There was a time when Acrobat technology was used to create PDF files via Distiller, view them through the freely available Reader, and little else. But the general evolution through versions 3 and 4 have culminated in a far-more creative product.
A key change in Acrobat 5.0 is that of repurposing PDF files, or using the contents in other ways. Sections of text and tables in a complex PDF can be utilized in a company report, or a PDF edited for use on a small-screen device. The latest format supports cross-platform tagged Adobe PDF documents. These documents can be saved in RTF (rich text format) and recognizes paragraphs, text formatting, lists and tables. And, tagged files can be created when converting Web pages to PDF. Even non-tagged PDFs can now be saved in a number of formats – including RTF, EPS, JPEG, TIFF and PNG – and graphics within a file can be exported as individual items. Publishers will be pleased with the latter, for even though PDF is a universally recognized file format, it isn’t a standard as such.
Printers often have their own specifications for PDF submission, and these inevitably differ from the PDFs submitted by advertisers. The ability to export individual graphics allows a publisher to recreate an advertisement, for instance, in the correct manner. Unfortunately, vector images can be only exported in a raster format; keeping them in a vector format requires the opening of the PDF in the likes of Adobe Illustrator.
Anyone who passes PDFs through a proofing cycle will appreciate Acrobat 5.0’s new Web-browser plug-in. Providing a number of standard Acrobat tools – including highlight, strikethrough, underline, stamp/comment addition and digital signature, this allows a server-based PDF to be shared and marked up by a number of people. You can even upload and store comments to a server using the industry-standard WebDAV (Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning) protocol, allowing them to be seen and shared by multiple users.
This sharing of PDFs through a Web browser goes further. Interactive forms can be database driven, filled in by users, and digitally signed within a Web browser. Such forms can have dynamic fields that change according to input. There’s even support for XML (extensible markup language) form data. Such close co-operation with databases leads to some very interesting possibilities – especially as security issues are now a thing of the past, courtesy of 128-bit encryption used in conjunction with digital signatures. Even a spell-checker is included. This performed flawlessly with both Internet Explorer 4.51 and 5.0 in Mac OS 9.0.4.
Bookmarks now show subheads in colour, using bold or italic text. Toolbar content is fully customizable, and no longer limited to the standard Adobe set. However, the Microsoft Office look to the toolbars will not be to everyone’s taste, mine included. Perhaps Adobe should have given the option for toolbars to appear as per previous versions.
Adobe has worked hard to make Acrobat 5 more appealing to the print and repro fraternity by adding a number of useful print-based features. Proof Setup allows the colour space to be defined (with Euroscale coated and uncoated supported) along with paper white or ink black options. Such on-screen soft-proofing, used in conjunction with a calibrated monitor, appears to work quite well and can be extended to printouts too. In fact, Acrobat’s whole colour-management system, including the handling of ICC profiles and files without embedded working-space profiles, is very flexible and should lead to good results. Through the use of the same Adobe Color Engine that Illustrator 9 and Photoshop 6 possess, an image’s transparency effects can be viewed and printed – a feat not previously possible.
Additionally, the Overprint Preview feature gives an on-screen warning of overprint/knockout problems within a file, although this is of limited use for QuarkXPress users as it always trashes custom knockout preferences on saving a document as a composite PostScript file or PDF.
Acrobat 5 is not without its problems. At present there is no native Mac OS X version, and there are also limitations to its use in the Classic mode – including difficulties with the scan functionality and third-party drivers. Even Acrobat Reader’s Search facility is unsupported in OS X Classic mode. However, Adobe has promised the OS X upgrade will be free.
When Acrobat 4 was released, a number of features were missing in the Mac version. While some of these were added in later updates, Adobe received a high level of clack from Mac users. This time round, only one important feature has been left out: close interaction with Microsoft Office 2001 through the lack of the Convert to Adobe PDF function. This Windows-only macro preserves the structure of a Microsoft Word file, including links to Tables of Content, indexes and figure tables. Using the Mac’s Create Adobe PDF facility results in a “dumb” PDF that requires manual recreation of links – not a pleasant idea when working with a large document.
Without a doubt, Adobe has taken Acrobat to a new level. Web integration in terms of converting Web sites to PDF, proofing documents and adding digital signatures, content repurposing with extraction of graphics and text export, and superior print and soft-proofing facilities make Acrobat 5 a very tempting upgrade for anyone with a previous version, and a must-buy for newbies to PDF creation.