Creating PDF: Export or Use Distiller?
In last week’s post I discussed how using InDesign’s Export Adobe PDF feature and PDF presets make it quick and easy to create a PDF for a particular workflow—commercial printing, a desktop printer or the web. But you may work with a printer who insists that you shouldn’t send them directly-exported PDF files. Instead, they say that you should create a PostScript file and process it through Distiller. Why do they ask you to do that, anyway? Is it really better?
Before I answer that question, let’s look at the alternative method your printer is suggesting. In InDesign and all the Creative Suite applications, it’s easy to create a PostScript file from the Print dialog box. Just select PostScript from the Printer menu at the top of the dialog box. Then you can choose a PPD file (I’d suggest selecting your Adobe PDF printer if you have Acrobat) or Device Independent (removing any printer dependencies, useful for some postprocessing workflows like imposition). Make your choices in the Print dialog box, and then click Save instead of Print to create a PostScript file. You process that PostScript file in Distiller using the PDF settings file your printer suggests.
It sounds like a lot of work doesn’t it? It’s two long steps instead of one short one.
Not only that, but you’re going to lose a lot of information when you make PostScript instead of directly exporting PDF: Because PostScript is an older technology than PDF, here are some things that will be lost:
- Transparency is flattened.
- It’s not possible to create PDF layers, useful for versioning, for example.
- The file’s structure (called tagging) is stripped from the file. (I discussed this in my post on Creating Accessible PDF Documents).
- Forget about a color-managed workflow; embedded color profiles are discarded.
- Interactive elements (bookmarks, hyperlinks, etc.) are thrown away.
So why does your printer suggest this? One possibility is that your printer may have had an InDesign directly-exported PDF file fail on their RIP because of a PostScript error. (Techie alert: If the rest of this paragraph makes your eyes glaze over, just jump to the next paragraph!) Your printer may have an older RIP (raster image processor) which doesn’t support font encoding called CID-keyed or Identity H, which was used by InDesign CS and earlier when it created PDF files. This font-storage method has been part of the PostScript specification for over a decade but some older, non-Adobe RIPs don’t support it. This method is necessary to store some fonts with a lot of glyphs like OpenType fonts. Actually, it’s pretty likely your printer just hasn’t forked over for a RIP upgrade since all modern RIPs do support CID-keyed fonts.
The good news is that InDesign CS2 no longer embeds CID-keyed fonts by default, so its directly-exported files are smaller and more compatible with older RIPs.
But another reason your printer may resist is just fear of the unknown. Many printers find it easier to stick with the tried-and-true Distiller method than experiment with something new. (Some of them also still refuse to accept TrueType fonts!) So if you can’t get your printer to try your directly-exported file, you should at least use Distiller faster by choosing the Adobe PDF printer. To use this, you need a copy of Acrobat 6, 7, or (in a couple months) 8 Professional.
Here’s how it works: (I’m describing it in Mac OS X; it’s similar in Windows.) Choose File > Print, and select the Adobe PDF 7.0 printer (or the version that matches your copy of Acrobat). This printer uses Distiller in the background, and uses exactly the same settings files as you’d choose in Distiller. Make your usual choices for printing. To get to the settings files, click the Printer button at the bottom of the dialog box. Ignore the warning message or turn it off, and click OK.
You’re now in the Mac OS X Print dialog box. In the menu that shows Copies & Pages, select PDF Options. You can then use the Adobe PDF Settings menu to select from all the PDF settings files (presets) you’ll find in Distiller. When you click Print, you’ll be given an opportunity to save a PDF file. The Adobe PDF printer will take care of creating it.
But, by all means, use the direct export method if at all possible. It’s more efficient and faster, and it can include all the elements that PDF is capable of handling.