ISO publishes
PDF Processing Steps (ISO 19593-1)

ISO has published the new standard ISO 19593-1:2018 (Use of PDF to associate processing steps and content data — Part 1: Processing steps for packaging and labels).

Originally this specification was created by the  Ghent Workgroup (GWG) and then transferred to the ISO for standardization.

The PDF Processing Steps specify how parameters for subsequent processing steps (e.g. varnish, cutting, creasing, folding, braille) can be stored in a PDF in a standardized way. Today this information is usually defined as technical spot colors in a PDF. For lack of standardization everybody is using different names. This makes automatisation difficult.

With the help of this standardization automating the processing steps in packaging production can be improved substantially.


This is primarily interesting for packaging since in addition to the printing objects a good deal of additional information are defined in a PDF for packaging. According to this specification objects like cutting lines, varnish areas, embossing, braille, etc. can be identified by adding standardized metadata to PDF layers (Optional Content Groups). This allows a language independent identification of these objects. One can continue to use the same names as before.

This information can e.g. be used for selective display of the elements for validation. A marketing person is interested in other elements than a prepress specialist. For proof output cutting lines, braille, etc. are also printed while for CTP output they are automatically omitted. In addition, subsequent systems (e.g. impostion, embossing, braille) which support this standard can retrieve the information relevant for their processing step directly in the PDF data.

More details can be found in a recording of a GWG webinar:

I have used these processing steps already in 2011 (then still called “Storing non printing contour data in PDF”) for the definition of the Novartis Technical Colors in the Novartis Pharma Artwork File Specification and could achieve a very good success with this. Several 10’000 PDFs for Novartis Pharma packaging which have been created in the last seven years contain all the same structure and the Processing Steps metadata can automatically be added.

Fortunately several software developers (e.g. ESKO, Enfocus, Callas and Axaio) have already added features to support the new ISO standard in their products.

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