PDFs are one of the most common digitally used file types. The PDF or the Portable Document Format is a file type created by Adobe back in 1992. The idea was to create a file type that could encapsulate images, text, and vector graphics in a single fixed-layout flat document. The file type would be platform-independent so that it appears the same everywhere. However, despite being such an old file format, PDFs come with multiple versions and standards. Selecting the right one and using them for artwork proofing can get challenging.
While PDFs are used universally, the file format is still plagued with issues. Often PDF readers do not render correctly, fonts can be altered, or they may not open at all. Most of the problems come down to the application program and the device you are using to view the document.
When it comes to artworks contained in PDFs, such issues keep growing. Issues regarding loading speeds, color accuracy, compression artifacts, signature validity, and more can hamper the creative approval and record-keeping process. Here is a list of issues that you may face when reviewing artwork contained in PDF files.
PDF has multiple standards, often denoted by a letter after the document type. For example, PDF/A is for archival purposes. It preserves the visual appearance of the document. However, it may not preserve the editing capabilities of the program that is used to generate the document, such as Adobe Illustrator or InDesign. Similarly, we have PDF/UA for Universal Accessibility, PDF/X for Exchange, PDF/E for Engineering, and PDF/VT for variable and transactional printing. However, all these files end with a ".pdf" extension, and there is no way to understand these standards unless opened with a dedicated PDF solution.
Each of these standards has its advantages and disadvantages. Your proofing and printing workflow should use the appropriate format. Moreover, your software solution should render each of these formats correctly.
Often designers will save PDF files with editing capabilities. This encapsulates the visual assets in their original quality in the PDF file. Often, for printing, this quality is not required. Such design files often go way above a hundred megabytes in size. Handling such large files often becomes a challenge as you can't send them over email or manage versions with Git.
Often people would compress the content in these files using online utilities, such as Smallpdf.com. However, this reduces the fidelity of artworks.
Often PDF readers will render colors incorrectly depending on how they read the embedded image. Colors can also appear different because of the display settings such as the color space and bit depth, the color profile used, and the use of features like Night Shift on Apple devices or Night Light on Windows. Often monitors have different color settings, either to boost colors or to reduce blue light.
Different industries have strict record-keeping requirements for compliance. While proofing digital artwork, managers need to sign the document when they approve it. In such cases, organizations need to use PDF solutions that have the option of electronic signatures. Furthermore, the authenticity of these signatures should be verifiable.
Finally, a fundamental difficulty while working with PDFs is the lack of tools available. While the PDF format is freely available, the format still uses proprietary technologies that Adobe patents. Hence, there is a lack of decent alternative PDF viewers and editors. Furthermore, since PDFs are neither web-friendly nor mobile-friendly, working with them collaboratively in a browser can get challenging. Most PDF readers come with limited functionality and usually are a far cry from being a proper creative collaboration tool.
Despite these challenges, PDF is still one of the most used document formats. Designers can use software from the Adobe Creative Cloud or products from Corel or Affinity. Each of these programs has its proprietary file formats. However, all these programs allow exporting the design to PDF files. One of the reasons why PDFs are so popular is simply because the documents appear similar across different devices.
While it is acceptable in most cases, artwork proofing demands more precision and accuracy. Moreover, PDFs can combine different types of content – text, media, links, and even animations into a single file type. While PDFs still provide a lot of conveniences, it is crucial to address the drawbacks of artwork proofing tasks.
Proofing PDFs containing artwork can be a challenge without the right tools. With the increased digitization of workflows, it is necessary to move beyond tools like Adobe Reader or Chrome to view PDF files.
To leverage the full functionality of artwork PDFs, brands need to switch to a full-fledged artwork management solution like Artwork Flow. An artwork management platform not only enables accurate and convenient PDF proofing but also allows stakeholders to work collaboratively.
Here is how an artwork management platform helps in creating a no-sweat artwork proofing workflow.
With artwork management platforms, you do not need to install any dedicated PDF reader program on your device. Moreover, you do not even have to download PDF files for proofing. The platform stores the entire set of artwork files in the cloud. You can access them through the browser.
Artwork management platforms are designed be compatible with all types of PDF files. This support includes all the standards of PDF files and even different kinds of embedded content. The online viewer is tested to correctly render advanced vector graphics elements such as transparent content, content with shadows, overprint, and more. An artwork management suite can also handle PDFs with embedded ICC profiles, allowing you to collaborate seamlessly with print vendors.
Sharing PDFs is much easier with artwork management platforms. You are no longer limited by email attachment sizes. Furthermore, the reviewers also do not have to download the file, no matter how large, to their device. The file is rendered right in the browser. The sharing happens automatically as the project progresses. Once an artwork file is uploaded to the project storage, the Project Managers can assign reviewers and give role-based access to the artwork files.
With the increasing file size, using traditional version control solutions like GitHub becomes difficult. Artwork proofing and management platforms such as Artwork Flow come with built-in version control. The cloud storage attached to the project also comes with version control. This system allows the stakeholders to revert to a previous version in case of any error.
Designers and printers communicate colors using their HEX code or their Pantone Code. The codes allow designers to distinguish similar colors. Have a look at the examples below. Here, we listed a couple of pairs where the colors are quite similar, but their hex codes are quite different.
For instance, the red on the left is the one used by KFC and the red on the right is the one used by McDonald's. Similarly, the green on the left is used by Spotify, while the green on the right is used by WhatsApp.
Artwork Flow extracts colors from PDFs and lists out their codes. It can list out CMYK, Hex, and Pantone codes. This allows reviewers to verify if the correct colors have been used or not. For this task, they do not need calibrated displays.
To sign off an artwork, managers can use the artwork management solutions to simply provide an e-signature using the browser. Often there exist multiple regulations such as FDA's 21 CFR Part 11 that enforces mandatory recordkeeping. The recordkeeping also requires providing digital signatures.
Artwork management platforms such as Artwork Flow come with complete electronic signature solutions where managers can sign off artwork PDFs before they head for production.
Artwork Management Platforms are essentially a Creative Collaboration tool that allows stakeholders to share design files as PDFs, get accurate feedback on the files, and make changes accordingly. Multiple reviewers can work on the same project at the same time. Each reviewer has their checklist – a list of what they need to verify. The reviewers also get access to tools to inspect the PDF file. For instance, Artwork Flow includes:
With these tools, it becomes much easier to point out mistakes. Reviewers can annotate right on the file or leave comments. This makes the feedback process both precise and quick.
Artwork management platforms keep a log of all the activities taking place for a project. Project managers can go through these logs to audit a project. With the audit trails, you can trace the origin of any human error and address them for future projects.
To see how you can simplify proofing PDF files with Artwork Flow, get a demo today.