PDF Workflow 101: Convert Your Digital Workflow to PDF
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PDF Workflow 101: Convert Your Digital Workflow to PDF

Smooth out the headaches involved in getting files from your clients by using the versatile PDF (Portable Document Format) in your businesses workflow.

By Keri Collett

Since its inception over 10 years ago, Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format) has become the de facto standard in cross-platform document sharing, electronic forms and web publishing.

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  • Reviewing and printing documents using Adobe’s free PDF viewer, Acrobat Reader, is the only exposure most people have with Acrobat. However, for the print service provider or sign shop, training their customers to start sending PDF files instead of native files has cut production time significantly, and reduced many of the common digital printing headaches and pitfalls that come from customer’s native files.

    Two of the most common pitfalls from customer files are:

    1. You don’t have the software the file was created in, or you have an older version of the software and can’t open a file of a newer version.
    2. Customer did not provide the fonts used in the design and you don’t have them installed in your system (Courier font usually prints in the design).

    Rare is the sign shop that has both Mac and Windows computers loaded with every single graphic design, image editing, page layout, architectural/engineering program, spreadsheet and word processing programs ever produced. On top of that, no one could possibly have all the fonts that have been created. That is the beauty and simplicity of using the PDF workflow—you don’t need all of this to be able to support all types of customers: from architects and engineers using AutoCAD for a line drawing to a school teacher using Print Shop Deluxe to create a room poster.

    PDF files are created in a variety of ways. Anyone who uses the PDF workflow on a regular basis should have a copy of Adobe Acrobat software. When installed, Acrobat adds icons to your Microsoft programs that allow direct PDF creation from within the application. It also adds an icon to your “Printers” folder where you can print to Adobe PDF. The installation process also adds a program called Acrobat Distiller. Some prefer to print their design to a Postscript file, and then send it to Distiller to create a PDF file.

    Chances are many of your customers already have the ability to create PDF files without owning a copy of Acrobat. All later versions of Adobe software products incorporate the ability to either “Save As” or “Export” to a PDF file. CorelDraw also incorporates a feature where you can “Publish to PDF.” However, it would be very difficult to get all of your “non Adobe” customers to purchase Adobe Acrobat just to make your life a little easier. Here’s a tip: send them to Kinko’s web site to download and install the FREE Kinko’s File Prep Tool (KFP). When installed, this tool will show up as a printer. Have your customers print their design to the KFP tool and it will create a PDF file with the all the fonts embedded, and images will remain at their current resolution.

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    For your customers who already have the ability to create a PDF file without using Kinko’s free tool, educate them about three specific PDF settings they should use whenever creating a PDF file for digital printing. The three settings specify how to treat fonts, images and color.

    1. Turn “Embed Fonts” on. This will ensure all fonts used in the design are packaged with the file and will eliminate the “Courier” font printing problem. It is your preference whether they turn on “Subset fonts when percent of characters used is less than”. This is turned on by default to save on file size. What it means is that only the font characters used in the design are embedded. For example, if a design only has the words “For Sale”, the PDF file would only embed the F, O, R, S, A, L, & E characters of that font. This significantly reduces the size of the file for portability. However, if there were any chance you might need to edit that PDF and add some text with the same font, you would not be able to do so without the entire character set embedded.

    2. Turn downsampling off for all types of raster images. Most default PDF settings include downsampling of images. Downsampling refers to taking a higher resolution file and reducing the amount of pixels used in that image. This works fine for a file that will be only viewed on a computer monitor or posted on the Web, but can severely damage the image quality of a file that will be digitally printed.

    3. Leave Colors Unchanged ­ make sure this choice is selected in the Color settings section. You don’t want Distiller to apply its own color management settings to your customer’s files. Keep the color the way it was originally specified in their native application.

    All three of these settings are automatically selected in the Kinko’s File Prep Tool. Customers using this tool don’t need to worry about what settings to use.

    Since Acrobat only includes rudimentary tools for working with a PDF file, Adobe has enabled third party developers to create plug-ins. You will find a variety of tools you can purchase to use with Acrobat software. Specific plug-ins especially useful for the digital signage industry are: Quite Imposing and Enfocus Pit Stop Professional.

    Quite Imposing (www.quite.com) gives you extra control for setting up the PDF file for printing to a large-format printer. Features:

    1. Scale to any size (up or down) and add crop marks
    2. Scale and nest multiple pages in the document to a specific sheet size
    3. Scale, create and nest multiple copies of the same image to a specific sheet size

    Pit Stop Professional (www.enfocus.com) allows you to preflight customer PDF files and make corrections as needed. It incorporates comprehensive interactive inspection and editing tools that allow you to change text, images, line-art, colors and a wide range of other PDF attributes. Global Change functionality enables universal changes throughout a page or an entire document and Action Lists can be used to automate repetitive tasks. If a customer’s file is missing fonts, it allows you to select that font and change it to one on your system that is a suitable match. If a color isn’t printing correctly, you can change the values of that color to one that will print correctly on your printer. You can edit spelling or other typographical errors, and it will also allow you to downsample images with resolutions that are too high for your large-format printer.

    It may take some time to convince and train your digital printing customers to start sending you PDF files. However, the effort will be well worth it as you start to notice fewer headaches, printing errors, wasted supplies and overall frustration in your digital workflow.

    Keri Collet is a trainer with Graphic Intelligence Agency. Visit them on the web at http://www.graphintel.com

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