The first PDF specification
was published 25 years ago

Twentyfive years ago, on July 1st, 1993, Addison Wesley has published the first Portable Document Format Reference Manual:

Initially the specification was only available as a printed book which had to be purchased. Much later the spec was made available as a free PDF version!

John Warnock, one of the Adobe founders, had described the basics of PDF already in his «Camelot» white paper. Then the new data format was called Interchange PostScript (IPS) and was meant to facilitate the paperless office.

This focus on office communication was probably the reason, that PDF 1.0 did only support RGB colors in 1993. In Distiller CMYK and spot colors were converted to RGB. That’s why PDF could not be used for print production.

PDF 1.1 didn’t bring any improvement in 1994. However, it added some new features (external links, full text search, multimedia) which were helpful for the creation of larger collections of PDFs (e.g. annual CD of printed magazines).

With PDF 1.2 it was eventually possible in 1996 to define PDFs for printing since this version allowed CMYK and spot colors.

However, some objects which are used often in high end printing (e.g. duplex images, spot color gradients) were still not possible with PDF 1.2. In 1998 an expert group from Germany and Switzerland has created a white paper which described a series of shortcomings and limitations (e.g. no bleed), workflow problems (e.g. fonts) and desirable functionality (e.g. color separations) which at that time were the reasons that PDF could not be used as universal data format for all prepress data.

This white paper got a lot of positive feedback from the industry and some vendors were encouraged to develop solutions for the topics mentioned in the white paper.

In 1999 PDF 1.3 and Acrobat 4.0 as well as some plug-ins from third parties (Lantana CrackerJack, Callas pdfOutput Pro, Quite A Box of Tricks) solved many of the issue.

PDF 1.3 was fully compatible with PostScript 3. All features which were used at that time in prepress data could also be used in PDF.

PDF 1.3 was the base for the first PDF/X standards by the ISO in 2001 and 2002.

The PDF/X standards only define the minimal technical requirements for digital prepress data. Intentionally quality criterias, which vary depending on the print product and the printing technology, were not part of the ISO standards. The Ghent (PDF) Workgroup (GWG) founded in 2002 took over this task by defining PDF/X-Plus specifications.

These PDF/X-Plus specifications are the base for the well-known recipes, settings and preflight profiles of PDFX-ready Switzerland starting in 2005.

Since the PDF format, creation tools as well as output workflows and RIPs have evolved over the years, the ISO standard PDF/X-4:2008 was released in 2008. The main new feature was live transparency. In 2010 the standard was slightly adapted and released as PDF/X-4:2010.

In July 2008 the ISO-Standard 32000-1 was released. It was based on PDF 1.7 which was issued by Adobe in November 2006. Intentionally there were no new features in ISO 32000-1.

New features were only added in the first revision completely done under the control of the ISO. After nine years of work ISO 32000-2 (better known as PDF 2.0) was published in July 2017.

Currently our ISO working group is preparing the release of PDF/X-6 which is based on PDF 2.0 and is expected in 2020…

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