New Print and the Adobe PDF Print Experience

In June, Adobe celebrated the 25th anniversary of the PDF file format. That period coincides with the dramatic rise of digital media, which has posed the biggest challenge to the print industry in its 500 year history, much bigger than radio or television. Newspapers and printed magazines are now thinner, and printed directories have almost completely disappeared. Yet print remains a global giant, with $900 billion in annual sales, and still growing, albeit slowly. As with other industries, technology is driving transformative change.

The most significant development is the ability of inkjet nozzles to rapidly deposit billions of microscopic pigment droplets onto almost any surface with extreme precision, often in a single pass. This is called “digital” printing, because digital content is imaged directly onto a physical surface, without the need for aluminum/rubber plates, or screened stencils, or fabric pads. Much less preparation is required, which makes digital print cost-effective for personalized/versioned jobs, and shorter run lengths, right down to a single copy.

Inkjet arrays have a small footprint, and can be deployed almost anywhere, including assembly lines. There is no direct contact with the surface being marked. So it need not be flat, and virtually any material can be efficiently printed: plastic, metal, glass, ceramic, fabric. The efficiencies extend to marking the surfaces of manufactured objects of any shape and size: product components, sporting equipment, vehicle exteriors, suitcases, mugs, packaging, T-shirts and other garments. These developments are already spawning new products, new ways of doing business, and new business models.

So it’s not surprising that industry analysts have dubbed this non-traditional, non-paper segment of the Graphic Arts as the “New Print”. The challenge for enterprises, designers and commercial printers is to take full advantage of the creative and business opportunities which it opens up. PDF, with its robust imaging model, has the power to capture and convey the richness of today’s graphic design, and also to capitalize on the new capabilities of today’s digital presses: wider color gamuts, tactile effects (varnishes, foils), new paper stocks/substrates (textile), specialty colors (“white is the new black”), and personalization. All can be effectively harnessed to grab and hold an audience’s attention.

Version 5 of the Adobe PDF Print Engine (APPE 5), released in July, was engineered to render jobs in the changing landscape of “New Print”. With full support for the print features of PDF 2.0, it delivers high-impact color output across all surfaces. It shares the same core Adobe PDF technologies used in Adobe Illustrator CC, InDesign CC, Photoshop CC and Acrobat DC, guaranteeing consistency and predictability from design to preview/approval to proofing to preflight to final output. That makes everybody’s job easier. It’s what I call the Adobe PDF Print Experience.