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PDF/Variable and transactional printing
Filename extension .pdf
Type code 'PDF ' (including a single space)
Magic number %PDF
Developed by ISO
Extended from PDF
Standard ISO 16612-2

PDF/VT is an international standard published by ISO in August 2010 as ISO 16612-2.[1] It defines the use of PDF as an exchange format optimized for variable and transactional printing. Built on top of PDF/X-4, it is the first variable-data printing (VDP) format which ensures modern International Color Consortium-based (ICC) color management through the use of ICC Output Intents. It adds the notion of encapsulated groups of graphic objects to support optimized efficient processing for repeating text, graphic or image content. Introducing the concept of document part metadata (DPM), it enables reliable and dynamic management of pages for High Volume Transactional Output (HVTO) print data, like record selection or postage optimisaton based on metadata.

While PDF/VT-1 always consists of a self-contained file, other variants of the standard support the use of external graphic content (PDF/VT-2) as well as streaming through the use of multi-part MIME packages (PDF/VT-2s). In addition to being a digital master for VDP printing, it can be shared, viewed and interactively navigated by human operators using a normal PDF reader, though completely accurate rendering requires a PDF/X-4 or PDF/VT conforming viewer.

After several vendors had announced support for PDF/VT in 2010[2] right on the day of the standard's publication, meanwhile the first products can already be put on trial:

  • PDF/VT producer: The vendor PDFlib since April 2011 provides PDFlib 8 VT Edition[3] which is able to generate valid PDF/VT data. The vendor PrintSoft (now Objectif Lune) since late 2013 provides PReS 6.3.0 which is able to generate valid PDF/VT data.
  • PDF/VT validator: callassoftware has upgraded its Pre-flight (printing) application "pdfToolbox" version 5 with the option to check for PDF/VT conformity.
  • PDF/VT consumers: Adobe have upgraded their RIP software Adobe PDF PrintEngine (APPE) to add support for efficient PDF/VT processing. APPE is embedded and built into many high speed printers made by different vendors. Global Graphics have supported PDF/VT in their Harlequin RIP since v8.2, which was launched at Ipex in April 2010 by Hewlett-Packard in the DFE driving the Indigo Digital Press.

The ubiquity of PDF, as well as the fact that PDF itself now is an ISO standard (ISO 32000-1:2008[4]) clearly work in favor of PDF/VT. Nevertheless it is currently difficult to predict where in the industry PDF/VT will be adopted and how fast that will happen, and how it will be positioned vis-à-vis other formats and architectures for variable data printing.

The practical requirements and benefits of PDF/VT are explained in more detail, along with related recommendations, in a guide from Global Graphics.[5]