Thursday, August 10, 2006

Greening the Office: PDF Design Workflow

One of the things I love about having my own office is that I get to make my own decisions – as the boss, I get to decide what kind of paper to put in the printer, how often to print things, what kind of notebooks to buy, and a whole host of other things that I just don’t get the opportunity to do as someone who isn’t running the show. When I started the zen kitchen, one of my primary objectives was to be as green as possible, not only in the materials I created for my clients, but in my in-studio practices as well.

Before I opened the studio, I spent about six years working in print shops, corporate art departments, and privately at home, and one of the things that always frustrated me about the places I worked outside of my home office was the amount of waste created in the traditional design workflow. In almost every art department I worked in, the average layout required printing every page of the layout, usually on a larger size sheet (11 by 17 or 12 by 18), to be passed around the office for approval. Inevitably there would be anywhere from 3 to 12 rounds of edits, and each round of edits required the printing of a new proof. The end result of this was that the average job jacket contained anywhere from 12 to 50 sheets of paper by the end of a job; and generally speaking, most of the paper used had either no recycled content or the bare minimum recycled content, and while many of the offices had excellent recycling programs, the sheer amount of waste created was disconcerting.

With the work I’ve done in my home studio and for the zen kitchen, I’ve instituted a digital PDF workflow – meaning that, after I’ve finished a draft for a client, I export the piece as a PDF and send it to the client for review via e-mail. This process has worked very well for a variety of reasons:

  • It saves time – many of my clients are ½ hour or more away, and sending them a PDF means I don’t have to deliver proofs in person. It’s also much quicker than working up a comp and mailing it to a client.
  • It saves money – by eliminating shipping and printing costs for proofs, I’m able to work more efficiently and keep overhead reasonable.
  • It saves paper and ink – by not printing out proofs after every round of revisions, I manage to save a tree or two, as well as avoid a trip to Staples.
  • It saves space on my workshelves and in my filing cabinets.


I began to fully realize the beauty of the digital workflow I’ve created in the studio while I was working with Virgin Life Care on a big layout project. The project was a 75-page manual that was being cut to about 50 pages with edits on those pages – much more reasonable, but still quite the feat. My contact at the company had the full version of Acrobat, which (because it’s brilliant) allowed him to make comments and requests for edits right in the PDF document – which meant that, through three rounds of changes, I was able to not only get his edits in a timely manner and make the edits quickly, I was able to do it all without printing a single sheet of paper.

PDF workflows can be tough to implement – in some, more established, art departments, it can be tough to get people used to dealing with Acrobat’s commenting features, as well as getting them out of the habit of requiring paper proofs. In addition, it can be tough to accurately judge things like size, die-cuts, etc. in PDF form – for things I’m using die-cutting for, or that require special assembly, I always try to do at least one paper comp, fully assembled and cut out. But once it’s in use, a PDF workflow can add tremendous benefits to both office efficiency and a company’s bottom line.

1 comment:

Kevin M. Scarbrough said...

I couldn't agree more about the PDF workflow.

A few proofs at the final stages of the job will always be necessary to check for color, finish proof reading, ect., but a huge portion of the broad strokes can be determined without wasting paper.