September 29, 2004 / Fall 2004 / InDesign

PDF: Easy submission, big responsibility

Written by Idea File Staff

PDF submission will be the most common submission method for yearbooks in the next three to five years. It is the method used almost exclusively in the commercial printing world. Advisers who use it love it because the process gives them complete control over their yearbook pages. And onscreen, PDF looks so much like the real page, it is stunning.

But with that control comes responsibility. Everything on the page must be correct:  the copy, the images, the resolution, the color, and the placement. Walsworth will only print what you send in. If there is an error in the spread, it is up to you and your staff to catch it. Walsworth cannot make changes. This is a big responsibility. Here is how PDF with Walsworth works.

What is a PDF?
It is a file that takes your page, images and fonts and pulls them together into one document. PDF stands for portable document format. It is part of the Adobe Systems, Inc., Acrobat product family. For more information, go to adobe.com/products/acrobat/adobepdf.html. Walsworth has fully supported PDF as a file submission process for the past two school years.

Yearbook staffs use PageMaker and InDesign to create yearbook pages, but rather than submit the application file, they create a PDF of that application file. The PDF can be considered a digital master, according to Grant Fritch, director of technology/research and development. The school has created a page; then everything on that page is bundled together into a perfect master copy. It is that digital master from which the yearbook page is printed.

PDF submission has a learning curve due to new terminology and processes. Walsworth provides an At A Glance card with the PDF creation process listed step-by-step. Here is a sample of the breakdown:

  • Application preflight is making sure your page was prepared properly, including placement of graphics, managing links, spell-checking, fonts, color usage, and packaging the page so it is prepared to become a PDF.
  • If you designed your pages using PageMaker, you must make a Postscript file. The instruction usually says print a Postscript file. That means you are gathering the information from the page and sending it to a virtual printer, not a physical printer.
  • The Acrobat Distiller is what creates, or distills, the PDF.
  • The use of InDesign eliminates the print Postscript file and distilling steps. Instead, the user exports the page to create the PDF.
  • At this point, you have created a PDF. But you must certify it, meaning you are checking for any problems with the PDF that would prohibit the plant from working with it. This is called PDF preflight.
  • When certification is done, a report is generated to inform the school if something is wrong with fonts, resolution or page size and give staff members a chance to correct the problems.

There are a thousand ways to make a PDF, but only one or two will get the file to print correctly, Fritch said. That is why the certification process is important and why Walsworth will only accept pages that have been certified.

After submission, schools do have an opportunity to check their PDF pages one more time.

“They get a proof back to make certain that nothing in our process has either corrupted or changed the integrity of the PDF in any way,” said Alex Blackwell, director of Desktop Technology.

“It’s just really a validation proof more than anything, to validate [that] this is what you sent, this is what we are going to print,” he said.

If a correction needs to be made, the staff can make it, make a new PDF of the page, then certify and submit it.

ADVANTAGES
When you go on a trip, you do not carry your clothes on hangers in one hand, your socks in the other, and your toiletries under one arm. You use a suitcase. PDF submission is a similar concept because creating a PDF puts everything in one file, unlike the links to files and images that must be submitted with an application file.

“They don’t need to worry about missing links, font issues, etc., because everything is embedded, everything is encased, in that file,” Blackwell said.

That is just one advantage to PDF.

“They see how the page is going to look prior to submission. And all we do in the plant internally is take that PDF and print it,” Blackwell said.

“The first year we had schools using it, they were so thrilled and excited because they got to see what their pages looked like before they were printed,” Fritch said.

MASTERY OF THE PROCESS
The PDF process is not hard to learn or use. Walsworth provides a Tech Kit, which includes the PDF Performance Guide and the software to help schools create and submit a PDF correctly. However, advisers need to be technologically proficient in getting the page in the form where the PDF can be created, then be willing to trouble-shoot page errors in some cases.

“The school has to be 100 percent digital to use PDF, because they have to place all of their images as digital images, so they have to have good file management practices, understand resolution and really have control over their book,” Blackwell said. “So you wouldn’t want a new adviser who doesn’t understand digital imagery or file management, or just knows the basics of creating a yearbook page.

“The issue is having the school take responsibility for the content of that page, from a quality standpoint and from an editorial standpoint – quality meaning proper resolution of pages, and editorial meaning they own whatever content is on that page,” Blackwell said. “I think that is more challenging than the execution of the PDF.”

Some advisers also may find they have a local technology issue that inhibits use of this process. In some cases, schools within the same district can have different problems. Local problems range from insufficient computer memory to school and district network firewalls that restrict internet submission. Good communication with your network administrator is essential to resolving these issues.

EASY AS 1,2,3
The most important things to remember about PDF are that it is a step-by-step process, so it can be easily learned; it gives you more time on each deadline; and teaching this process to your students will help them learn even more about page preparation and the prepress and printing processes.

Also remember that reporting, writing, picture-taking, and spread designing are still where students will spend most of their time.

“Our PDF schools only live in the PDF world one percent of the total life span of a page,” Blackwell said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time they are in the application, creating that page.”

PDF IS THE ONLY WAY FOR SOME
Some advisers using PDF submission said they would not submit their pages any other way. The number of customers using PDF submission is expected to double for the 2004-2005 school year. Among the advantages these advisers will experience will be more time at deadline.

“You’re no longer worrying about getting to FedEx or Airborne. You have until midnight,” said Bill Trueit, adviser at Cascade High School, Everett, Wash., explaining the advantage of using PDF and online submission.

Dianna Main, adviser at Bethel High School, Spanaway, Wash., said a lot of yearbook work is done at night and on weekends, so you can still get your pages in when FedEx is not open.

Advisers not only liked that each deadline was longer, but more time on the last deadline is “a real plus in the spring,” said JoAnn Parr, Spanaway Lake High School, Spanaway, Wash.

“What is attractive to me about PDF is we had more control here and [we could] push our deadline back and get more stories in,” said Jim Thompson, adviser at Anacortes High School, Anacortes, Wash.

Using PDF helps students become better page-builders by learning the correct functions to do the work so pages will easily proceed through the certification process.

“It (PDF) helps you understand the process. Once you understand the PDF process, it’s easier to train students to make pages that will pass,” Trueit said.

He said his students know not to use stylized fonts; they must select the italic of the font. They understand they cannot have stretched images. Otherwise, the PDF will not certify.

“There were only a couple of times when we went to the diagnostic and it said ‘sorry,'” Trueit said.

Thompson said knowing how to build a page to get it successfully through PDF certification is why PDF is advantageous to students who will eventually work in the real world. “If we are doing a career class, we need to show what’s being done,” he said.

“I really like the experience the kids get. It’s a class and kids get credit for it because they’re learning. They come out with sophisticated skills,” said Main.

Trueit did his PDF submission two years ago, and last year a senior student did it for her senior project. Both Parr and Thompson train their students to do it because, as Parr said, “It’s their yearbook and they need to be involved.”

Parr said her yearbook staff members who had learned how to make PDFs while on the newspaper staff had problems because PDFs they were making would not pass certification. So there was retraining in page development, and lots of Post-It Notes on the computer, to get the pages to certify.

Still, Main said, it is a wonderful way to submit.

“When you make a PDF, you know exactly what you have,” Main said. “I welcome it because it gives us more control and teaches them more. It makes each staff member more responsible.

Idea File Staff

Idea File Staff reports are posts compiled by the Walsworth Yearbooks Marketing Department, covering a wide range of yearbook topics.