Is PDF the industry standard file format that commercial printers are accepting from print buyers?

Is it safe to say that PDF is the industry standard for the file format that commercial printers are accepting from print buyers?

K. C.

There can be no doubt that PDF is the future of the print industry for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the technology was developed by the same company that developed PostScript: Adobe. They have made PDF an integral part of all their software products. Mac OSX actually uses a form of PDF as the display language.

There probably have been surveys done by folks like Trendwatch and Enfocus, but any survey would likely be out of date even if it was completed last week. The adoption of PDF is snowballing. While there are still a few printers who are leery of PDF and still fewer that refuse to accept PDF files, that's largely because there are several misconceptions about PDF.

One misconception is: "If I hand a PDF to a printer, he or she ought to be able to print it." Sadly, it's not true. A PDF that looks beautiful on a web site and prints fine on a laser printer may not print in a commercial pre-press workflow. The main issues are RGB colors, rich Blacks (as in text made up of solid red green and blue: everything BUT black), fonts that are not embedded and low resolution images.

The Ghent PDF Workgroup (GWG) has been busy setting standards for using PDF files for print production. You may well have heard of PDFX1a and PDF3, which are format standards that most printers today can handle.

Both printers and designers are starting to get a firm grip on creating PDF files for print production, and when properly created they can save considerable production time and money. In most cases a good solid PDF file can go straight to the RIP without operator intervention. It lays more responsibility on the creator of the file but can yield substantial savings.

But is PDF now "the industry standard"? Not yet. It will be, but there are still some growing pains and some slow acceptance by both printers and designers. The percentage of printers who say they "prefer" PDF files is still a minority.

Stephen Beals is a digital pre-press manager and has been writing for major print publications for many years. He is the author of A Practical Primer for Painless Print Production. He can be reached at
© Copyright Print Buyers, Inc.