If you’ve worked with CEC, read our Knowledge page or kept up with our Blog, then you know that we prefer to work from PDF files. The primary reason for this is that our digital presses use a PDF workflow. So if we receive a PDF, it cuts down on setup time and our clients get their proofs and finished products much faster than if we have to print from the native files. Additionally, it eliminates a lot of problems that can occur with native files, such as missing fonts, missing images, etc… More specifically, we prefer to receive PDF files created using the PDF/X-3 standard.
What is the PDF/X-3 standard?
Simply put, the PDF/X-3 standard helps ensure that your file is print-ready. This standard helps to eliminate many color, font and transparency issues that can occur during the digital printing process.
One of the major issues we run into is spot colors and transparency effects – which we covered in a previous blog. A PDF file created with the X-3 standard will catch this issue and usually correct it in the exporting process. If it cannot be corrected automatically via the transparency flattener, it will generate an error message letting you know that your file cannot be converted to an X-3 compliant PDF. In these cases it is necessary to convert spot colors to CMYK in the native file before exporting to PDF. Another common issue that the PDF/X-3 standard alleviates is font embedding. A PDF cannot be fully PDF/X-3 compliant if the fonts are not or cannot be embedded. Again, you will receive an error message when trying to create and X-3 compliant file using fonts that do not allow embedding.
What about other PDF/X standards?
You may notice when creating your PDF that there are other options, such as PDF/X-1a, PDF/X-4 and PDF/X-5. While these settings may work fine, they are not the best options when creating PDFs for CEC. The X-1a standard only allows CMYK colors, which would be ideal on our press, but is a bit too limiting for most of our clients. The X-4 and X-5 standards are newer than the X-3 standard, obviously. However, they are actually just extensions of the X-3 standard that allow for features that our press does not support which can lead to problems when printing. You may also notice that there are two options for X-3 compliance: PDF/X-3:2002 and PDF/X-3:2003. The difference between these two is the version of Acrobat they are compatible with; 2002 is compatible with Acrobat 4 (PDF 1.3) files and 2003 is compatible with Acrobat 5 (PDF 1.4) files. Either one will work for CEC, though we typically use the 2003 version.
You can download our PDF Job Options file from the Downloads section of our Knowledge page. This file is set up with the PDF/X-3:2003 standard and includes some other helpful settings when creating PDF files to be printed at CEC. For further instructions on creating a PDF/X-3 file refer to our previous blog post, PDFs, Spot Colors and Transparency.