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PDF/VT format is expected to improve predictability of variable-data output

August 12, 2008 — PDF/VT is a new, PDF-based document-description format that is optimized for production of variable-data documents, including transactional documents. Known as ISO 16612-2, the PDF/VT standard is under development by a committee of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The goal is to define a PDF-based format for describing variable-data documents in a way that will allow fast and efficient production of predictable output for variable-document content.

The "VT" in PDF/VT stands for "Variable Transactional." (Transactional documents are invoices, statements, etc.)

Builds on existing standards

The PDF/VT format builds on two other ISO standards:
  • PDF/X-4 (ISO 15930-7)
  • PDF/X-5 (ISO 15930-8)

Conversion to PostScript not required

In a PDF/VT workflow, variable-data-printing software will generate output in PDF/VT format, and a Raster Image Processor (RIP) or Digital Front End (DFE) that is capable of interpreting the PDF/VT format will be used for print production.

Variable-data-printing workflows based on PDF/VT are expected to be able to produce output that is more predictable than output generated by variable-data-printing workflows that are in use currently. The main reason for this is that a RIP that's used in a pure PDF/VT workflow is able to interpret the PDF/VT code directly; in contrast, current workflows require that PDF files be converted to PostScript format before being processed by the RIP, because most RIPs in use today are not capable of interpreting the code in PDF files. Converting to PostScript compromises the predictability of the output, mainly because the PDF imaging model is richer than the PostScript imaging model — so, when converting from PDF to PostSctipt, transparency must be flattened, fonts might be converted to outlines, device-independent colors are converted to device-dependent colors, spot colors are converted to process colors, and so on. Often, a file's contents are converted multiple times to prepare it for output to a specific device, and every conversion compromises the integrity of the original design. For example, the RGB color gamut is larger than that of CMYK; therefore, converting an RGB digital photograph to CMYK constrains the color for output to a particular device.

PDF/VT will support the full graphics model of PDF 1.6, which includes transparency, ICC-based color management, and layers.

Caching of static elements

Of course, like other print technologies that are optimized for variable-data printing (VPS, FreeForm, VIPP, etc.), PDF/VT will provide for one-time rendering and caching of the static text & graphics in a variable-data print run. This allows documents to be produced faster than would be possible if the code for the static text & graphics were sent to the RIP/DFE over and over, once for each document in the print run.

Industry stakeholders involved

Committee members involved in development of the PDF/VT standard include hardware and software vendors, commercial printers, and other industry stakeholders. A number of leading solution providers have committed to supporting the PDF/VT standard; the list includes DirectSmile, GMC, Bitstream/Pageflex, and XMPie.

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