Tom Kubinski
Printing Consultant
Direct: 612-278-1568
Fax: 612-334-5879
Cell: 612-760-3700
1109 Zane Avenue North
Minneapolis, MN. 55422
Phone: 612-375-1150
Fax: 612-334-5879
Toll Free: 1-800-230-2828

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September 2007 TK's Korner

PDF/X, PDF/X-1a, PDF/X-3 Formats

Patricia, was wanting more information on PDF file formats and the differences between PDF/X, 1a, X-3.

Now I am going to be completely honest with you, this area is one that I know just enough to be dangerous. So, I am giving you the info from one of our top guns/gurus here at Sexton Printing, Shawn Meyer.

He certainly knows his stuff as some of you can contest to and he is always available for you to touch base if you have any questions on how to try something or clarification. Hope this info aids you with your up coming production questions. So dive in and enjoy.

Everyone is aware of the PDF file format, but what is PDF/X and what are the variations.

Industry organizations have been working for many years to ensure that graphic arts files be written in a way that will reproduce on press exactly the way the content creator intended. Although this goal sounds simple enough, it is not. With the plethora of platforms, operating systems, software applications, color spaces, font types, file formats, and media to choose from, achieving successful blind communication between two or more production environments is a daunting task. So PDF/X was created to allow the blind exchange of production ready files. PDF/X really comes in two flavors, PDF/X-1a and PDF/X-3

PDF/X-1a also eliminates the most common errors in file preparation. According to a GATF (Graphic Arts Technology Foundation) survey conducted in January 2002, among the 10 most common errors in client PDF files were the following:

  • Fonts not embedded
  • Wrong color space
  • Images missing
  • Overprint/trap issues
Sending your document as a PDF/X-1a file will guarantee that these errors do not occur because for a file to be confirmed as complying to the PDF/X-1a standard:
  • All fonts and images must be embedded
  • All elements must be encoded as CMYK or spot
  • The file must be identified as trapped or not trapped
In addition:
  • MediaBox and TrimBox or ArtBox must be defined. BleedBox and Crop marksare optional, but required by most commercial printers.
  • The output intent* must be specified either by stating a CharacterizedPrinting Condition or identifying an ICC output profile
PDF/X-3 supports a color-managed workflow, allowing the use of device-independent color (CIE L*a*b, ICC-based color spaces, CalRGB, and CalGray), in addition to CMYK and spot colors. This allows you to use ICC color profiles to specify color data later in the workflow at the output device. Characteristics of PDF/X-3 files include:
  • The PDF version is 1.3 (Acrobat 4.0).
  • All fonts are embedded.
  • Device-independent color is allowed, in addition to CMYK and spot colors.
  • Trapped key values, output intents, and the TrimBox or ArtBox arespecified. Additional keys are included to identify the file.
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