PDF Print Engine: James Wamser

I was able to connect with Sells Printing‘s James Wamser, and I spoke with him about their Prinergy 4 system that includes an Adobe PDF Print Engine RIP. The PDF Print Engine rips PDF data, and removes the need to convert to PostScript at any point in the workflow. The primary benefits of an entirely PDF workflow are the preservation of live transparency (i.e., no flattening, no potential PostScript printing problems because of the translation of live transparency into the opaque, flat imageing model of PostScript), device independence (RGB to CMYK conversion, screening, etc. done at print time), support for ICC profiles, and speed (PDF Print Engine RIPs usually process complex jobs much faster than PostScript RIPs).

I asked James about how he educates his customers about the benefits of creating PDF’s that are optimized for a pure PDF workflow:

James Wamser: In BrandX, your only option is a PostScript workflow, because creating PDF from BrandX necessarily entails creating a PostScript file first, then converting that PostScript to PDF, whether you’re using Global Graphics or Distiller. You can print to PostScript in InDesign, but we don’t recommend that, because the advantages of the PDF Print Engine are best realized with an unflattened PDF file.

This is especially true if you’re using any transparency effects like a blend mode, drop shadow, gradient feather, etc. If you use PDFX-4, which is based on the 1.4 PDF spec, not only do you retain live, unflattened transparency…not only do you preserve live transparency when you submit the PDF, it’s also still there after we RIP it…and there are benefits to that.

For example, if you bring a PSD file with no background into InDesign, make a PDFX-4, and then open the PSD file to edit it from within the PDF…you get the transparent background in Photoshop. If you export a flattened PDFX-1a from InDesign, that image would open in Photoshop with a background. So, it gives you a lot more options down the line in your workflow if you need to edit a PDF…not that you want to work that way, but sometimes you have to.

Also, you don’t run into any of the transparency flattening issues that can rear their ugly head if you’re working with a flattened PDF. The PDF RIP eliminates that as an issue.

Tim Cole: What about PostScript errors? Compare your experience with files with transparency before your new Prinergy/PDF RIP system with your experience running jobs through the new system. What’s the difference in reliability? Have you noticed a difference?

James Wamser: Yes, we’ve definitely noticed a difference. First, if we’re getting a flattened PDF from a customer, we always have to be concerned about their flattener settings…were the correct settings used? With the PDF Print Engine, we want an unflattened PDF, so concerns about flattener settings go away. Unflattened PDF’s are resolution independent, so when we RIP it we can determine the desired resolution at that time instead of wondering if the customer did it right when they made the PDF. We can determine the resolution at RIP time based on our line screen, whether or not we’re using stochastic, or 150 or 175 line screen, etc.

You take away a lot of those potential errors that can occur when you ask the customer to be the prepress expert, and put the responsibility back on the prepress company where it belongs. The prepress company can make the decisions based on their worklow, and the end result is you eliminate the kinds of errors and problems that can occur in a PostScript workflow.

Tim Cole: Do you recommend unflattened PDF because of the fact that flattened PDF is device dependent, and therefore limiting in terms of production options?

James Wamser: That definitely plays a role, because once you flatten a PDF, you’re commited to one production path. Not only is the resolution set at the time of flattening, but the color conversions are done at that time as well. There’s lots of options when you don’t flatten a PDF, including when the file is actually ripped.

Tim Cole: Do you think the PDF Print Engine benefits you more or the customer? How do you convince them that it’s in their interest to give you an unflattened PDF with which to work?

James Wamser: Well, they know they’re better off, because they don’t receive the phone calls saying, "Hey, we had a problem with your files…" They won’t necessarily notice a difference when they see the proof, but they’ll eventually say, "You guys didn’t have any problems with my files, and in the past you used to run into some…" So, although it’s more of a big leap forward for prepress people, customers now have the confidence that no matter what they throw at us in terms of transparency effects, they know it’s going to work.

Tim Cole: The way one PDF Print Engine user put it, "You can tell the designers that they can feel free to go wild."

James Wamser: The thing I used to hear a previous InDesign and Creative Suite conferences–and that I used to agree with–was speakers saying, "Just because Adobe gives you all these options, it doesn’t mean you should actually use them." Now you don’t have to say that. You can say, "Yeah, use your gradient feathers, use all the effects built into CS3 with confidence in knowing that they’re going to RIP properly. So, that’s a huge benefit to them as designers, and it also enables us to deliver proofs on time that are correct.

Tim Cole: Yes, exactly, and there’s a reason for that. In the old days, Illustrator and Freehand were graphic UI’s or front ends for authoring PostScript. These days, InDesign and Illustrator are using the PDF model for both display and export. With a PDF RIP you’re using the same model all the way through your production process, not having to translate it from the rich PDF model to the less rich PostScript description that fundamentally alters the way your document is constructed. If you’re using a PDF authoring tool, it only makes sense to have a PDF RIP on the back end.

James Wamser: Yes, exactly. In the past you’re potentially creating problems down the line if you’re authoring in a rich, display PDF environment as in InDesign and hoping that it will translate perfectly into another, very different model, PostScript. Now, you can go all the way through the process up to actually ripping your PDF, and all the transparency is still live. What does that do for us? If gives us more trapping options, more editability options…it gives us a lot more options for producing the best output possible for any given job. We have to go back to our customers less and less now. We don’t have to back and ask them for a new PDF because they did something wrong, and they’re saying, "Well, we were just using the features that were given to us…"

Tim Cole: How do you recommend customers create their PDF’s for Sell’s?

James Wamser: PDFX-4, which is PDF version 1.4, and the only changes we make for us is to include marks and bleeds, 1/8th inch bleed, 12pt offset, and then we like to have all the trim marks so that we know how to trim the job. Different printers will prefer different settings, but that’s what we use.

Tim Cole: How significant of a leap forward for print production would you consider the advent of the PDF Print Engine to be?

James Wamser: Huge…I’d say it’s huge. Obviously, the bottom line is, files have to go through the prepress RIP to make plates, so having a PostScript workflow has become a bottleneck…and now that bottleneck has been removed. PostScript never "understood" transparency, or ICC profiles, etc., so even though a lot of authoring programs did, if the RIP didn’t, then the brains of your authoring tool didn’t matter, because at the end of the day you had to flatten it into PostScript. Now you don’t. Now there’s no compromise or loss of functionality in the process. It’s a huge leap forward for prepress workflow, and ultimately for our customers as well, because the job they created looks as they intended more consistently.