How do I embed print specifications within a print ready PDF file?

How do I embed print specifications within a print ready PDF file?


It isn’t so much a matter of embedding print specifications as using the correct specifications when the job is created so the resulting PDF file is “print-ready.”

To write PDF files you need the Professional version of Acrobat. A similar level program from another vendor can also do the job, like Jaws PDF Create, Apago’s PDF Enhancer, and Agfa’s Apogee Create. Unfortunately, there are also many inexpensive or even free PDF creation tools on the market that are not designed for commercial print PDF output and do not yield “print ready” PDF documents.

What the higher level (and more expensive) programs do is allow the user to specify a specific output intent. The version of Acrobat Professional bundled with Adobe Creative Suite does a great job at making it easy to pick an output profile that is appropriate for professional output. In Acrobat, the Default settings are found in a pull-down menu at the top of the Distiller opening menu screen. You can chose from PDF/X-1a. PDF/X-3, and Press Quality, among others. The Ghent PDF Workgroup (GWG) ( has been doing some excellent work in creating and distributing PDF creation specifications.

So what is the right PDF format? Although PDF/X1a has become nearly a standard for many magazines, there are many different ways to output PDFs suitable for different types of print output. Unfortunately, it is possible in some cases to output a PDF file that adheres to the proper specifications but still will not print correctly. That is something the GWG is working to fix. For now it is best to ask your printer what PDF output they prefer. Some printers will even give you a small script you can install in Acrobat that will allow you to print to THEIR specifications.

PDF is a great way to make relatively bulletproof files for print production, but there is still a learning curve involved in producing files correctly. In addition to using the proper settings in Distiller, the most common mistake made in creating PDFs for print production is not allowing for bleed in the final document. The bottom line is: if you have a history of being able to make good PostScript files for print production, you can make good PDFs too.

Stephen Beals is a digital pre-press manager and has been writing for major print publications for many years. He is the author of A Practical Primer for Painless Print Production. He can be reached at
© Copyright Print Buyers, Inc.