Immediately when we published our free Papyrus AFP Viewer the question arose why we are still so committed to AFP and do not for example rather use PDF. While we do support PDF in all its variants, let me explain our reasons for supporting AFP:
There are currently five different ISO Standards for PDF in different stages of coordination. Until a few years ago there was no official PDF documentation but Adobe Acrobat defined what was acceptable PDF functionality. AFP is not an ISO standard but has been fully published by IBM over 20 years ago. AFP evolved from transaction printing needs and PDF from Postscript rendering for offset printing. AFP was designed to create high-volume variable documents and Postscript/PDF was designed to produce the highest print quality for an offset print press. AFP will never be as flexible for the highest quality of graphic arts and PDF will never be ideal for variable data printing. The question is not one of document rendering language abilities but one of overall needs for a business.
Task Force 3 of ISO TC130 Working Group 2 is the committee responsible for specifying and advancing PDF requirements and developing the ISO 16612-2 (PDF/VT) standard. The standard is entering DIS balloting stage. Adobe announced middle of 2008 the PDF Printing Engine 2 that will support it. PDF/VT will support the graphics model of PDF 1.6, which includes transparency, ICC-based color management, and layers.
In a PDF/VT workflow, conversion to Postscript is no longer required as the variable-data-printing software will generate output in PDF/VT format, and a Raster Image Processor (RIP) that is capable of interpreting the PDF/VT format has to be used for print production. It means that a VERY specific printer is required. Once you are in PDF/VT you have to print to such a printer. From AFP it is very easy to print to any printer on the market including PDF.
Variable-data-printing workflows based on PDF/VT are HOPED to be able to produce output that is more predictable than output generated by variable-data-printing workflows that are in use currently. Current workflows require that PDF transparency must be flattened, fonts converted to outlines, device-independent colors converted to device-dependent colors, spot colors are converted to process colors. Converting an RGB digital photograph to CMYK constrains the color for output to a device.
So PDF/VT solves some problems of PDF/Postscript but what about the complex variable-data issues? Like VPS and VIPP, PDF/VT will enable for one-time rendering and caching of the static text & graphics in the RIP for a variable-data print run. This allows documents to be produced faster than would be possible if the code for the static text & graphics were sent to the RIP/DFE over and over, once for each document in the print run.
PDF/VT is not practical for high-volume variable data printing for financial institutions with or without Transpromo because one has to generate an archive copy of the document at the same time. I have not been able to find exactly what kind of positioning logic is available in PDF/VT but I am pretty sure that it is in the area of VPS and VIPP, which are basically just forms fillers but do not support dynamic page breaking with complex tables. Therefore the complex document has to be created in the print file PDF and the variable Transpromo elements have to be stored in the printer. That means that a full document formatting run is required before print rendering as for AFP. No advantage there.
One further key requirement of a financial institution is Records Management and that requires that the SAME document that is sent to the customer is kept in the electronic archive. Courts require that businesses prove that IT processes guarantee that it is the same. Using a PDF/VT print workflow with rendering inside the printer and PDF/A rendering outside would make that VERY difficult. PDF/VT is necessary to reduce the problems that PDF/Postscript create. It does not provide more features or substantially higher quality than AFP Transpromo does. PDF/VT enables a few more options around object and layer transparency and that is all.
Using Papyrus with AFP output a large business can create any layout formatting quality needed without the limitations of PDF/VT formatting – including highest print-quality of embedded Transpromo elements – and store the same file to the archive. With the Papyrus AFP Viewer the same document print file can now even be sent to the customer on the web, which before required a conversion to PDF. In case that the business chooses PDF to be sent to customer, Papyrus DocEXEC produces the AFP and PDF file in the SAME PRODUCTION RUN from the internal formatted page structure. Therefore documents printed, sent or archived are guaranteed to be the SAME!
We are working with the AFP Consortium to standardize document encryption and digital signing for AFP documents which is important for archiving and Web distribution.
All in all, I do not see PDF/VT to make inroads in high-volume Transpromo or variable data printing beyond direct marketing applications in the near future.