When Adobe introduced Acrobat 5.0 in 2001, it was aimed at persuading the MS Office-dominated corporate market to start using Acrobat PDFs for device- and platform-independent document exchange and storage. There wasn’t much new in Acrobat 5.0 for the professional print and publishing sector that hadn’t been tackled by Acrobat 4. In some respects it was a step backwards, as the then-new PDF 1.4 file format with built-in transparency support confused PostScript printer RIPs – only this year have RIPs started to appear that can handle it reliably.
With Acrobat 6.0, Adobe has redressed the balance. Yes, there are added features for Office, Web, and multimedia bods, but print is high up in the features list.
Adobe has now split the product into two main lines: Acrobat 6.0 Standard for everyday document work, and Acrobat 6.0 Professional for people creating and outputting professional print (and engineering) work. Acrobat 6.0 Professional fills the gap left by Adobe’s 1999 InProduction, a version of Acrobat 4 with professional print features that wasn’t updated for Acrobat 5 and PDF 1.4. There’s also Acrobat Elements, an stripped-down enterprise-level Windows and Office-based PDF creator that’s only available with site licences of 1,000 seats and above – priced around £18.66 each.
Mac versions of Acrobat 6 (Standard and Professional) are now for OS X 10.2 only, not Mac OS 9 or Classic. This is a particular nuisance for QuarkXPress 4/5 users, who now can’t access Distiller 6 through the PDF export menu even when running in Classic. However, they can create a Distiller hot folder and then print-to-file with that as the save location.
Fortunately, the free Adobe Reader (formerly Acrobat Reader) will run in OS 9 or Classic, so users can open, view, and print the new PDF 1.5 file format created by OS X users. The Windows Pro version will run only on NT4/2000/XP, but the Standard version runs on 98SE or later.
The main Acrobat application gains a new user interface based on Windows XP’s look-&-feel, with the ability to show “how-to?” menus in a side window. New tools include a dynamic drag-on zoom for simultaneous scrolling and enlarging/reducing plus a ‘loupe’ that lets you select small areas and view them enlarged in a second window. PDFs can now be certified with digital signatures.
Acrobat 6 automatically installs PDF-export buttons into Office applications. There’s an improved word search, and most text can be read aloud. Many file types can also be converted to PDFs by right-clicking on them in the Windows Explorer – multiple files can be combined into one PDF. Windows users can review and comment on PDFs through a browser.
A new file format, PDF 1.5, appears with Acrobat 6, though it can still output earlier PDF 1,2, 1.3, and 1.4 formats. PDF 1.5 adds support for image layers though only for engineering programs (including Autodesk and Microsoft Visio) rather than Photoshop, InDesign or XPress.
So far, you’d only use PDF 1.5 for print if you particularly need to use JPEG 2000 low-loss/high-quality compression: Distiller 6’s set-up menu offers JPEG 2000 as an internal compression option, and it can also handle JPEG 2000 in imported documents, but only with PDF 1.5.
Compression and file-types
Acrobat 6 introduces an ‘Optimizer’ which can convert PDF 1.5 or 1.4 files to earlier PDF 1.4 or 1.3 for more reliable printing. This includes options to flatten the transparency effects that can cause printing problems with the later formats.
The key new print-related features of Acrobat 6 Professional include built-in pre-flight checking, a decent print menu, and the ability to create PDF/X files. The sophisticated new pre-flight checker runs in the main Acrobat application and can analyze any PDF version. There’s a decent list of pre-set profiles supplied, plus a menu for creating your own profiles from a huge list of possible conditions. Usefully the pre-flight report can be embedded into the PDF and read by the receiving end as proof that the file is good.
PDF/X files are subsets of PDF 1.3 that cannot contain non-printable elements (such as RGB or video). They are increasingly being used by professional printers, newspapers, and magazine publishers. Acrobat Professional can create PDF/X-1a (basically for CMYK+spot colours) or PDF/X-3 (which allows other colour spaces). They appear as pre-set Distiller Job Options for creating PDF/X straight from the original document. Distiller runs a check, and will only write the PDF/X file if it passes. Acrobat can convert an existing PDF, again with preflighting.
Acrobat 6 Distiller colour-management can now import settings from other Adobe applications, though it can’t create its own. The Professional print menu includes an ‘Advanced’ button, which opens up a set of pre-press settings, similar to the InDesign 2.0 print menu. It lets you create CMYK separations, select printer profiles and preview separations, and to add printers’ marks and control bleeds. A ‘flattener’ solves the problem of unprintable transparency from Illustrator or InDesign files in PDF 1.5 or 1.4.
The bad news is that the price has gone up. The Standard price is £239, but may eventually fall to the £160 street price of Acrobat 5.0. Upgrades are £79.99. Professional is launching at £339, and an upgrade from earlier versions costs £119.
If you need to output PDFs for high-end print, then Professional is definitely worth having – but you won’t need a copy on every desk. Workgroups with multiple copies of Acrobat 5.0 could probably get away with a single new copy of Acrobat 6 Professional to prepare PDFs for print.