PDF/VT - A New Communication Standard

The new PDF/VT standard was published in the fall of 2010 and is defined in ISO 16612-2. What is this standard and should we care about its existence? When will it impact your workflow? The answer to these questions in many cases is yes.

As the printing and communication business is evolving, so are the tools to produce material in a fast and effective manner. In an increasing number of jobs the objective is to combine variable components into the image design to increase the impact of the piece or convey specific information. The use of this variable data needs to be done so that it doesn't slow the speeds of the digital printing engines. Unfortunately, it is sometimes necessary in today's environment to have the speed of the printing limited by data processing rather than the maximum engine speed. PDF/VT offers a solution to this and several other issues, which are discussed below.

There are many different solutions available for communicating with the customer using different media and mechanisms to get the message to the appropriate consumer. This has included many different VDP solutions and protocols, many of which started in a proprietary manner and are being used dependent on the vendors and application. Many of these solutions also are built on a PostScript workflow. Some of them have been adopted by multiple vendors though there is no one that is used across the board as they have focused on individual industry segments. Meanwhile, throughout this time there has been an expansion in the number of digital engines being used offering new opportunities with increased capabilities and speed. Today, with digital printing less than 20% of the output from these devices is personalized.

There is a need to print graphically rich personalized content in an efficient and cost effective way. The PDF/VT standard designed for both variable and transactional document printing and is built upon PDF/X-4 and PDF/X-5 and thereby supports the imaging within these PDF versions. Of importance with this the support for transparency blending modes, layers, ICC color management. These are becoming increasingly important in the flow of information and need to be effectively handled by the workflow. The PDF/VT will then also make efficient use of the information and metadata to ensure that the job is efficiently processed by the RIP. This is achieved in part by referencing the data and thereby reducing the amount of times that the same artwork needs to be transferred and then processed by the RIP.

There are a number of flavors of the PDF/VT format with PDF/VT-1 being a single self contained file with the advantages that this offers. PDF/VT-2 allows external PDF objects to be referenced while PDF/VT-2s supports live streaming allowing segmented sections of data to be processed. This is of particular benefit to both medium and high volume transactional operations.

  • The PDF/VT format can potentially offer several advantages over the exiting VDP technologies and these include
  • The use of live transparency blending modes.
  • The ability to perform early binding.
  • The integration into a JDF workflow to facilitate the job submission and then subsequently automate the workflow.
  • The use of many pre-flight tools for the checking of the job characteristics and conformance.
  • The color management is ICC based and draws on the strengths and developments in this area. It is also a color management system that many users are comfortable as they are using this already.
  • The use of PDF/VT for on-screen previews, hard proofing, reviewing and archiving.
  • The portability of the job to different devices and workflows based on the PDF/VT format.

PDF has been widely adopted by the printing and communications industries as the de facto format. There are few producers or consumers of the PDF/VT format at present, but this is expected to increase significantly through 2011 with many new announcements at drupa 2011. This use of PDF in the industry for static production pieces will make the adoption and acceptance of PDF/VT occur at an increasing rate over the coming months and years. The PDF/VT adoption rate will take several years to take hold but with the adoption of the specification by many new vendors we should expect to see the real world benefits being seen in the next 18 months, with the larger adoption by the industry following after this. 

Published on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 (updated 05/30/2014)