As PDF/ X-1a workflows near ubiquity for some publishers, Hearst Magazines has become the first to implement a new system based on the PDF/X-4 standard, according to Ken Pecca, Hearst’s director of premedia imaging.

PDF/X-4—what Pecca calls the “Smart PDF”—is a layered file that supports live transparencies without flattening artwork or converting the file to PostScript. Unlike the PDF/X-1a, the file contains the searchable metadata it needs to be easily repurposed through a digital asset management (DAM) system. Images remain in RGB format throughout the pre-press process and the heavy lifting of color management isn’t handled until the last stage.

To implement its PDF/ X-4 workflow, which Hearst began using in February, the publisher adopted Kodak’s Prinergy InSite system. The switch took an initial investment of less than $200,000 in production tools, Pecca says, and has resulted in a 30 to 35 percent increase in efficiency. “Our production staff has taken on new projects. Promotions, collateral work—anything sent outside we’ve brought in house,” he says. By a “very conservative” estimate, Pecca says he projects the system is equivalent to two to three people.

Pecca sees the system as an enterprise solution, allowing Hearst’s production staff to communicate with each other, proof and approve pages in real time from anywhere in the world through an Internet connection and a simple log-in process.

Right now, Hearst is using the PDF/X-4 system exclusively for its editorial and advertorial pages. For advertising pages, using the system at this point would be a “huge liability,” according to Pecca. “We haven’t even explored how this would work.” In the future, though, he says, “This is a workflow that everybody is going to end up adopting for everything. I just don’t see any way around it as people see that there’s a better, easier, smarter way to digitally manage your files. But to put a time frame on it, it’s still uncharted territory.”