August 26, 2016 Blogroll No Comments

Not all PDF files are created equal. PDF (Portable Document Format) files were created by Adobe to exchange files reliably, no matter which software, hardware or operating system is being used. PDF files can contain hyper-links, buttons, form fields, audio, video and “business logic” elements. To ensure that your PDF file fits your professional needs, special standards were created, such as PDF/A for archiving, PDF/E for engineering and PDF/X for printing.  While most modern software can create some form of PDF file, it is easily possible to create pdf files that are completely useless to a pre-press or professional printing environment.

In our agency environment, we most commonly use PDF files to send proofs to clients and to send final print-ready files to our printers. While other PDF formats can work, the PDF/X formats ensure that certain printing standards are met in the file to help guarantee compatibility and predictable printing while eliminating certain PDF functions that are irrelevant for printing purposes. Embedding fonts and color profiles in your files with PDF/X can eliminate tons of possible headaches when sending files to an external print house.

PDF/X files for print, such as X-1a or X-4:

  • All fonts must be embedded
  • All images must be embedded
  • Cannot contain music, movies or non-printable annotations
  • Cannot contain forms or Javascript code
  • Encryption cannot be used
  • Full transparency is allowed (PDFX-4)
  • ICC Color profiles must be embedded or referenced
  • For PDF/X-1a, color must be greyscale, CMYK or named spot colors. (It cannot contain any RGB, LAB, etc)


By exporting brochures, business cards, flyers, posters, postcards, folders and other print-ready documents as PDF/X files, you will ensure that the finished product turns out exactly like you intended it to. To learn more about the history of PDF files and how they are used today visit https://acrobat.adobe.com/us/en/why-adobe/about-adobe-pdf.html.

Written by Travis Ingram