PDF Master: Stephan Jaeggi talks with Planet PDF's Karl De Abrew
Widely respected expert from Switzerland speaks to Karl De Abrew
8 May 2003
Editor's Note: As part of our ongoing reflection on the June 1993 introduction of Adobe Acrobat and PDF by Adobe Systems, Planet PDF CEO Karl De Abrew is conducting a series of brief "Masters of the PDF Universe" profiles with key members of the Planet PDF community. Today Karl talks with Stephan Jaeggi, President of PrePress-Consulting, based in Binningen/Switzerland but known world-wide among prepress-oriented users of Adobe Acrobat and PDF. Jaeggi's is arguably the most widely respected voice in the industry on matters and issues relating to PDF for printing and prepress, due in part to his long experience, his informative Web site and free PDF-Aktuell newsletter (German) and his involvement in and numerous presentations given at key industry conferences, panels and discussions. Jaeggi has been a pioneer in the development of the PDF/X standard -- a subset of PDF aimed at prepress needs -- and especially in the PDF/X-3 derivation popular in Europe. Planet PDF offers free downloads of a series of free, informative PDF Workflow brochures he produced for a vendor client several years ago. He's heavily involved in the upcoming PDF 2003 conference in Frankfurt, Germany on May 16 and is one of the featured speakers at Seybold's forthcoming "PDF Summit Amsterdam 2003" in June. Jaeggi is often referred to as a "PDF Guru" in recognition for his expertise and vision with the Adobe-centered technology. Today we add our "Master of the PDF Universe" title to Jaeggi's many well-deserved accolades.
Karl De Abrew: Today many Acrobat & PDF users will be familiar with you because of your work as a roaming PDF emissary from PrePress-Consulting along with being a well-known conference speaker at Seybold Seminars and other PDF-related conference throughout Europe. When and why did you first get involved with Acrobat/PDF?
Stephan Jaeggi: "The first time I (officially) heard about PDF was at the Seybold Conference in San Jose in September 1991 when John Warnock showed an application codenamed 'Carousel.' Even if it was said that this technology was destined primarily for the office users, I had the strong feeling that this would be the next step after PostScript for graphic arts. Since 1986 I was involved in PostScript for prepress professionals. At that time in Europe, I was called 'PostScript Pope' because I was preaching the switch from proprietary systems to PostScript systems on every occasion. At this conference I felt that the time will come to convert from 'PostScript Pope' to 'PDF Pope.'"
De Abrew: 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: "As I already mentioned, Acrobat and PDF were primarily developed for office communication e.g. only RGB color was allowed. A lot of users from graphic arts approached Adobe and urged them to enhance PDF with prepress features. In March 1998, a group of German and Swiss experts published a white paper on 'PDF for Prepress.' I had the honor to present the result of this work together with Olaf Drümmer at a Seybold Conference in New York. I am convinced that this white paper helped a lot to push the vendors to seriously take care of the problems of using PDF in prepress. Most of the concerns were addressed with PDF 1.3, which was introduced in spring 1999 together with Acrobat 4.0. PDF 1.3 was compatible with PostScript 3, which meant that all elements (including multi-tones and spot color gradients using DeviceN colors) which can be output on a PostScript imagesetter could also be maintained in a PDF document. The problem was (and still is today) that it took some time until the major publishing applications supported these new features. In fact, 4 years after the introduction of PDF 1.3, the most popular page layout application QuarkXPress does not yet support DeviceN in XPress 5.0. They recently announced support in version 6.0, but I have not seen it working properly yet."
De Abrew: Acrobat and PDF are now used in so many industries and in so many ways, do you see new areas that haven't perhaps been tapped much yet?
Jaeggi: "In the last ten years PDF files were static documents -- often called final-page documents. These days PDF has developed into a container of information. I am especially attracted by the addition of logical structures to PDF by embedding XML tags into a PDF document. That means along with the graphical representation of a page, meta information of all elements can be stored in a PDF document.
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) by exporting them into XML format. I also believe that editing tools will benefit from the existence the logical structure in a PDF document e.g. for editing entire paragraphs or for changing the typeface of all captions in a document."
De Abrew: Acrobat has grown into a large, multi-function tool for use in so many areas -- including document management, presentations, collaboration, forms and prepress -- and it can be intimidating for new users. Is there a need for separating out this functionality to make it easier to use.
Jaeggi: "The split of Acrobat 6 into a Standard and a Professional version is without any doubt a good move. In my PDF seminars, I meet a lot of people how have difficulties to find certain features in Acrobat. This is mainly because Acrobat is not their primary application in which the work all day long. They don't earn their money by using Acrobat, but by building pages in a layout application or by creating artwork in a graphic application or by processing images in Photoshop. Acrobat is only a utility that allows them to share the result of their work. Adobe tried to help these occasional users by creating a 'How-to' window in Acrobat 6. This is certainly a benefit. But still Acrobat 6 Professional contains a lot of features which are not necessary for some categories of users. I would welcome a splitting into a version for prepress, interactive PDF or forms professionals. This doesn't necessarily mean that Adobe must sell different products, but could offer multiple configuration setups for Acrobat Professional."
De Abrew: Pondering the future of Acrobat and/or PDF, what most excites you about the next few years?
Jaeggi: "I think that with the addition of layers, 16-bit images and JPEG2000 in PDF 1.5, the PDF specs are quite complete for prepress purposes. However the prepress features in Acrobat still need some improvement e.g. in color separation a feature to merge spot color is missing. Color management and transparency flatting are now improved in Acrobat 6, but they are only accessible for output. I would like these features to be able to transform a PDF document and to save the results as PDF.
As one of the authors of the PDF/X-3 specifications, I certainly welcome the fact that Acrobat 6 and Distiller 6 are now supporting the creation of PDF/X-1a and PDF/X-3 documents. But unfortunately PDF/X is only a feature of the Professional version of Acrobat 6 which will certainly be the preferred choice for prepress professionals. But the idea behind PDF/X is that the originator of a document creates the PDF/X files. However, most originators these days are users in the office environment (aka enterprise users) and they are the target audience for the Standard version of Acrobat 6 which lacks these PDF/X creations features. That's really a pity! Also the support of PDF/X in the Professional version of Acrobat 6 still needs some improvement. Especially regarding color management functionality -- mainly the use of the Output Intent.
De Abrew: 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. Especially when I look at the new features of PDF 1.5 like JPEG2000, compression of object streams, optional content groups (layers). As I said 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 to only distribute PDF/X files unless you know exactly that the receiver is able to deal with PDF 1.5 documents properly."