In our printing house, printing artworks are expected to be submitted in printing PDF/X-1a file format.
When the file is saved after designing, it is not enough to save it as a simple PDF file. The file should be a PDF for printing. So, in the case of a print file, select PDF/X-1a:2003.
Why is a printing PDF necessary? Why is it not enough to choose the “simple” PDF format?
Due to the wide variety of their applications (websites, printing house etc.), various PDF formats greatly differ from each other. An example of good practice would be to run a marathon in wingtip dress shoes. Although they are shoes as well, they are not designed for running hours in them. Running is much more difficult if you are wearing wingtip dress shoes. The difference between a simple PDF and a printing PDF is similar. If the file is not saved in the appropriate format, the risk of errors will increase and the various printing softwares will send error messages more often because of unrecognisable elements.
The processing of usual PDF files – not intended for printing – might prolong the manufacturing process by hours or even days!
What is the exact meaning of the printing PDF/X-1a?
PDF/X-1a is not another file format but a constrained version of the PDF format, developed specifically for the blind exchange of print files. The letter X itself in the format name comes from the word “eXchange”. PDF/X is a family of international standards (ISO 15930) applying to both applications and file formats. In other words, the standard specifies how the PDF files have to be created and processed by the applications.
Why is it good for designers and graphic designers?
Because by using this file format version, the designer can make sure to submit a digital print file which can be processed and printed faultlessly and fast – whether it is a book, packaging, billboard etc – from Alaska to Australia, all around the globe. And for the printing houses, it is good because we can process the files quickly, without spending hours optimizing or even correcting the files.
To what extent is the PDF/X-1a better than the “simple” PDF?
It is not better at all. In fact, it provides fewer options. No video, no audio and no interactive element may appear on a PDF/X-1a page. Only elements intended for printing (i.e. visualizing) may appear, but those have to appear in their entirety. Each and every font and graphic element has to be included. If something is missing, or the font cannot be embedded, an error message is sent, and the PDF/X-1a file cannot be saved. After correcting the errors indicated by the application, the PDF/X-1a file can be saved.
The perfect printing PDF is:
– complete / all graphic elements and fonts are embedded
– compressed / the file size is smaller than the size of its components
– correct / meets the requirements demanded by the manufacturing process and the directives previously agreed on with the manufacturing professional
The quality of the final PDF will correspond to the quality of its components so the following factors are worth taking into consideration:
– the image resolution should be at least 1.5 times bigger than the screen frequency of the print. Ideal image resolution: 300 dpi
– use high-quality fonts and appropriate vectorized elements
– unnecessary elements (not intended for printing) should not be included neither on the pages, nor outside the pages