The main article in this issue tells the story of PDF/VT, the emerging standard for personalized printing. Adobe welcomes the role that the PDF/A Competence Center (soon to extend the range with further ISO PDF standards) has played in advancing the format, which has the potential to disrupt longstanding workflow models for the production of direct mail and transactional statements. This month (August 2011) is the first anniversary of the publication of the specification by the International Standards Organization (ISO 16612-2), and it has been a very busy first year. So it is a good time to recap the latest news, and also to review some of the history.
Adobe is very pleased that the Printing Industries of America (PIA) honored PDF/VT with the “InterTech Technology Award for Innovative Excellence” in July (link). It is unusual, but not unprecedented, for a file format to win a technology award. But the prestigious prize will certainly help to raise awareness, accelerate momentum, and spur adoption. Over the last year, the press has given broad coverage to PDF/VT, and several software vendors have begun shipping applications which generate and validate PDF/VT. The manufacturers of high-speed digital color presses have invested heavily in new technology, both hardware and software, and several are expected to announce product support for PDF/VT in the coming year. But it is still early days, and I look forward to learning from the experience of the pioneers who will soon be implementing the first end-to-end PDF/VT workflows in real-world environments.
PDF/VT now stands at the threshold of industry acceptance and deployment. But it has been a long road to this point. While PDF has long been the primary exchange format for most print production jobs, it was never widely adopted in the VDP segment (Variable Data Printing). This was not because of some deficiency in the structure of PDF. PDF is actually very well suited for VDP. The problem was at the back-end of the production process: no PDF-native rendering technology (i.e. RIP) could rasterize high-volumes of variable content fast enough to drive a digital press at its rated speed. That situation changed with the launch of the Adobe PDF Print Engine, the technology which I oversee as Product Manager. I and my colleagues at Adobe recognized the potential to finally bring all the well-known benefits of PDF workflow to the world of personalized print. After working with industry leaders around the globe over a 3-year period, the PDF/VT specification was finalized in 2010.
PDF/VT opens the door to a brave new world: efficient production of persuasive, graphically rich, relevant content that enables enterprises to maximize the ROI on their marketing programs, and integrate print communication into their multi-channel media matrix. The PDF/VT initiative introduced extensions to the PDF language, which will soon be incorporated into ISO 32000-2. So I expect that PDF/VT will contribute to a range of document solutions. It might even become possible to leverage synergies with PDF/A. The cover story of the August 8 Seybold Report captured its prospects very well: “PDF/VT: A Little Known Standard with a Bright Future”.
PDF/VT – an international standard. In August 2010, following 3 years of global collaboration by industry leaders, the International Standards Organization published the specification for PDF/VT, a.k.a. ISO 16612-2 (link). PDF/VT is built on the foundation of the PDF imaging model, widely recognized as the richest and most robust in the graphics industry. Optimized for the specific needs of Variable (“V”) and Transactional (“T”) workflows, PDF/VT efficiently addresses the requirements of modern Variable Data Printing (VDP), bringing all the well-known advantages of PDF workflow to the world of personalized print.
Origins of personalized print. Personalized communication has come a long way from its origins in the printing of utility bills. In the 1960s, statements consisting of monochrome black text were output to impact line printers, and mailed in high volumes to account holders. Technological advances over the following decades drove an information explosion, often overwhelming customers, and crowding their attention spans. Marketers and finance companies sought new ways to stand out.
One-to-one marketing. In 1993, at the dawn of the internet age, the first color digital presses appeared. They were capable of printing a different image with every spin of the drum. One-to-one marketing promised to revolutionize the art of persuasion with graphically rich, data-driven, targeted content. VDP featured colorful images and graphics, and resulted in thousands of successful campaigns over the years. Direct mail proved that it was possible to measure and grow the ROI of marketing budgets, sometimes dramatically.
CRM & Transpromo. Meanwhile, enterprises sought ways to leverage customer data, and strengthen relationships, through ongoing CRM. Monthly statements were recognized as an important customer touchpoint in the growing matrix of media channels, one which guaranteed a high level of attention and mindshare. The concept of “Transpromo” promised to add value to revenue-generating statements, with promotional up-sell and cross-sell messages, personalized for the recipient. On the technology front, the quality and cost-effectiveness of digital presses continued to improve. But, almost 2 decades after the launch of the first digital press, only 10% of digitally printed color pages are being personalized*. The promise of VDP and Transpromo remains to be fulfilled.
Challenges. It is increasingly difficult to satisfy all of the latest requirements for personalized printing with today’s solution architectures. Non-personalized print workflows solved many of the issues years ago, through the use of PDF digital masters in end-to-end PDF workflows (e.g. based on the PDF/X standard). But VDP has lagged behind. Part of the problem lies with the need to cache the non-variable (repeating) elements in a variable job, to avoid redundant processing at print-time, so that a digital press can be driven at its rated speed. Multiple formats and architectures, both standard and proprietary, emerged to address this need. Each language is specialized, with strengths and weaknesses relative to different job types and workflows. However, many of them rely on PostScript, a 27 year old imaging model that does not support live transparency, nor modern color management. These specialized VDP languages are unfamiliar to everyone except the experts. Their files cannot be easily previewed, shared, proofed, submitted online, or preflighted. They do not support “blind exchange”, meaning that they are not completely self-contained, and/or are not independent of a particular output device.
The print experience must now compete with rich-media web sites, emails, videos and social networks. Imprinting variable black text on a preprinted color “shell” is not sufficient anymore. Variable text and/or graphics and/or images must be keyed to audience profiles (e.g. demographics, location, purchasing history) in order to maximize the relevance for each recipient. Personalized, graphically-rich print media, held in the hands of a customer or prospect, makes a strong impact, creates an instant connection, and deepens the customer’s engagement with the sender (e.g. with portfolio pie charts, targeted images, graphic rendition of customer names, etc.).
Attention-getting designs capture imaginations and mindshare. They are correlated with greater comprehension and retention … and response rates. Therefore, agencies, financial companies and enterprise marketers should be able to express their messages with sophisticated use of color, and complex graphic effects, such as transparency.
Designs must be reviewed and approved prior to production, possibly across geographically distributed workgroups. Final output must match the proofs, both “soft proofs” (monitor display) and “hard proofs” (paper-based).
Jobs should be submitted online, as easily as any other type of print job.
Prior to the start of job production, files should be electronically “preflighted” to check for potential problems. It should be possible to make minor changes to the job at the last minute, or even switch to a different output device, without sending it back to “square one”.
The color must be predictable, with comparable results, even if different presses are used for the same job.
Printers must be able to automate VDP production runs, and manage operational logistics, with security and flexibility.
Customer service operators in call centers should be able to view an exact representation of the printed piece.
New opportunities. PDF/VT uniquely satisfies the requirements of job portability, page independence and device neutrality. It opens up new opportunities in digital printing by decoupling the complexities of VDP job authoring from the particular methods of print production. By simplifying the process, PDF/VT will yield benefits for all stakeholders: enterprises, marketers, designers and print professionals.
PDF/VT is portable. It provides a reliable container for blind exchange of final-form, graphically rich, variable content.
PDF/VT takes full advantage of the PDF imaging model for printing graphically rich personalized communication (e.g. variable transparency effects).
PDF/VT enables caching for recurring elements in VDP jobs.
PDF/VT can be preflighted with standard off-the-shelf tools.
PDF/VT enables reliable proofing, and distributed review/approval workflows prior to printing, using the readily available PDF viewing software, such as the free Adobe Reader.
PDF/VT enables predictable color for VDP jobs, based on modern ICC-based color management.
PDF/VT provides a robust metadata infrastructure to enable sophisticated/dynamic/granular runtime controls for VDP print production (e.g. filtering, rules-based imposition, audit trail, barcoding, checkpoint re-start).
PDF/VT is device-independent and object-oriented, and enables VDP jobs to be dynamically repurposed, refactored, or retargeted to different presses.
PDF/VT benefits direct marketing campaigns, and also enhances management of high-volume print runs (e.g. Transpromo).
PDF/VT has been publicly endorsed by the leading hardware and software vendors offering personalized print and cross-media solutions (link). Expectations are running high. End-to-end PDF/VT workflows are expected to emerge in late 2011, and reach critical mass by 2014-15. However, as of early 2011, it remains an unproven technology. Industry trendsetters (marketers, agencies, print buyers, enterprises, print operations) have a window of opportunity to explore how the potential of PDF/VT could be harnessed to improve quality, competitiveness, productivity, and to develop the next generation of Transpromo and marketing programs.
* Frank Romano, 2 April 2010, http://whattheythink.com/articles/43079-vdp-you-me-finally/
For nearly 30 years, Adobe’s award-winning software and technologies have redefined business, entertainment and personal communications by setting new standards for producing and delivering engaging content. From rich images in print, video and film to dynamic digital content for a variety of media, the impact of Adobe solutions is evident across industries and felt by anyone who creates, views and interacts with information. In publishing, there has been tremendous upheaval as content is produced and consumed in new ways. With people enjoying unprecedented access to information and services, traditional publishing models are evolving. To recreate their businesses and drive new revenue streams, publishers are turning to Adobe solutions to deliver high-value, relevant content and services that engage and entertain global audiences and for ways to measure and monetize that content. In 2007, Adobe initiated the concept which was eventually formalized as ISO 16612-2, better known as PDF/VT. We are committed to industry standards initiatives, and incorporating standards into our product lines, including up-to-date support for PDF/A, PDF/E, PDF/X and PDF/VT in Creative Suite 5.5 and Acrobat X desktop applications, as well as the Adobe Digital Experience Platform (ADEP, formerly LiveCycle ES) for server side solutions.
17:00 PM – 17:45 PM CEST
PDF/A-2 is an extension to the existing archiving standard PDF/A-1 (ISO 19005-1). This webinar discusses more indepth what the new features are and for what use cases PDF/A-2 is suitable.
The PDF/A Competence Center organizes its annual, formal member meeting in Stuttgart, Germany just before the DMS Expo show.
The PDF/A Competence Center offers a PDF/VT seminar in German that will take place in the afternoon. It’s an event free for members.
DMS Expo – Europe’s leading trade fair and conference for enterprise content, output and document management – takes place September 20-22, 2011 in Stuttgart. The PDF/A Competence Center will be represented by several member companies at our german cooperation partner VOI (hall 7, stand B 51).
The PDF/A Competence Center will be represented by our members at this large IT show in the Middle East.
Stewart Rogers, member of the board, will present PDF/A for long term archiving.
The PDF/A Competence Center will have an information booth (#436) in the exhibition which takes place at October 17–19. Our Vice-Chair Duff Johnson and our member PDF Tools will be there and inform about PDF/A and PDF/A-2.
Dokumentinfo and the PDF/A Competence Center together will host a PDF/A seminar in Sweden. There will be user presentations from the National Archive (Riksarkivet) and the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket). Swedish members will present about PDF/A topics and Olaf Drümmer, Chairman and Thomas Zellmann, Managing Director will complete the program.
We welcome the following companies as members in the PDF/A Competence Center:
Kurt Pfeifle, Kurt Pfeifle IT-Beratung, Germany
Giri Sivanandan, Global Sources, India
C. Groenendijk, GMS, Netherlands
ITON Corporation, Dubai, UAE
The PDF/A Competence Center was established as an international association in 2006. The objective of the association is to promote the exchange of information and experience in the field of long-term archiving in accordance with ISO 19005 (PDF/A). The management board is comprised of executives from Appligent Document Solutions Inc., callas software GmbH, Compart AG, Crawford Technologies Inc., intarsys consulting GmbH and LuraTech Europe GmbH. In less than three years, more than 100 companies and various experts from over 20 countries have joined the PDF/A Competence Center. The executive chairman is Olaf Drümmer, CEO of callas software GmbH. Duff Johnson, former CEO of Appligent Document Solutions Inc. is the executive vice chairman.
Association for Digital Document Standards e.V.
PDF/A Competence Center
Neue Kantstr. 14
T: +49 30 394050 – 50