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Adobe PDF

The portable document format (PDF) has proven itself as a wonderful format for sharing information. It permits the distribution of documents to users on diverse systems. People often share MS-Word files, but it isn't reasonable to assume that all web site visitors or discussion group members have access to the same version of MS-Word.

For casual users who want to create PDF documents, a free tool called PDFCreator should meet their needs. This is a well designed application based on the Ghostscript rendering engine. Adobe created a nice document sharing format in PDF, but their Distiller product is fairly expensive. Version 0.8 of PDFCreator can be downloaded here.

PDF was created to permit the sharing of simple documents. In my opinion, the PDF format is a trimmed down version of Postscript. PDF supports the most of the Postscript constructs including color spaces, but programming language features such as branching and looping have been removed. As the PDF specification evolved, it has grown to support numerous multimedia object types. This caused PDF to grow beyond a simple subset of Postscript.

Dov Isaacs, Principal Scientist in Adobe's Print Workflow Products Group, presents Reliable PDF Creation at numerous conferences every year. His notes examine specific issues associated with the successful creation of PDF documents. It debunks popular myths and urban legends with regards to PDF workflows.

PDF history:

From a printing perspective, many recent additions to the PDF specification are irrelevant. For example, printers can't render an embedded video object. To improve customer satisfaction in the prepress industry, a PDF/X standard was created to establish a printable subset of the PDF format. This PDF/X standard is a work in progress.

PDF rendering tools:

Acrobat and Distiller from Adobe
Demos of most Adobe applications can be downloaded
Jaws PDF Creator from Global Graphics
PDF Converter from Amyuni
Cute PDF from Acro Software
Composer from activePDF
Pdf995 is a low cost option
PDFCreator is an excellent free tool

PDF anaylsis plugins for Acrobat:
PitStop from EnFocus
Quite Software
Arts PDF Tools

General PDF info:

Adobe CMM

Adobe refers to their CMM (Color Management Module) as the Adobe ACE (Adobe Color managment system and color Engine). This is the default CMM for Adobe applications, but the user can select other supported color engines such as Microsoft ICM or Apple ColorSync. I could write a book about the quirks and imperfections of Adobe applications (as many people have done). These applications can be confusing, but are extremely capable when used with care. The primary problem is that their plethora of features can be difficult to understand and the default color management behavior of these applications is often less than ideal.

Numerous Adobe employees have stated in presentations and conversations that their marketing team often demands that new features be enabled by default even when these features are ill-suited for typical users. An example of this is Distiller's default practice of downsampling images to 150 dpi, converting all colors to the RGB color space, and attaching the default RGB profile to all objects. These defaults push the RGB color space and ICC profiles on many unsuspecting users who call Lexmark with questions.

Based on the Reliable PDF Creation seminars made by Dov Issac, Adobe must receive similar calls. I discussed this with Mr. Issacs at a recent conference. In his presentation he points out that Distiller defaults are less than ideal (p37) and recommends more appropriate configurations (p40). Even though Adobe pays him to make these presentations all over the world, they refuse to change the Distiller defaults. Mr. Isaacs also has a few excellent slides about color space issues (p72 - p80).

Dan Margulis, a well respected author in the field of color management, isn't as polite about Adobe's color management system. He contributes a column to the Electronic Publishing journal. In his How Color Management Failed column, he described the Adobe color management system as a solution looking for a problem.

John Deubert is another resource for information about Adobe applications. He provides excellent, on-site training for Postscript, PDF, Acrobat, and the Jaws Postscript Interpreter. John joined Abode when it was a tiny startup. He later left to create his own consulting company.