Print Production Fundamentals
Illustration by John Hersey

Basic forensics in Acrobat


Print Production Fundamentals

with Claudia McCue

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Video: Basic forensics in Acrobat

In this movie, I'm going to show you some basic PDF forensics. Now if you're creating a PDF out of an application like InDesign or Illustrator, if you open up the PDF and you see a problem, don't try to fix it in Acrobat. Go back into your originating application and fix it there and make a new PDF. But if you're on the receiving end of PDFs, chances are you have received PDFs that are, shall we say, less than optimal, by which I mean they have problems in them. And sometimes you don't discover those problems until later.
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  1. 2m 7s
    1. Welcome
      1m 31s
    2. Using the exercise files
  2. 7m 5s
    1. What is print production?
      1m 51s
    2. Understanding roles and responsibilities
      5m 14s
  3. 13m 50s
    1. Communicating with your printer
      3m 49s
    2. What does the printer do with my files?
      2m 40s
    3. Understanding the importance of contract proofs
      1m 57s
    4. Handling corrections and alterations
      2m 8s
    5. Attending press checks
      3m 16s
  4. 13m 27s
    1. Choosing the correct type of printing for your project
      3m 15s
    2. The art of letterpress
      1m 33s
    3. Understanding the advantages of sheet-fed printing
      2m 22s
    4. Using a web press for long runs
      1m 39s
    5. Understanding thermography
      1m 38s
    6. Considerations for digital printing
      3m 0s
  5. 15m 11s
    1. What's a process color?
      2m 55s
    2. What's a spot color?
      2m 52s
    3. Exploring how ink behaves on paper
      5m 14s
    4. Comparing monitor vs. press output
      4m 10s
  6. 15m 15s
    1. Building to the correct size
      4m 37s
    2. Folding and trimming
      3m 18s
    3. Setting up for die cutting
      3m 19s
    4. Embossing
      4m 1s
  7. 3m 17s
    1. Choosing an application
      3m 17s
  8. 9m 55s
    1. Understanding font formats
      1m 45s
    2. Using OpenType fonts
      5m 20s
    3. Fonts to avoid
      2m 50s
  9. 13m 53s
    1. Comparing raster vs. vector images
      3m 24s
    2. Understanding color space
      4m 26s
    3. Examining image formats
      6m 3s
  10. 13m 13s
    1. Looking at image resolution
      7m 16s
    2. Masking basics
      5m 57s
  11. 39m 54s
    1. Understanding Illustrator
      2m 34s
    2. Illustrator layout tips
      2m 49s
    3. Building a simple three-panel brochure
      6m 29s
    4. Using swatches
      5m 22s
    5. Working with effects
      5m 16s
    6. Cautions about some effects
      1m 23s
    7. Importing images
      2m 41s
    8. Exploring fonts
      2m 42s
    9. Saving for users with older versions
      3m 2s
    10. Saving as PDF
      4m 36s
    11. Gathering up the pieces
      3m 0s
  12. 57m 9s
    1. InDesign layout basics
      5m 22s
    2. Building a simple three-panel brochure: method one
      7m 19s
    3. Building a simple three-panel brochure: method two
      3m 21s
    4. Working with color and gradient swatches
      7m 12s
    5. Making gradients and creating a rich black swatch
      4m 45s
    6. Exploring fonts in InDesign
      2m 54s
    7. Importing graphics
      7m 49s
    8. Copying and pasting graphics
      3m 38s
    9. Saving for users with older versions
      2m 21s
    10. Packaging up a print job
      6m 57s
    11. Generating PDFs
      5m 31s
  13. 22m 43s
    1. Using Overprint Preview in InDesign
      3m 3s
    2. Managing swatches in InDesign
      5m 29s
    3. Preflighting in InDesign
      7m 58s
    4. Using the Links panel in Illustrator
      3m 16s
    5. Using blending modes in Illustrator and InDesign
      2m 57s
  14. 35m 35s
    1. Basic forensics in Acrobat
      11m 3s
    2. Using Output Preview
      5m 30s
    3. Dealing with display artifacts
      2m 52s
    4. Using TouchUp tools
      8m 17s
    5. Converting colors
      4m 11s
    6. Using preflight profiles
      3m 42s
  15. 3m 27s
    1. Submitting the job
      2m 29s
    2. Being a good print customer
  16. 1m 2s
    1. Next steps
      1m 2s

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Watch the Online Video Course Print Production Fundamentals
4h 26m Beginner Jun 29, 2012

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Join author Claudia McCue on a journey that introduces the printing process and reveals the keys to designing a document that prints as well as it looks onscreen. This course takes you on the floors of two commercial print houses (BurdgeCooper and Lithographix), to better understand the life cycle of a print job and observe printing presses in action. Along the way, discover how to better communicate with your printer, choose the correct paper, inks, colors, and fonts for your project, and how to correctly lay out your documents in Adobe Illustrator and InDesign. This course is designed to help you and your printer produce a professionally finished print job, whether it's a business card, brochure, or multipage magazine. thanks the BurdgeCooper and Lithographix printing companies for access to their facilities and permission to film on site. Learn more at and

Topics include:
  • Understanding the importance of contact proofs
  • Handling corrections and alterations
  • Choosing from offset, letterpress, thermographic, or digital printing options
  • Understanding how the inks, colors, and paper interact
  • Building a document at the correct size
  • Folding and trimming
  • Choosing fonts
  • Working in Illustrator with swatches, effects, and more
  • Laying out a document in InDesign
  • Generating a final PDF
  • Troubleshooting print issues
  • Preflighting your print job in Acrobat
  • Submitting files to the printer
Acrobat Illustrator InDesign Photoshop
Claudia McCue

Basic forensics in Acrobat

In this movie, I'm going to show you some basic PDF forensics. Now if you're creating a PDF out of an application like InDesign or Illustrator, if you open up the PDF and you see a problem, don't try to fix it in Acrobat. Go back into your originating application and fix it there and make a new PDF. But if you're on the receiving end of PDFs, chances are you have received PDFs that are, shall we say, less than optimal, by which I mean they have problems in them. And sometimes you don't discover those problems until later.

So in this movie, we're going to look at some basic PDF forensics. I'll admit I'm kind of nosy. When I open up a PDF, I sort of like to know what application created it and a few other things. So if you go to File > Properties and these little tabs across the top and you can find out a fair amount about the PDF. So here I can see that it was generated by InDesign and it used the PDF Library. And what that tells me is that whoever made this exported it directly out of InDesign.

In other words, they didn't print to PDF, they didn't generate PostScript and distil it. It came directly out of InDesign, and that's the way to do it. It tells me that the PDF version is 1.3. This is kind of a funny thing; you add the 1 and the number after the dot (.) and you get the version of Acrobat that will open it. They now tell you this actually in parentheses. So what that tells me is that this is flattened transparency. That's okay. Remember, I said that when you send to an older workflow, you might have to go all the way back to Acrobat 4.

So this isn't a bad thing; it's just telling me the truth about the PDF. Under Security, there's no security applied to it, and by the way, if you're submitting PDFs for print, you don't want any kind of security. You don't want an open password and you don't want a permissions password because there are some components of print workflows that will kick the PDF out if it has any kind of security on it. Under Fonts, everything is embedded in subset. This is good, this means that this is completely portable. So I don't have any evil fonts that haven't allowed themselves to be embedded.

Initial View really has nothing to do with print. It's how it's going to look on screen when you open it up, not pertinent for print. Under Custom, Acrobat X actually will look inside a PDF when you open it up and it will report here whether that PDF has been made to one of the particular specs; in this case, PDF/X-1a. So it's just kind of confirmation. And nothing under Advanced that we need to worry about. All right! So I know that this is a pretty good healthy PDF. I have another PDF. Let's take a look at that.

And again, I'm going to go File > Properties, under Description. Again, it was exported out of InDesign directly. This is a more modern PDF; it's 1.6. Remember, I said add the two numbers. Sure enough, it's compatible with Acrobat 7, which ought to be okay again with any modern workflows. It shouldn't be a problem. No Security, Fonts are embedded in subset. And under Custom as I said, it reports. It opens up that PDF and it says oh, it's got a little flag in it that says that it's PDF/X-4 flavored.

This is a good thing as long as my workflow supports it. And PDF/X-4 says that you can have RGB content, you can even have lab color content, and that means that the workflow that's going to process this has to support that kind of color content and has to convert it properly in case that's necessary for print. So again, another happy healthy PDF. So this file might be a little bit different. When I go to Properties, you'll see that this came out of Illustrator. And again, it says PDF Library, and that's because Illustrator understands innately how to make PDFs.

It doesn't have to look to any component of Acrobat itself to make a PDF, neither does InDesign. This is an Acrobat 7 flavored file. That's fine. No Security, Fonts are embedded in subset. And again, Acrobat X looks inside the file and says, by the way, if you care, this is an X-4 file. That's good. So I have three healthy PDFs in a row. That's kind of rare. Now this looks just fine. There doesn't seem to be anything obvious onscreen. But keep in mind, there are some things that can't be visually determined.

By the way, one thing that can be visually determined but isn't obvious is, gee, what's the size on this? Here's an easy way to do it but it's not obvious. If you just move your cursor over to the lower left-hand corner of the screen, it'll tell you what the dimensions are. I bet you didn't suspect that. It's just not obvious at all. Well, this looks okay, everything seems to be in place, but let's interrogate. So when I go to File > Properties, it's telling me that this came out of InDesign, it's Acrobat 7. That's fine.

There's no Security. The fonts all seem to be there except notice that there's no embedded subset remark out here. That's pretty subtle. That's a problem. That means that whatever font was used is not inside this file. And that means that if I pass it off to a workflow, I'm going to get some font substitution. But everything looks okay, so what's going on? Well, if you create a PDF using a font that can't be embedded but you have that font active on your system because after all you just made the PDF, Acrobat is going to look to your system and go well, you've got that font active, I can use it in the display of this PDF.

So here's what I like to do. I like to go to my Preferences. Now on Windows that's going to be under Edit, and on the Mac of course it's under Acrobat. And under Page Display, turn off Use local fonts and watch what happens when I click OK. Did you see how that text changed? I wish there were a keyboard shortcut for that so you could toggle quickly back and forth. There isn't. There is a keyboard shortcut for Preferences and it's kind of a crazy one. On Windows it's Ctrl+K; on the Mac it's Command +K. But maybe I can move this out of the way.

And we'll take a look again at these three lines of text. So this is what it should look like if that font were embeddable, but this is what's going to happen. When I send this through any kind of workflow, it's going to perform substitution. So let's see if it made any change in the report here under Fonts. Yes, it does make a change. So here's what happened. As I mentioned earlier, Acrobat says, gosh, this PDF doesn't have this font embedded, ah, but that font is active on the system. So for display, I'll use the font from the system.

But if the font isn't available on the system as an embeddable font, then Acrobat says well, what I'm going to have to do when I pass this off is I'm going to have to do a font substitution. And that's why it says Actual Font: Adobe Serif MM. MM stands for Multiple Master. And this is what happens in Acrobat when you're missing a font. It says well, I've got to show you text somehow. If it's a sans serif font, I have a Sans Serif Multiple Master that I can kind of fake your text appearance with. In this case, it's trying to substitute for a serif font, so it uses the Serif Multiple Master.

And it does the best it can. It keeps the color, it keeps the line breaks, but it's an approximation of the appearance, and that's not how you want your job to go to press. So this is one of those cases where frankly this font shouldn't have been used, or if the license allowed it, it should have been converted to outlines. So it's a really subtle thing. I'm going to recommend that you always turn off that option for Use local fonts. And that way you sort of don't get misled, and even if you don't know what that text is supposed to look like, it means that when you go into your File > Properties, then you're going to see the real story under the Fonts tab.

Now here's a file that was created by generating PostScript and then distilling. That's a really old-fashioned way to make PDFs. There are some people who still cling to that; there's no advantage to it. If you have a printer that tells you to make your PDF that way or a publication advises you to do that, see if they can give you a good reason why. And I think you'll find that their answer is going to be, well, we've kind of always done it that way, and I'm willing to bet that if you just export a PDF, life is good. But you've seen some previous versions of this and, boy, what's happened to this guy right here? Well, there's some transparency used around him.

And remember I said that transparency gets flattened? This is what flattened transparency looks like. Don't panic though. It doesn't mean that he is going to render as some sort of white ghost head there. If I go back--well, actually the best way to do this is if I go to Tools and I turn on my Print Production tools and I activate Output Preview, there's this wonderful option for simulating overprinting. It's a long story what's going on here, but InDesign has had to sort of take this thing apart and reassemble it as it went out the door in PostScript.

PostScript doesn't support live transparency. And the trick it uses to mimic the live transparency with opaque stunt doubles, if you will, is that it uses overprint. So when we look at it here using Output Preview, you can see that it actually is okay as long as this job is sent to an imaging device that honors overprint. Now some lower end digital devices like perhaps your in-house printer, maybe you have a little proof printer, that may not honor overprint, so you could get some weird-looking output. But when it goes to a high-end device, your high-end digital or the front end for the plate makers for offset presses, everything is going to be okay.

So it freaks you out when you see it, but it's actually going to be okay. It's just sort of evidence of what goes on when InDesign and Illustrator does the same thing when they have to flatten transparency. And then one last thing, I mentioned that you should not send PDFs out into the world if they are intended for print with any kind of security setting. So this looks just fine, but when you look up here in your tools, you'll see that a number of them are grayed out. It's saying that, well, you can't print it. I can't put comments. Let's find out what our settings are. So if I go to File > Properties and I check the Security, it didn't require a password to open it, but it has a password to protect the permissions that have been restricted on it.

So it says no, you can't print it, you can't change it in any way, you can't copy any content out of it, you can't take a page out. So that's appropriate if you're sending important information to somebody in the field. It's not appropriate when you're creating a PDF that's going to go to print because as I mentioned earlier, some parts of the print workflow are going to reject this PDF if it has any kind of security attached to it. So the scenario is that you're on the receiving end of these PDFs and you want to find problems before you pass them on as part of your project and they get handled by the printer.

So in the case of PDFs with problems that you didn't create, you always go back to the original creator of the file, ask him to fix the problems, submit you a new PDF that you can use, and be sure it's going to work. And security, this one last thing, you want to make sure that they send you a PDF that has no security on it and it should behave through the rest of the workflow.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Print Production Fundamentals .

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Q: The exercise files provided aren't working in my version of InDesign (CS4/CS5). What should I use?
A: This course was recorded using InDesign CS6. For InDesign users working with CS4 or CS5, IDML files are provided.
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