Why are PDF/X files better than “standard” PDFs?

I have a friend who is also a graphic designer, has little experience in prepress, but has a nice portfolio and seems to have a good knowledge of using the Adobe products. I can’t dismiss his opinion on Adobe files.

The other day, he started arguing that a PDF/x was better for all kinds of print-ready files no matter what. As a designer with a lot of prepress experience, I simply prepare my print-ready PDF to be “standard” PDF and I have never encountered any weird issues with transparency or anything “scary” on the PDFs (eg. fragmented images or white squares around masks).

I send my files all around the world to be ripped on new and old systems; they need to be fully compatible as I cannot always approve the proof myself.

I already know about the basics to get the maximum quality for a print layout.

I’m skeptical about the value of using PDF/x if:

  1. My pictures are all done in Photoshop and flattened (eps)
  2. My vectors are from Illustrator without any transparency or blending modes. Texts are vectorized (eps)
  3. Everything is imported in an InDesign or QuarkXpress file,
    again without using any shadow or transparency in these two programs.
  4. Finally, my PDF gets optimized in Adobe Acrobat Pro and my files are
    rarely larger than 5MB (for files of 90MB+ when not optimized)
  5. I usually need a web version as well of these PDFs with bookmarks and
    hyperlinks, and they need to be around 500-700kb

Am I missing something about PDF/x? What would be the benefits for me to use a PDF/x instead of a “normal” PDF for print-ready and digital web design? Is there any reason why I should switch to PDF/x or is it only for designers who use InDesign and Illustrator with transparency and blending effects?

I thought PDF/x was mainly good for layout using transparency and fancy effects but maybe I’m a dinosaur with my boring standard PDF. My designs really don’t suffer from my way of using this software and I still use transparency and effects but rarely in vector mode. I did some research online but usually they only mention how these PDF/x files are fully compatible but it looks like they only refer to the new RIP.

I’d like an answer a bit more concrete than just “because it’s better.”


PDF is a complex standard that includes a huge number of features, and the kitchen sink on top of that. Not all of those features are conducive to print production (for example, hyperlinks).

PDF/X requires that your document is prepared for print. That is:

  • All fonts are embedded in the file
  • All images are in CMYK or in spot color mode, OR contain color profile info so that the CMYK conversion is defined in the document.

    • In effect output intent needs to be specified
    • Different PDF/X standards have slightly different restrictions here.
  • Transparency needs to be flattened
  • Some newer PDF/X files can have OPI for external graphics etc that can benefit printer memory consumption
  • and so on.

The standard also says that you may not use certain features. This makes sense as the file format is then less likely to cause problems with compatibility.

There are also features in web PDF files that are a bit problematic for print, such as image compression sizes. The press is not so concerned by your file size.

Why is PDF/X better?

There is a smaller likelihood that something will go wrong. That’s it.

If you sent for example RGB images without color profiles or output intent, you would have the press guessing. Every time the manufacturing plant infers something, there is a rather big likelihood that something will go wrong (thinking is not their job).

Think of PDF/x like a pre-processor mechanism that tries to force you to do all the best practices. Nothing really says a non-PDF/X file cannot print well, it’s just that a PDF/X file is less likely to have problems.

Source : Link , Question Author : go-junta , Answer Author : Community

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