Creating PDF Files That Work In Newspapers

Kevin Slimp, November 2003

Creating PDF Files That Work In Newspapers
I spent the weekend in Edmonton, Alberta with the staff of the newspaper association. The task was pretty straightforward. Jeff Beardsworth, association advertising director, wanted an in-house method of preflighting PDFs that arrive from ad agencies.

Additionally, a system for correcting minor technical errors was to be initiated to ensure that the ads being transmitted to newspapers would print without causing problems. The goal was not to fix every problem with every PDF file. The goal was to be able to find problems in PDF files and determine whether they should be corrected at the source (ad agency) or in-house.

There are several software applications on the market geared toward converting colors in PDF files, resampling files, removing OPI comments and more. The question is, “What changes can be made relatively risk free and what changes should be made by the creator?”
For example, changing color mode from RGB to CMYK may sound simple and risk free.

However, correcting the color mode will likely cause shifts in the colors. Does a newspaper or press association want to take the risk of a color printing wrong on the press? Fonts not embedded in a PDF file may be available on the receiving end. Is it safe to replace Times-Bold in the PDF file with the Times-Bold on my computer? How about OPI comments. OPI comments are embedded into PDF files when designers inadvertently save an EPS or Postscript file with OPI comments included. Much of the time, these same comments make it into the PDF file. More times than not, these OPI comments don’t cause problems on the printing end. Is it worth the risk to leave them in the PDF file?

Fortunately, Acrobat 6 Professional has made it possible to preflight PDF files in such a way that these - and many other - common errors are exposed. There are three basic steps to preflighting a file using Acrobat 6 Professional:

1 - After opening the PDF file, select “Document Properties” from the File menu. Check the “Description” option to see how the PDF file was created. PDF files should be produced (look for “Producer” on the screen) using Acrobat Distiller 4, 5 or 6. Files produced with Distiller 3 will cause problems much of the time. Files exported from an application, rather than created in Acrobat Distiller, will cause problems much of the time. The PDF version should be listed as 1.3 (Acrobat 4.x). Next, check the “Fonts” option to be sure all fonts have been embedded. Next to the font should be the term “embedded” or “embedded subset.” If the fonts are not embedded or subset, send the file back.

2 - Select “Separation Preview” from the Advanced menu at the top of the Acrobat screen. Be sure that the appropriate colors are listed. Move your mouse pointer through the document to be sure that text is solid black, not a mixture of cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

3 - Preflight the PDF file by selecting “Preflight” from the Document menu. It’s a relatively simple task to create a preflight profile for newspaper printing. Rules should include checking for any RGB color, OPI comments, fonts not embedded and halftones with a resolution below 140 (this number could be higher or lower, depending on your requirements). Create a preflight profile for CMYK newspaper files, grayscale newspaper files, and spot color newspaper files.

In my next column, I plan to explore methods of repairing problem PDF files. Before we get to that point, it’s necessary to make a determination concerning changes that are appropriate to make. You can change the color mode of an RGB image within a PDF file (as long as you have Photoshop on the same computer), but the risk might be too great. If the PDF file is an ad, I would return the file to the creator with instructions to correct the color. If the PDF file is a page from a sister paper, and deadline is looming, it might be appropriate to go ahead and make the change. Fonts are another major problem in PDF files.

If fonts are not embedded (either fully or as a subset), the file should be returned to the creator in most instances. The biggest risk is to print an ad that looks fine on your end, only to learn that your computer replaced Impact with Arial Bold because the font wasn’t embedded.

At newspaper conferences, I often ask how many attendees know what an OPI comment is. In most cases, less than 10 percent of the hands go up. An OPI comment generally relates to an image that has been placed on a page in Quark, InDesign or some other layout program. OPI comments are often included within an EPS or Postscript file to provide information concerning the origination of the image. Many times, PDF files with OPI comments will print without problems. Sometimes they don’t. We’ll discuss OPI comments more depth in my next column.

While in Edmonton, I visited with Roger Holmes. Roger is a technology mover in Canadian newspapers and I’ve appreciated his insight in the past. Roger and I visited about the need to develop a PDF standard for newspapers. None of the current standards included with Acrobat Professional meet the requirements of most papers. This standard could be used within Distiller to create PDF files and in Acrobat Professional to preflight the files. I’ve already begun to visit with newspaper gurus throughout the U.S. and Canada concerning this process. Hopefully, we can come to a consensus in the near future. More information will be provided as the process progresses.

For more information concerning Acrobat Professional 6.0, visit www.adobe.com.