PDF X/1-a is about as dumbed-down as you can get. All transparency is flattened and all colors are converted to CMYK upon export.
If I knew I had to go that route I would design accordingly and that would mean very conservative use of transparency.
That said, you didn’t say if the printer required it. Your first step should be contacting them. At this point the general recommendation is PDF X/4.
Adobe does not currently recommend the Ghent PDF Workgroup settings as best practice at all! They are based on dumbed-down PDF/X-1a.
New Ghent PDF Workgroup settings based on PDF/X-4 are planned for the next year (hopefully) at which point Adobe will consider endorsing them.
Adobe most strongly recommends use of the PDF/X-4 settings for InDesign 7 (CS5) and 7.5 (CS5.5) as the settings that yield the most reliable PDF print publishing workflow, especially when your documents contain any transparency (including clipped images, drop shadows, etc.).
However, consult with your printer before you create and send any files and agree as to what type of PDF files they can process. (Unfortunately, there are many printers who are terribly far behind in terms of understanding and embracing technology standards that would improve their product and profitability!)
Wow, did not know that at all. Thanks for the heads up Dov.
Really interested to know what is wrong with their settings other than "dumbed down", how so?
I'll keep an eye on that then.
I understand what you're saying about PDF x4 and I agree it's great. But I find printers what PDFs supplied only 1 way, and that's the plainest way possible. All colours to CMYK flattened transparency - ready to print. I have yet to meet a printers to this date that accepts a PDF x4 file. I think mainly because they want one type of pdf and anything else could cause unforeseen issues that they may or may not get.
It really comes down to the person checking the file. I find that some are only "mac/pc jockeys" hired to press the button in the PDF preflight software.
The last time I sent a pdf to print and it had a spot colour in it, I was asked to convert it to CMYK and resubmit the PDF.
It is very simple ... PDF/X-1a files are very device dependent if your original content had live transparency and color spaces other than simple CMYK. PDF/X-1a requires that all transparency be flattened and that all content is either CMYK or spot color. This requires exact knowledge of the color space of the device as well as its device resolution in order to avoid and/or minimize stitching and other transparency flattening artifacts.
PDF/X-1a was great for QuarkXPress 3 and 4 and even InDesign up through version 2 (not CS2) and Illustrator up to version 8.
Why do many if not most printers require customers to convert everything (especially color-manged RGB) to CMYK and flatten transparency? For the most part ignorance, fear, and/or as a CYA mechanism (if anything goes wrong, it's the “customer's fault”). Printers who live in the past and can't comprehend and/or accommodate the modern workflows necessary to render today's graphically-rich content will join the ranks of the many print companies going out of business. It's hard enough to succeed as a printer due to the lousy economy and decreasing amount of old-style commodity printing (letterhead, manuals, etc.) without handicapping one's own business by being unable to properly and/or economically print the content from today's print customers!
Quite frankly, every time I need to deal with a new printer, I end up doing a training session. By the time I'm done, I usually have a much better printer who is fairly up on today's workflows. When I find a printer who has problems with this, I simply move on to another printer. I don't value cheap over quality. Ironically, the best printers are not necessarily the most expensive. (I will readily admit that it is nice to have the freedom to choose a printer and reject the Luddites!)
A few years ago I tried to move into the live transparency PDFs for printers. And proofs came back with those live transparencies printed completely incorrectly. Firstly really disappointed with printers supplying proofs like that, actually I was livid. Secondly, it forced me back into the PDFx1A settings as a necessary for sending to printers.
Anything else I send just doesn't make it through either their preflight or the supplied proofs. And they absolutely refuse to take responsibility for the issues.
Dov, do you feel there is enough information available by Adobe to make it clear to printers on how to setup RIPs and the types of PDFs that are best for accpetance?
Unfortunately, Adobe does not sell RIPs or DFEs (digital front ends for digital print devices) ourselves. They are sold only via OEMs on whom falls the responsibility for training and providing documentation for their customers both in terms of RIP/device setup and best workflow practices. Adobe has no direct access to those customers. Some of the OEMs do a good job at this, others don't!
Adobe has revised its Creative Suite Printing Guide for CS5.5 http://wwwimages.adobe.com/www.adobe.com/content/dam/Adobe/en/products/creativesuite/desig n/pdfs/cs5-5-final-print-guide.pdf. This publication strongly encourages PDF/X-4 print publishing workflows. When I appear at conferences and/or give seminars, I do my best to spread the word. And I appear hear and on other lists and forums to do what I can to combat industry ignorance.
There are a number of problems, though! Some are based on old equipment and old RIPs. Most are based on ignorance and arrogance. Ironically, many of the same practitioners who complain the most about lack of available information are the most likely to avoid continuing education (formal or otherwise) and stick within their personal comfort zones and with very dangerous workflows. (I've even seen printers actually sabotage jobs that aren't the way they want them coming in!) I still encounter both on these forums and out in the wild, print service providers who routinely open every PDF file that is sent to them in Adobe Illustrator “just to check things out” but don't understand why fonts and colors then get messed up after they “save” the file they just ruined!
It's very sad!
Thanks for the response Dov. I appreciate it. I suspected as much in terms of the ignorance and/or arrogance. As well as the older RIPs.
Personally I deal with a Print Management company, they offer more than printing, like distribution etc. which is handy so I leave it to them. It's not my choice to go this route, but that is the decision that was made. I rarely know where the file will end up in regards to a printer at this. It's impossible to send anything over other than PDFx1a. Even an image slightly below 300 ppi is flagged and the file will go no further without a phone call. I try to explain things but they either know it all or don't have the time to go through it. Seems like they want to get as many files through the preflight as possible and go home.
I even got a PDF proof back from the printers 4 times larger than what I sent. When I saw the file in my inbox I knew they had created outlines for all the text. When I checked it they had done this. And I phoned them and I gave out and I was then told "don't worry about it it's not a big deal". And I just told them all the fonts were embedded in that PDF and if they had a printer who couldn't handle it then to find one who could.
I wasn't very happy that day. But that is what is going on out there. It's very good to say PDF x4 will give the best chance - but in reality there's very few people using it, from my experience.