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Printing Impressions-November 2003 Column
Some Lessons on JDF
Last Spring, I got a call from Mark Michaelson, Editor-in Chief of this magazine. I probably shattered has eardrum with my reaction. “What!! You want me to write a 4,000 word article explaining JDF? Mark, I know what JDF is, but I am not an expert. How about 6 words and a few exclamation points?” Mark, in his usual unflappable manner, simply replied, become an expert. I moved to a higher octave as he explained to me that even though Printing Impressions Magazine was hiring and paying me to write the article it was a sponsored piece by Adobe and Heidelberg. All I could imagine was that I not only had to face the scrutiny of both Mark Michaelson and technology editor Mark Smith but the corporate review of Adobe and Heidelberg. But Mark kept encouraging me to do it.

I did it. It appeared in the July issue and I hope you read it. Not because I wrote it. But because It was easily one of the most fascinating, exciting, and rewarding writing assignments I have experienced as I learned and then realized that JDF is destined to play an integral role in the future of the printing industry. Something you need to know about whither you get it from me or whomever. I realize that’s a big statement but bear with me on this.

At first I thought that Adobe and Heidelberg had standard corporate motives and I had to tout them. They didn’t. Their sole objective was to convey what I had learned, the critical importance of JDF. In fact they hardly altered a word of what I wrote. What they did do is put some great resources at my disposal, particularly Adobe’s Mathias Siegel, Sr. Product Manager Publishing Technologies and Services, and James Mauro, product manager for Heidelberg's Prinect Press Products. Both were extremely knowledgeable and their enthusiasm was contagious. And, of course, a big thanks to Robin L. Tobin Senior Manager of Marketing for Adobe’s Publishing Technologies and Services who responded quickly with whatever information or resource I needed. Of course, CIP4’s Web site was invaluable as was articles Mark Smith wrote in previous issues of this magazine.

Now many of you were way ahead of me on JDF and fully understood what it is and the impact it will have on our industry. But for those that are not as familiar, let me offer a brief explanation. JDF stands for Job Definition Format and it is based on XML or Extensible Mark-up Language. In simple terms it allows information to piggy-back with a file. For example, if you created a job in your favorite JDF-compliant desktop publishing program, details like page size and number of pages are already known and can be incorporated into the JDF file automatically. Other information, like quantity and delivery details, would have to be entered manually.

Smart Files, Machines
The file can also interact with devices if they are JDF compliant. For example, it can capture color settings on its trip through prepress and automatically set the ink fountains on the press. It can report back any job information to your accounting department, provided that your MIS system is JDF compliant. It can let you know exactly where it is in the job cycle, with the option of reporting this information directly to your customer. So as this file is whizzing through the shop, it's collecting and dispersing information. Plus it's controlling equipment. Moreover, JDF can interact with other data basis like CRM and supply chain information if, of course, they are JDF compliant. This is important because it can help printers do more for their clients. For example automating the coordination of external components that accompany the brochure you just printed. Those value added services we have all been talking about.

JDF was developed by four of the most prominent companies in our industry Adobe, Agfa, Heidelberg and MAN Roland. Much of it was based on prior work like Adobe’s Portable Job Ticket Format (PJTF). Now here is the amazing part these four companies made the format non-proprietary. In other words, anybody can use it. Is our industry altruistic or what. Actually, Adobe, Agfa, Heidelberg and MAN Roland realized that for JDF to work as intended, it couldn't be their exclusive property; that would create a counter-productive proprietary situation. So they gave it to The International Cooperation for the Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press and Postpress, CIP4, an international operating standards body located in Switzerland to ensure that all would be able to capitalize on the critically important benefits of JDF and guide it to become a truly universal format.

I said that JDF is destined to play an integral role in the future of the printing industry. Let me tell you why. Those of you that have been reading my column know that I have been preaching that print’s biggest competition is electronic media. For print to maintain its status in the future it most become faster and cheaper. An automated workflow that’s PDF based will become a necessity. But an automated workflow also needs automated information and process control to be totally effective – JDF does just that.

As many of you know, I believe that this automated workflow must start with the customer. Web document submission tools like Adobe PDF Transit are already available and can link the printer to the customer’s desktop. The client can make an Adobe PDF to your specifications in one click. Now imagine that this PDF is transferred to you automatically with all the job ticket information. Of course you have to add production information but much of it can be automatically picked-up from the estimate or a data base source. This could finally mean the end of the job jacket as this file whizzes around your shop collecting and imparting information and controlling the process.

How far away is JDF? You probably saw some stuff at Graph Expo. But the big JDF show will be DRUPA where you will see JDF compliancy everywhere including the pressroom. Prepress is already rapidly embracing JDF. In September of this year Adobe released version 3016 of PostScript 3 which is JDF compliant. Many of the RIP manufacturers using Adobe PostScript are already using 3016 and incorporating JDF. Heidelberg’s Prinect software is JDF compliant and its Metadimension RIP was quick to incorporate Adobe PostScript version 3016. With the RIP at the core of prepress, a JDF compliant RIP is essential.

By the way, Adobe’s latest upgrade to PostScript 3, version 3016 really deserves a close look as it’s not only JDF compliant but offers much faster throughput. Any prepress manager knows that a speedier RIP is not a luxury but a necessity in today’s world of shorter run lengths, quick turnaround, and digital presses.

Moving back to the main topic, JDF, I want to leave you with this thought. Learn, and then learn more about JDF. It’s the future and I am sure you want to be there.

Harry Waldman

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