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The Ever-Changing PDF Picture

(March 2008) posted on Thu Mar 06, 2008

What's new in PDF workflow, and how XPS might change all that.

click an image below to view slideshow

By Stephen Beals

PDF has become such a ubiquitous standard in the graphic-arts arena that most folks don’t even remember what the letters stand for. (It’s Portable Document Format.) Sort of like the way some people can’t remember whether BMW stands for British or Bavarian Motor Works. (It’s Bavarian: Bayerische Motoren Werke.)

Maybe PDF isn’t as stylish as a BMW, but it’s probably just as universally recognized. Indeed, PDF’s already well-accepted role as an industry standard was strengthened last year when ISO assumed the administration of the standard, after Adobe released the full PDF 1.7 specification to AIIM, the Association for Information and Image Management.

But last year, Microsoft finally rolled out XPS, which stands for XML Paper Specification. XML stands for Extensible Markup Language, and, for the vast majority of the English-speaking world who don’t know what "extensible" means, it’s defined as the ability to accept add-on features later-you can "extend" the usefulness of a computer program or set of commands. And yes, it will likely have an impact on print providers, which generally includes a large base of PC users. So just when you thought you were getting PDF under control, there’s a new player to be concerned with. But we’ll get to that later.

First, let’s look at what’s new in the world of Adobe’s PDF. And there was a lot new in 2007. As is often the case, some of the enhancements to PDF workflows present a real challenge to output providers.

Addressing the transparency problem

Transparency has been a part of PDF files since Adobe’s Acrobat 5, but Adobe Reader 8, released in November 2006, allows the files to retain transparency right up to the RIP. And Adobe Creative Suite 3 and QuarkXPress 7 not only support the creation and export of transparent objects, they give the designers an array of tools that make generating special transparency effects very simple. In fact, it has almost become a rarity to see a file created without these effects. That’s fine if your RIP uses Adobe Print Engine, which understands how to properly render transparency, but it can cause problems with older RIP engines.