Using the PDF/X standards
Video: Using the PDF/X standardsAs we discussed in the previous movie, PDF is basically a wrapper format, meaning that I can put anything inside of the PDF file and transmit it from one computer to another. Because of that, engineers like to refer to the PDF file format as a garbage in/garbage out format. It means that if you put garbage into your file, when you open up that PDF file, the only thing you have is garbage inside of it. In other words, whatever you put into it is what you are going to get out of it. Now this posed the problem for printers when PDF first started becoming popular because they would actually ask a design to supply them with a PDF file, but they had no way of knowing what settings the designer was using when they created the PDF file.
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In this installment of Illustrator Insider Training, Mordy Golding shows experienced Illustrator users how to create transparency effects and ensure reliable printing results. This course reviews the history of vector transparency and covers features such as knockout groups, opacity masks, and transparency flattening. Mordy also shows how to establish a safe workflow when placing Illustrator graphics containing transparency in PostScript, PDF, and InDesign files. A free worksheet is included with the course.
- Understanding how transparency works across the Adobe applications
- Deconstructing the Transparency panel
- Adding transparency to gradients
- Understanding how overprints and knockouts work
- Using a gradient or complex appearance as an opacity mask
- The rules of transparency flattening
- Working with complex regions
- Understanding the relationship between flattening and stacking order
- Creating and sharing flattener presets
- Saving PDF files and using the PDF/X standards
Using the PDF/X standards
As we discussed in the previous movie, PDF is basically a wrapper format, meaning that I can put anything inside of the PDF file and transmit it from one computer to another. Because of that, engineers like to refer to the PDF file format as a garbage in/garbage out format. It means that if you put garbage into your file, when you open up that PDF file, the only thing you have is garbage inside of it. In other words, whatever you put into it is what you are going to get out of it. Now this posed the problem for printers when PDF first started becoming popular because they would actually ask a design to supply them with a PDF file, but they had no way of knowing what settings the designer was using when they created the PDF file.
Did they include the fonts in a PDF file? Did they use high-resolution images? Were any of images in the RGB color format? I mean there were so many of the different settings that were possible inside of a PDF file and then often those settings were incorrect and resulted in bad output. Now the designer would claim "Jey, I gave you a PDF file, that's what you asked for", whereas the printers do not realize they needed to ask a very specific settings inside of that PDF in order to get the good output. So this standard came about I the industry, something called PDF/X. PDF/X basically is just a regular plain PDF file, but it's a PDF file that meets certain requirements, meaning it has certain information inside of that file.
Now there are different versions of PDF/X for different types of files but for the most part in the print industry, people have standardized on something called PDF/X-1a. Let's take a look at how to create these files out of Illustrator. There is also another PDF/X version called PDF/X-4, which we'll talk about as well. I'm going to take this file called label.ai. I'll go to the File menu and start saving my files. So I'll choose Save As. I'll choose PDF as my file format. So I'm saving it in the same way as I would any other PDF file. But when I choose Save at this point here, I'm going to look in the top over here where it says Standard.
Notice that I have different standards. I have PDF/X-1a and there is one for the Year 2001 or 2003 and then we have something called PDF/X-3 and now PDF/X-4 as well. Notice over here, if I go to the Adobe PDF Preset though, I also have some of these settings here and these are the ones that I actually want to focus on because these have many other settings already in place. If I know that I'm sending a PDF file to some person, for example a client or maybe a printer that I don't have a personal relationship with, meaning I don't know who the printer is. I found one on the Internet and I want to be able to send them a PDF file.
So I would most likely choose to send them a file in the PDF/X-1a format and the reason why I would choose that option is because it's what I refer to as a bulletproof PDF file. There is really little that can go wrong with it. A PDF/X-1a file requires that all fonts are embedded. It requires that there is no transparency in my file. In other words, if I now go to the Advanced option here, I can see that the High Resolution preset is already chosen for me. So in this way, if I save a PDF and I send it off to somebody, I'm pretty much assured it's going to print okay because it has the proper settings already in place.
So for the most part when I'm sending a PDF file out to somebody and I'm not really sure who is going to be printing this, I want to send them a file where I've already flattened it because I don't know if they are aware of transparency flattening and they might choose to flatten it with the wrong settings. So at least I have a better chance of getting a better output out of this file by doing the flattening myself. That's really what PDF/X-1a is for. However, there is also an option here called PDF/X-4. PDF/X-4 is another version of PDF that again contains a tremendous amount of settings inside of it to ensure that a printer has everything you need to print your file.
However it does allow for transparency to be in that file and the reason why is because I may want my printer to choose the best possible flattener settings for either the content in my file or the particular device that he's using to print my file on. Obviously, my printer knows his or her device a lot better than I do. So I could be shortchanging myself if I decide to do flattening on my own. However, I'll tell you that you should only be using this PDF/X-4 format when you're actually sending this file to a printer that you are in communication with.
That way you're assured that you are letting the printer know "Hey, I'm sending you a file. It still has live transparency inside of it so do me a favor. Make sure everything is going to be okay when you go ahead and flatten the file yourself." So these are the two ways that you can send out files in a PDF file format using this PDF/X standard. Use PDF/X-1a when you are not really sure where that PDF file is going and use the PDF/X-4 format when you're in contact or communication with a printer, so that that way they could handle the flattening on their own.
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