PDF vs. Native… the eternal question.

The following was written and submitted by Adrian W. Burroughs, Prepress Manager here at Superior Graphics:

I was literally pulling out my hair this week because of this problem:

Working in prepress, some people may think we’re the “lazy guys”. You know the type…the ones behind the computer monitor staring at the screen all day. On the contrary, we are detectives and problem-solvers most of the day. I will give you one such example:

What was the issue you ask? PDF vs. Native file workflow.

This is an issue as large as… Lamborghini vs. Ferrari, much the same debate on old school vs. new school printing. So, how should files be sent to a printer for the best possible outcome?

The Example 

This week, a perfect example happened that I want to share with you.

Our client sent us a packaged zip file, which included the native InDesign file, the fonts, links, etc.

I loaded the fonts, checked the links and all the other prepress stuff that we do. I exported the PDF files for our press and everything seemed to be great (No errors or any type of alert during the InDesign to PDF process).

However, to my surprise, the font was automatically substituted to an entirely different font! This issue took some detective work to figure out…I mean what could have happened?


What we wanted.

What we wanted.


What we got.

What we got.


After some digging, I found the issue…the font had a licensing restriction (see image below), so it would not export to a PDF without “Outlining” the font.

The dreaded hidden message.

The dreaded hidden message.


This situation made me sick to my stomach because I was given no errors or alert during the process so it made me wonder if in the past I had any projects where I had missed catching the mistake. It also makes me think that if I were given a PDF to begin with, none of this would have been an issue.


In conclusion, the Adobe PDF workflow is the gold standard for the print industry.

An Adobe PDF file can contain all of the components of a print job, captured in a single file. Also, print service providers won’t be required to chase down missing fonts or graphics. Having all the fonts, graphics and content in one neat package is a tremendous advantage. Also it’s flexible.  Be aware that if you start with high-resolution artwork, you can down sample it by simply selecting other PDF settings, which is good for desktop proofing.  When designing files for print to be submitted,  PDF is no different than designing files to be submitted in native format, only the reliability and efficiency of the workflow is changed…for the better. Hate downloading huge files? Well with PDF files, smaller file sizes will be the norm.

The files can move rapidly through the production process and get to press more quickly, which can help with turn times on projects.

In the end we all want the same thing…the best solution so everyone is happy.

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