Should I send a PDF or a native InDesign file as the final file to my printer?

Answered by Stephen Beals, Digital Pre Press Manager and Writer


I’m still confused if sending a PDF as the final file is okay or if a native InDesign or Quark file should be provided. If the printer needs to manipulate the file or fix AAs, which one is better to send?



You are in good company if you are a bit confused about when to send a PDF and when to send native files. As a commercial printer, we generally ask that our customers send both. But there is a mistaken assumption that PDF files cannot be edited, and some printers use the rule of thumb that they will not edit PDF files. But it is not completely the case that they cannot be edited. In fact with each new version of Adobe Acrobat Professional, products like Enfocus PitStop and Apago PDF Enhancer, the capacity for editing PDF files keeps growing. Prepress workflows like Artwork Systems Nexus, Dalim Twist, Agfa Apogee, One Vision, Kodak (Creo) Prinergy, and Esko Graphics

Still, it is problematic. Extensive text editing is very painful even with sophisticated tools. So when AA's are made, it is generally better to make them in the native Quark or InDesign file.

But there is also the problem that many folks providing PDF files for print do not know how to make a proper file for that purpose. The fact that a file is in PDF format does not mean it is suitable for print production. Indeed the vast majority of PDF files created are for web or ink-jet printing. Such files may print, but it's likely they won't look good. One thing Adobe and Quark have done in the most recent versions of their products is set up better PDF creation tools to make the process easier.

Having said that, if I know I have a good PDF file, I would much rather use that for production than a native file. Why? Because I know a PDF created for print production will have all of the images and fonts embedded, and those factors alone eliminate the largest causes of problems in the production workflow. We have many customers that send us ONLY PDF files and they work just fine. But I spent an hour yesterday fixing a set of PDF files that would have taken half that time in the native application. In that particular case, it was still an easier way of handling the job for the customer, since we have the tools to fix it and he doesn't.

If you know there will be changes, I would definitely want the entire job, particularly if I (the printer) will be making those changes.

Also remember there are still printers out there who don't want to work with PDF. That number is getting smaller every day, but there are still a few holdouts.

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

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