is made easier.

Another problem in dealing with Acrobat in prepress has been viewing the effects created by overprinting; the current version of Acrobat considers all inks to be completely opaque. For this, CreoScitex offers S2C Plateview as a bundle with Seps2Comp. S2C Plateview originated as part of the Prinergy workflow package. It provides a preview of the combined PDF separations. The user gets an overview of how the inks will work together and can control color separation better.

Trapping

Trapping and overprinting of elements in PDF files is a complex topic. Until recently, PDF trapping was possible only with Adobe's in-RIP trapping or Harlequin's EasyTrap. Otherwise, the user had to be satisfied with the capabilities of the layout program in use, or, as mentioned above, live with an Xpress workaround. Owners of workflow systems such as Brisque or Prinergy had trapping solutions: Full Auto Frames and Prinergy Trapper, respectively. For homegrown PDF workflows, there was no alternative in problem cases except to resort to an editor like PitStop and interactively create individual overprinting elements such as lines and frames -- a tiresome and dangerous undertaking.

Adobe In-RIP trapping, which can be purchased as an option for a PostScript 3 RIP, can now be controlled directly from Acrobat via InProduction. The user can define trapping zones and other trapping parameters.

Late last year, two Prinergy plug-ins, Supertrap ($5,000) and Supertrap Plus (not yet shipped, but expected to cost $9,000), have become available as stand-alone products from CreoScitex and Heidelberg (Vol. 30, No. 4). Supertrap is the first PDF-based trapping solution. The creation of traps follows user-defined rules and runs at very high speeds, since it is applied directly to the individual objects in the PDF.

Supertrap Plus, the enhanced product, is optimized specifically for packaging applications and offers a range of additional functions. Users can add or modify their own trapping geometry or even define the treatment of line-segment joins (flat, round, or pointed). A trapping-path editor permits the interactive alteration of the traps. The plug-in is also available in a free "viewer" version that permits viewing of traps created in the full version. Unfortunately, Supertrap does not provide batch (or hot folder) functionality, which means each file must be opened and trapped individually.

Not willing to be left behind, the well-known vendors of traditional trapping applications have recently added PDF support to their packages. Many of these programs convert PDF to PostScript before trapping, but some retain the original PDF data structure.

Imposition

Creating an imposition is a significant component of the prepress workflow. In the past, products such as Ultimate Impostrip, Farrukh Systems Imposition Manager or ScenicSoft Preps established themselves in the market by simplifying the handling of PostScript files. Unfortunately, the process of imposition is often very storage-intensive and requires great computational resources at the RIP.

This changes with PDF. Because of smaller file sizes, imposition of PDF pages is generally faster. The competitors of the above-named companies (who subsequently all added PDF support) noticed this and came out with PDF solutions. The Polish firm AC&C, recently acquired by Shira, now offers PDF Organizer for printing companies and PDF PlaceIt for newspapers. Other products, including IPTech ImpozeIt, Hautron ThriceImpos and Dynagram Dynastrip, operate directly with PDF files, without an intermediate conversion into PostScript. ScenicSoft also recently added native PDF imposition as an option in Preps.

Quite Imposing Plus 1.2 ($569) from Quite Software includes simple imposition functions for books and the like. Interactive step-and-repeat impositions are also possible; such a feature would be used, for example, to set up a flat of business cards. Once a series of production steps is defined, the program's macro facility can be used to record it and repeat it at will. Ideally, Quite Imposing Plus should be used only for simple impositions or for the needs of digital printing.

PDFToolbox Preflight

PDF Separation: InProduction's separation controls are intuitive and comprehensive, including the ability to remap similarly named spot colors to a single plate by dragging the extra names to the desired spot color. A detailed page previewer renders individual plates and composite views with a high degree of fidelity to the final output. [Click on the image for an enlarged view.]

Krause's KIM PDF ($4,500), developed jointly with Callas Software, also uses only PDF for imposition. PostScript or EPS files can be imported, but they will be converted to PDF prior to imposition. All functions required for imposition are made available to the user. While working on the imposition, the user always sees the whole flat and all the details, such as what inks and files are used. KIM PDF gives the user a great deal of freedom in how the work is done. Pages within a job can be grouped together, and there is no limit on the number of pages in a job. Even in a finished flat, individual pages can be replaced or modified. The server version, KIM PDF Auto ($7,800), supports the automatic processing of previously defined jobs, using all the usual standards. Without manual intervention, jobs are imposed based on predefined templates and prepared for subsequent processing.

Output Management

Like other files, PDF files must be separated before they can be imaged to film or plate. This can be accomplished by in-RIP separation on a PostScript RIP or via Acrobat plug-ins such as Adobe's InProduction, Lantana's Crackerjack or Callas's PdfOutput Pro. As previously mentioned, InProduction is a toolkit containing other functions. Crackerjack ($495) and PdfOutput Pro ($299) are solely output plug-ins. In comparing the three applications, the first thing one notices about PdfOutput Pro is that it has no print preview, but it is competitive in output quality. In PdfOutput Pro, the user sets up a profile with all the output parameters. This can be used repeatedly for subsequent jobs.

Crackerjack, the veteran in the field of PDF separation, provides a clear user interface, and it supports (along with all the necessary parameter settings for exposure) the monitoring of hot folders and, if desired, automatic output of PDF files using the bundled plug-in, Crackerjack Pilot. Crackerjack is very easy to use. The current page geometry is displayed in a preview window, so the user is always in control. Although the preview function in Crackerjack is not as precise as that of InProduction, the option of automating the output process makes up for the inconvenience.

In Acrobat InProduction, and the included Separator module, one can specify the parameters for page format, available ink colors and resolution, as well as overprinting and dot shape -- all according to the capabilities of the output device. In addition to the analysis of the inks used in the PDFs, it is possible (as it is in Crackerjack and PdfOutput Pro) to specify the positioning of printer's marks. A first-rate preview capability lets the user monitor each step. Once the desired options for outputting a PDF file have been selected, they can be stored as settings for future jobs. Finally, output to an imager or proofer can be initiated directly from the plug-in. A clear disadvantage, however, is that Adobe did not include an option for automating the separation process.

Workflow Automation

Like the integrated single-vendor workflows, many of the production processes in a home-grown PDF workflow can be automated. This is accomplished partly with the included scripting facilities and partly with server applications such as Enfocus's PitStop Server ($1,199). Using a server permits the definition of a complete production process. For example, a sequence could be: preflight check, automatic error repair, creation of an error report and placement in an output folder. The folder could be monitored, for example, by Crackerjack Pilot, which could automatically pass the file along to the output device. PitStop Server works on the basis of "action lists," which can contain any PitStop preflight or editing command. In addition to the action lists that are provided with the product, users can create new ones with the full version of PitStop, but not in PitStop Server itself.

Apogee Create and Acrobat Distiller likewise provide automatic processing based on hot folders, which can be combined with additional software packages. For example, PDF generation could occur in Apogee Create, the PDF file could be delivered to a preflight program and, if no errors are found, passed along to Crackerjack Pilot for subsequent processing. Acrobat Distiller may be substituted for Apogee Create, but that would result in less flexibility in the handling of hot folders. It should be clear that, in addition to their specific processing capabilities, the tools described here also provide the basis for a successful, homegrown automatic workflow, either via hot folders or by invoking the programs directly.

New Workflow Extensions

New extensions for a PDF workflow are still being developed. Recently, Enfocus began offering Certify PDF ($249) as part of its Enfocus Certified Workflow (ECW) process (see Vol. 30, No. 8). The product is based on the concept that errors can occur in do-it-yourself PDF workflows and that steps must therefore be taken to standardize processes, check changes and maintain file consistency. At the same time, ECW provides a "roll-back" function (a version-control system internal to the PDF file). This makes it possible to reverse changes that have been made to the file. Upon opening a file in this workflow, the user immediately sees the status of the file and whether or not he or she has permission to edit it. With the aid of a set of bookmarks, the user also sees what changes were made the last time the file was modified, and can call up, alter or reverse the changes.

The advantage of ECW is that it pinpoints responsibility for the changes that are made -- not so that fingers can be pointed, tempting though that may be, but so that procedural flaws can be identified and corrected. It won't solve all PDF workflow problems, but it clearly represents progress.

Conclusions, Costs & Trade-offs

The products we've described above will provide you with a good start on a complete PDF workflow system. As an illustration of our point, we've assembled a typical selection of products for a middle-sized company. The base pricing is as follows:

When you compare this with the cost of Apogee or Prinergy, the financial choice looks easy. A homegrown PDF workflow is, at first glance, a much better deal.

The Rest of the Story

This changes quickly, however, if you start counting up the cost of multi-user licenses for all your operators. (PitStop Server can decrease this burden; multiple licenses should actually only be required for PitStop itself and for the full version of Acrobat.)

In addition, it is not always understood that a homegrown workflow requires a lot of user expertise. In our example, there are eight individual applications to master. Knowledge of how the applications interact is a key aspect of debugging errors. Clearing up a complex problem may mean working with six or more vendor hotlines, requiring a great deal of discipline on the user's part. "User discipline" in this context includes not just software maintenance at every workstation, but also agreement on parameter settings for output, for PDF generation and so on. These hidden costs can quickly make a homegrown workflow unworkable. Every potential for production errors must be multiplied by the number of individual applications in use. Finding and training the appropriate personnel for such a workflow is difficult.

The other side of the coin is the immense flexibility of a do-it-yourself PDF workflow -- something that integrated systems don't provide. If a component is missing from a home-grown workflow, it can be purchased. This allows you to respond to customer wishes quickly and without a lot of red tape, since the acquisition cost of most Acrobat plug-ins is relatively small.

A further advantage is the low cost of getting started with a home-grown system. All you need to begin with is a copy of the full version of Acrobat, a copy of PitStop and an output tool such as Crackerjack. For a relatively small investment, you have what you need to learn and master the applications and to plan your next purchase. In this way, a firm can grow its own PDF workflow in the direction it chooses, without having to abandon its existing PostScript workflow.

When considering the alternatives, don't underestimate the expenditure required for implementing a workflow system such as Prinergy, including training and service costs.

Finally, the company's philosophy must enter into the decision about which workflow is appropriate. Some companies will not feel the need for the "freedom" and flexibility of a do-it-yourself PDF workflow. Others will find that PDF is an ideal means of expanding their business.

Seybold ReportsRepublished with permission from The Seybold Report.

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