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Use PDFs for Direct Mail Production

The printing industry continues to evolve from the arcane method of stripping film. New technologies that turn electronic art files into beautifully printed pieces are improving almost daily, or so it seems. But with greater features comes greater complexity. How do you keep up with the changes? Well, the answer can likely be found in just three letters: PDF.

PDF, or Portable Document Format, is almost everywhere. Perhaps you have downloaded a PDF file as a convenient way to print tax forms from the Internal Revenue Service Web site. PDF technology works wonders in the commercial print environment as well. PDFs are an essential part of a digital workflow system that gets jobs out not only quickly, but also accurately and with greater flexibility.

The key to the flexibility of a PDF workflow is that a single PDF file contains all the information necessary to see a job through its entire life cycle, not just during the printing process itself. The same file that is used to create the printed piece can be viewed online as a proof. It is also the same file that we use in our online inventory system, allowing quick access to a visual “snapshot” of every piece we have produced, whether that was last year or last week.

The accuracy of a PDF file is unparalleled, since every aspect of a document to be printed is included in the file — most importantly, images and fonts. In a PDF, the fonts are actually written into the file's code. So no more hunting for fonts or seeing the wrong font make its way onto a proof. With a PDF-based workflow, a lot of those time-consuming pre-press tasks are eliminated.

Online Proofing

The capabilities of the PDF format as a proofing method are nearly limitless. Again, there simply is no comparison between a PDF-based proofing system and most traditional proofing methods in terms of speed. In some cases, “proofing” used to mean actually printing a sample piece for the client, right on a press. Sure, it looked great, but it took forever to do. And changes could tack hours onto the job.

The PDF workflow system improves on this tremendously by allowing proofing to be done online, in full color on a computer monitor. The same file that will actually be used to print the job is available via e-mail or on the Web as soon as it is ready for proofing. This “instant access” shaves off a great deal of valuable time for the customers, allowing them to immediately make changes to the proof. No more black and white faxed proofs and no more waiting for hard proofs to come by FedEx, only to have to FedEx any changes right back.

Another key benefit to viewing proofs online is that multiple parties can see the same file simultaneously. If two decision makers cannot be in the same office or the same building — or even the same area code — they can both view and make changes to the PDF file. Currently, this is accomplished via e-mail. In the works, however, are plans to add an interface that will allow several users to collaborate at a single Web site, making changes in real time and seeing those changes immediately noted in the image onscreen.

Do not mistake online PDF proofs as just a “quick and dirty” tool for seeing the progress of a job. Many project managers appreciate the efficiency of PDF proofs so much that they make final approvals based on them. Though the color on screen is not exactly as it will appear on the printed piece, most clients are satisfied enough with on-screen proofs and do not feel the need to see an actual hard copy color proof unless it is a color critical job. Of course, a good rapport between printer and client is essential for PDF proofs to be the sole proofing method.

Online Inventory System

One of the greatest advantages of PDF's flexibility is its use in a digital inventory system. With a typical inventory system, a scan would need to be made of every job document if a customer wanted to view it digitally. Those scans would then be turned into TIFF files and posted online somewhere. This is a cumbersome process at best, and offers no flexibility if a piece needs to be changed or updated.

It is a whole different story with PDFs. The file that was used to print a piece is also used in a PDF-based inventory system that is accessible via the Web. Does the customer want another print run, but does not physically have a sample of the job? No problem. A PDF of inventoried components is available online; the customer just accesses his individual password protected area of EU's Web site to take a look, then communicates his reorder information. This is a much quicker and simpler solution than looking through piles of old printed samples.

There is a lot of information that a fulfillment department needs in conjunction with a printed piece that, on older systems, can be quite difficult to coordinate. But using a PDF-based workflow helps to contain all of that information. As a job moves through the system, the same file travels with it, allowing everyone involved with a project to actually “see” it along the way.

Although implementing PDF-based job and inventory management systems can appear complex, trust your comprehensive direct mail services provider to guide the process of developing a faster and more accurate workflow.

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