The Format of Things to Come
Package printers are just now beginning to see the light at the end of a long tunnel of confusing, and often ill-fitting file formats.
by Terri McConnell
Even dynamite could not have changed the face manufacturing infrastructure of the printing industry more than the advent of desktop publishing and the subsequent adoption of PostScript.
Up to that point, prepress automation was directed by a handful of highly-specialized equipment suppliers who built color electronic prepress systems (CEPS) around laser-powered film output devices. CEPS were, for the most part, closed, proprietary environmentsnot a big problem as long as the origin and form of printing content were controllable.
But desktop publishing content was meant to be interchangeable and, therefore, it was uncontrollable. As fast as you could say "a Mac in every design studio," CEPS vendors re-engineered their systems to work with PostScriptthe only common denominator. In reality, they were "working around" PostScript due to that data format (really a programming language) was never intended to carry imaging information to anything more sophisticated than a low-resolution desktop printer.
PostScript has evolved during the past decade, and other file formats for exchanging digital data have emerged. But the clear front-runner to become a universal standard is Adobe's portable document format (PDF). Neutral to every common computer platform, PDF is an extremely flexible file format that can contain fonts, searchable text, resolution-independent vector graphics (line art), and raster and bitmap images (photos, blends, etc.). PDF files are web-friendly and can be embedded with multi-media elements such as sounds, movies, and web links. They are more pervasive than any data format to date.
PDF files are created by "distilling" designs from such programs as Illustrator and Quark through Adobe's Acrobat software. The result is a compact, WYSIWYG document that can be viewed and printed by anyone with a reasonably configured Mac or PC, and a free Reader application.