Book Review: The PDF Print Production Guide

Written by Joseph Marin and Julie Shaffer of GATF

It seems timely that a book devoted to the processes and procedures of PDF creation for use in high-end printing would arrive on my desk. As a Production Manager who is fully involved with PDF in both this magazine's print production and lately, in the procurement of good PDF (PDFX-1a) files from our advertising clients, a manual of this caliber is a handy tool.

Authors Joseph Marin and Julie Schaffer, who both work at the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF), have laid out a well-organized and strategic book. The opening chapter on the basics of PDF gives a short overview of how the PDF (Portable Document File) format came to exist. From there, it digs right into all subjects PDF.

This book is designed for all levels of competency, from those who may just be beginning to explore the uses of PDF in production, to seasoned veterans. While I have become very familiar with Adobe's Acrobat products, the book makes no assumptions of the reader's knowledge or comfort levels; with step-by-step instructions accompanied by relevant figures. The level of detail and explanation in the PDF Creation chapter is extremely helpful in understanding all of the job option settings. If even one of these settings is out of place in a production setting, the end result could be disastrous.

While it has become standard practice to preflight native application files, the authors give compelling evidence for the need to preflighting PDF files: "An overwhelming majority (88%) of the participants in GATF's PDF study stated that the biggest problem inherent in working with PDF files is that clients do not make them properly! Therefore, PDF files, too, must be checked to determine whether they are production ready." How true! Marin and Schaffer explain how to diagnose some minor problems using the built-in tools included in Acrobat. They also present some of the best third party PDF preflighting and editing options. These third-party software applications from Enfocus, Callas, Extensis, and Creo simplify the tasks of preflighting, trapping, and imposition. They are also used in the book's next chapter: Common PDF Problems and Solutions.

This was where I found answers to many problems, any one of which could be applicable to almost any PDF I receive. As the authors point out, "Generally speaking, editing or correcting a PDF file is not always as simple as it would be using native applications." They further add, "Plug-ins such as Enfocus Pitstop Professional, Quite a Box of Tricks, and others will give you the ability to correct missing bleeds, embed fonts, change color spaces, and scale objects." I enjoyed learning the proper technique with which to achieve these changes, and found several techniques that I can now incorporate into my own PDF workflow.

The Reference chapter provides a wealth of information, such as the process to create proper PostScript from QuarkXPress, Adobe InDesign, and Pagemaker. It is followed by an excellent Q & A section , a list of Internet resources, common file extensions, and a glossary.

This is a wonderful, comprehensive guide for anyone interested in PDF in print production. However, as is so often the case in the ever-changing stream of today's technology, the written word seems almost obsolete before we have the chance to read it.

In this instance, shortly after the book was released, Adobe released Acrobat 6. While all the techniques and procedures in The PDF Print Production Guide are still relevant to creating solid PDF's for print, Marin and Schaffer will now need to guide us through the new and expanded features available when Acrobat 6 is used to create PDFs.

The "PDF Print Production Guide" can be purchased from GATF's website for $45 ($40 for members). [EDITOR'S NOTE: The GATF tells The Big Picture that an updated edition of the book including Acrobat 6 is currently in the works and is expected to be released later this year.]

Patricia Houston manages the production of The Big Picture and the four other magazines published by ST Media Group International in Cincinnati, OH. Previously, she was a Computer-to-Plate technician at R.R. Donnelley, which publishes ST's magazines. Houston moved ST Media Group into a full PDF workflow and has been a contributing panelist on digital workflow and PDF at several conferences.

View more from this Big Picture issue