PDF X/4 data – who calculates? InDesign or the RIP?

Recently we received a PDF file from a Swiss customer who asked us to proof it according to ISOCoatedV2. The format was PDFX-4, we could open the file, preflight it and also display it in Acrobat. However, when proofing in Fiery XF 5.2, the file was only output after a RIP time of over 3 hours.

Adobe PDF X4 screen output in Acrobat Professional

We have recorded the screen layout on a modern Macbook Pro with four processor cores and the latest Acrobat Pro version to illustrate the enormous demands on computing power.

It was clear from the screen layout that the RIP time would be quite long, but three hours with just one use was quite unusual, especially since in our RIP two instances of the Adobe PDF Print Engine work simultaneously. Where exactly the error lies in the extremely high RIP time is not yet clear. Both EFI, as the manufacturer of the Fiery RIPS, and Adobe, as the manufacturer of the PDF Print Engine (APPE), have been given the information that on a Harlequin RIP the file was probably ripped within a few minutes. So a bug in the Adobe PDF Print Engine might also be a reason for the long processing time.

It’ s a typical problem. From creation programs such as InDesign and Illustrator, the flattening of file elements with X/4 is passed on to the RIP in the print shop or proof printer.

The case in question was calculated on a quad-core system with SSDs with two instances of the Adobe PDF Print Engine and output correctly for three hours 47 minutes. However, since the final product cover is not expected to be produced in Europe, but in Asia, it was decided to break down the complex graphics with transparencies, drop shadows, etc. in Photoshop and then reuse it as a transparent PSD file. The resulting PDF X/3 file was ripped and proofed within seconds. The colour result was identical to the X4 file.

This example shows: PDF X4 is not just a modified data format. It also shifts the computing power and software requirements from the data creator to the data processor or printing house. But especially with complex graphics this can lead to unpredictable effects. Although PDF X/4-capable solutions such as Fiery XF 5.2 do exist today, a RIP time of over three hours is of course not practical.

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