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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.

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By Stephen Beals

"Printers can expect to begin receiving XPS files in the near future," Kelly predicts. "But most vendors and users won’t want to build a new workflow for processing XPS, so, instead, upcoming technology will enable high-quality XPS-to-PDF conversions."

It’s been written that XPS renders on-screen colors and images to paper better than other technologies, including PDF, and while that claim hasn’t been substantiated in anything I’ve read, it seems to imply that XPS will render color differently than a PDF document created from the same file. In the printing world, "better" must also mean "consistent," and using both XPS and PDF in the same workflow could potentially create some color-management issues. But XPS is both a file format and a printer language. That, says Microsoft, allows it to accelerate print times, which could be a very big plus for very big files.

The best and the worst of both worlds

Whenever new file formats come into the graphics marketplace, some will embrace them and others will put off change as long as possible. Printers who didn’t build their workflows on the PDF standard now find themselves in a position of needing to either make compromises with their customers or costly upgrades to their software infrastructure. Then again, they may have avoided some of the bumps and bruises others experienced during the transition. Today, PDF is an industry standard, but not all the potential problems have been ironed out, since old software and old RIPs are still plentiful. For those who have updated software and RIPs, PDF is mature technology with minimal glitches.

It seems likely that XPS will go through many of the same problems. An open system that’s available at no cost to developers and users is certainly going to tempt many players. And being based on XML has productivity and automation opportunities for corporate users that shouldn’t be underestimated. However, the slow adoption rate for Vista is hardly creating a groundswell for the XPS format, and Microsoft products such as Word also support the PDF format, at least for now. XPS, too, has not been without some birthing pains of its own.

Many PDF users wonder why XPS is even a consideration. Well, the answer is that it’s free. And at $459 retail (not that anyone pays retail), Adobe Acrobat Professional sounds downright expensive in comparison. And that could mean big changes in printing in the not-so-distant future.

Based in Seneca Falls, NY, writer Stephen Beals ( is a frequent contributor to The Big Picture magazine.