Can PDF secu­ri­ty set­tings can affect your prints?

When I was still in the cor­po­rate train­ing world, sales reps would occa­sion­al­ly send me cus­tomer print files that they had prob­lems with. Once I received a PDF file with the com­ment: “This file prints fine on their [com­pet­i­tive sys­tem] print­er, but looks ter­ri­ble when print­ed on the new print­er I just sold them. Why won’t our new sys­tem print this file cor­rect­ly?”

The first thing I looked at when I received prob­lem PDF files from the field was how they were cre­at­ed. I was look­ing to see if they were cre­at­ed using Adobe Acro­bat or oth­er Adobe tools or if they cre­at­ed using a 3rd par­ty PDF tool. Almost always the prob­lems came from PDF files cre­at­ed using some free tool that the user picked up off the inter­net. Not that all these tools were bad, just that some­times they pro­duced non-con­form­ing PDF files.

Find out how the PDF file was cre­at­ed

How can you find out how the file was cre­at­ed? Ref­er­ence the screen cap­ture below (click it for a larg­er view).

  1. Open the file in Adobe Read­er (or Adobe Acro­bat)
  2. Go to File > Prop­er­ties; this opens a win­dow with sev­er­al tabs at the top
  3. Choose the Descrip­tion tab
  4. In the Descrip­tion dia­log you’ll find the “PDF Pro­duc­er” that cre­at­ed the PDF file.
 PDF document properties dialog
PDF doc­u­ment prop­er­ties dia­log (click for full-size view)

This par­tic­u­lar sam­ple file was cre­at­ed using Adobe Acro­bat Dis­tiller 10.1 — so you can be sure that it’s a ful­ly com­pli­ant PDF file. If you see any­thing oth­er than an Adobe tool there — it might be the cause of the prob­lem. That’s not to say that 3rd par­ty PDF tools can’t cre­ate ful­ly-com­pli­ant PDF files — I’m not imply­ing that at all. But if an Adobe tool isn’t the PDF cre­ator — it’s a fair place to start look­ing for the prob­lem.

I looked at the Doc­u­ment Prop­er­ties of the prob­lem file that I received from the sales rep — and it checked out OK, it had been cre­at­ed using Adobe Dis­tiller. For­tu­nate­ly, I had that same com­pet­i­tive wide for­mat print­er in my train­ing lab so I ran the file through it. Sure enough, it pro­duced a good-look­ing print. Then I ran it through our new wide for­mat print­er — and the results were “less than impres­sive”. I was puz­zled.

Check the Secu­ri­ty set­tings

So I took a fur­ther look at the file’s prop­er­ties in Adobe Read­er. I checked Secu­ri­ty > Show Details (see screen­shot below) and saw that the cre­ator of the PDF file had lim­it­ed print­ing to Low Res­o­lu­tion (150 DPI) only.

That was the prob­lem! It seems that the RIP in the com­pet­i­tive sys­tem sim­ply ignored the secu­ri­ty restric­tion set­ting in the PDF, while the RIP in our sys­tem hon­ored it — and pro­duced a low-res­o­lu­tion print. The only way to get a full-res­o­lu­tion print was to change that set­ting. It wasn’t a prob­lem with the new print­er, it was a prob­lem in the file.

This was the first time I had ever heard of (or thought of) PDF secu­ri­ty set­tings cre­at­ing print­ing prob­lems.

Adobe PDF Security Settings
PDF secu­ri­ty set­tings dia­log (click for full-size view)

So be aware that secu­ri­ty set­tings in PDF files can cause print­ing prob­lems for you. If the file cre­ator wants to, they can set the secu­ri­ty to allow:

•    Full-res­o­lu­tion print­ing (no restric­tions),
•    Low-res­o­lu­tion print­ing (150 dpi), or
•    None — the file can’t be print­ed at all with­out a secu­ri­ty pass­word.

Should the RIP “hon­or” secu­ri­ty set­tings?

We could also have a dis­cus­sion about whether the RIP should or should not “hon­or” the secu­ri­ty set­tings. If the file cre­ator (own­er) delib­er­ate­ly restrict­ed print­ing to “low res­o­lu­tion” — should your RIP ignore that, or not?

What do you think? Enter your thoughts in the com­ment sec­tion below.

Final thoughts

There’s plen­ty of oth­er things that can go wrong when print­ing PDF files — miss­ing fonts, trans­paren­cy issues, and so on. And, if you like, I can write about them in a lat­er arti­cle.

For now — just remem­ber to check the secu­ri­ty set­tings for print­ing restric­tions when you run into PDF files that might look good on screen but print poor­ly.

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