Friday, November 02, 2007

PitStop and producing press-quality PDFs

The simple (and very quick) three step solution to producing high quality PDFs from Pages is the three step process: Pages - PostScript - PDF

1. 'Print' to PostScript
2. Launch Acrobat, then launch Distiller (my computer service technicians insist that Distiller must be active when you convert your PS files)
3. Drag and drop your PS files onto Distiller in the Dock

On machines with OSX Tiger 10.4.10 this process is very quick. On my Intel iMac it takes me less than two hours to process 24 pages of graphics heavy magazine.

At the PDF stage Enfocus PitStop is very useful. It is a pricely piece of software, but worth it. One brilliant feature is that it allows CMYK conversion of the whole file in one go, including PNG files. And it does a thorough checking and correcting of the PDF. You can change text, colours, CMYK percentage etc right in your PDF.

In one episode, a client called me on the mobile phone just as I was about to sign the magazine into press. Although she had given the final approval to her ad she later suddenly realised that the text could be construed in a such a way that she might lose serious money. I agreed with her point, went into PDFs and removed four lines of text right in the finished page.

On another occasion fonts got substituted in an text box. Thanks to Pitstop I could correct his at the very last minute.

Even without PitStop you can achieve very good results, but if you can afford it it's worth its price. Enfocus PitStop retails for $699.


  1. Hi Alex,

    Could you explain in further detail what is wrong with a PDF generated directly from Pages? What led you to take the PS detour?

    I tried to figure it out myself with some tests, but the only significant difference I find between a file generated via PS and one generated directly, is that the paper format of the PS file always seems to be Letter - and that is rather inconvenient.

  2. Thank you for your comment.

    The short answer is this:
    Using PS stage appears to be the only path where CMYK colour separation is possible for PDFs produced from Pages.

    The longer story:

    Two years ago I was looking for an affordable publishing programme to start a magazine, glossy paper, full colour, mass-printed. Which meant going through professional printers with CMYK.

    I posted a request for advice on several Mac forums. Someone on the British Macuser forum recommended looking at Pages, a new suite of DTP software that had just been released by Apple. I looked at it and was immediately seduced by the elegant look of their templates, the apparent ease of use and, of course, the price.

    I discarded drafts made in MS Word and AppleWorks and designed publicity brochure for a local estate agency and a pilot for the magazine - all in Pages.

    The next stage was to see if Pages would work at professional printshops. The printer I had chosen assured me that he could work from PDFs. I made a set of PDFs using Pages>Print>Save as PDF path. The document looked fine on computer screen and on proofs printed on a digital printer.

    However when those PDFs where processed to CMYK film the colours wouldn't separate. I am afraid I didn't take note of exactly which colour went blank and which completely black. The fact is neither 'Export to PDF', nor Print>Save as PDF worked.

    Luckily the printer was as interested in making the project work as me. So we sat down and went through all possible options eventually discovering that Pages>Print>Save as PostScript>create PDF with Acrobat gave documents that could be CMYK processed with satisfactory results.

    I've been fine-tuning this process ever since. But using the PS stage seems to be the key element in making Pages work for professional printing, i.e. when your finished project is to be put on a set of four films from which colour plates are made for printing Presses.

    It doesn't seem to matter as much with digital printing where print-runs are limited, e.g. up to 500 copies. But even there you get better quality PDFs when the PS stage is used.

    I am afraid I lack the technical knowledge to explain why that is so. From what I read it has something to do with Quartz technology used in Pages, layers and flattening.

    As to your question re paper format I am a bit puzzled - it should not be a problem. Check settings in Inspector>Document>Page Set-up. I use A4 format for the magazine, but the PDFs are in custom size with 3 mm (1/8 inch) added to each side of the document to allow for bleeds (images and colour background going over the edges, I'm sure you know this). Or it could be that your PDF programme (Acrobat-Distiller) has a default document format.

    Once again thank you for posting this comment - dealing with PDF production is one obstacle which most Pages users find difficult to overcome once they move beyond office or home printing.

    I see you put a link to this blog on your Pages blog - thanks and I hope you don't mind if I do the same.

    Also check this earlier article:

    and an outline of a slightly different process, using ColourSync utility:


    1. Hello again. I sent a reply to this thread a few minutes ago... I don't see it, so I'm not sure if it's pending approval or just didn't go through. I'll wait a little bit to see what happens...but I have another question. Can you explain more about the color Licorice issue? Is there any other color or font that usually has issues when they are sent for commercial printing? How do I make the font color 100% black? Thanks again!

    2. Luci, hi,
      yes, I've set this blog to filter all incoming comments.
      It's the main text body that you have to watch. Licorice is the default 'black' in Pages. Open the colors well (viewer) and go to CMYK panel. You'll see that Licorice is composed of several colours. Move the C M and Y sliders to zero, and K (black) to 100%. That's what is called 'true black.'
      See this article It explains how to make text 'true black.' The icons and menus are from a previous version of Pages but the principle is the same.

    3. Thanks, Alex! I learned something new today! Please let me know if you didn't see my first comment/question about bleeds/crops; if not, i'll send it again. Thanks!

    4. no. I haven't, sorry about that. I usually get notifications strait away.

    5. no, I haven't, sorry about that.

    6. I just finished creating a 20-page report using Pages. I wanted to create crop marks and ensure there's enough allowance for bleeds but didn't know how to do it. In one of your comments above you mentioned adding 3mm. Where and how do you add the allowance? In Pages, or when you convert it to PS PDF?

    7. OK, so I did the adjustments. I rechecked the color of my text. The CMYK values changed to (C) 77%, (M) 73%, (Y) 68% (K) 69% I did this several times and it did the same thing. Did I miss a step?

    8. no no! CMY must be on zero, K on 100%! Did you remember to Save?

    9. Yes, I kept saving after I changed the values for each text in black. The same thing happens. The values go back to (C) 77%, (M) 73%, (Y) 68% (K) 69% !!! Is this a Pages 5 anomaly????

    10. Luci, to your question re format: add 3 mm (6 mm overall) in Page Setup - Document. There should be an option called Custom Size.

    11. Luci,
      I've checked changing color from Licorice to true black in Pages 5. It works in pretty much the same way.
      - Select text (Command+A)
      - open Color Viewer (it opens with Crayon Box)
      - click on Sliders
      - drag CMY to zero and K to 100%
      - click away from text (in the margins for example) and save. Clicking away may be the problem.

  3. Interesting background. I have not understood the cmyk-business fully. I created one PS and one PDF/X file from the same Pages document. If I open them in Illustrator, I have no problem choosing the options to separate colours, but it may be that Illustrator plays tricks with me. It probably depends on the printer and printer driver as well.

    The PS files become Letter format regardless of if I convert them to PDF from Preview or Distiller, so I assume there is something in the export process that goes awry. I played with the Document/Page setup and could easily change the format of the exported PDF, but the PS stubbornly remained at Letter.

    It does not really matter for my needs, but it is comforting that it works for you. Then it is simply something fishy with my setup - but twice. Both my G4 laptops create Letter PS files. Could it be a Leopard thing?


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