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Tech Corner



Holes in Standards: Choosing the Right Document Format for Interchange and Archive

ed. note: This is another in a series of articles on choosing and using portable document formats.

The old adage "the devil is in the details" was never truer than with print-formatted document standards like PCL, TIFF, and PDF.  While they all can be used for document interchange and archiving, and tools like SwiftPublish and SwiftConvert are readily available to interconvert formats, often critical information is "lost in translation" because a given format simply doesn't support it.  This article highlights some specific reasons you may need to choose one format over another, and some recent enhancements to SwiftView Tools that may enable you to use a format previously unsuitable for your application.

While on the surface, prepress and office document printing might seem similar — after all, it's all printing — differing requirements and practices have evolved in the two arenas that aren't always addressed in the standards.  PDF and PostScript were developed with prepress in mind, and are rich in features like color matching and printer's marks.  PCL, on the other hand, grew up with office printers, and while lacking some prepress features, excels in handling office documents with large numbers of pages.  PCL includes page control features like named paper sizes and types, printable margins, tray selection, and duplexing, and can freely change all page controls throughout the document.

Duplexing and Printer Control

It's particularly noteworthy that TIFF and PDF have NO provision for duplex, printer tray, or paper type control.  For example, documents that change duplexing between pages cannot be accurately converted to PDF. While the new PDF/A standard solves many weaknesses of PDF for archiving, and newer versions of Acrobat are better at printing mixed page sizes, most printer controls remain unaddressed.  If preserving complex duplexing is important, you need to choose PCL as your archive format.

Text Search

For more than two decades, TIFF has reigned supreme in document archiving, because it's simple definition and restriction to image data ensures that it will be readable forever.

However, as archives have grown by orders of magnitude, and eDiscovery requirements have become essential in the enterprise, a new problem has arisen — guaranteed readability doesn't help if you can't find your document!  Consequently, searchability has become a crucial feature of modern archiving.  TIFF, as an image-only format, is difficult to search. The textual information can only be recovered by unreliable OCR techniques.  This has been a driving reason why many archivists are moving to PDF, despite it's massive complexity and significant archiving issues. (The basic TIFF spec is 121 pages and the new TIFF/IT spec is 82 pages, while the basic PDF 1.6 spec is 1248 pages.)

For many years, SwiftView has recommended archiving business documents as PCL to insure small file size, preservation of print-ready formatting, and searchability.  While PCL remains an excellent choice, you now have freedom of format choice.  SwiftView Tools allow you to freely interconvert PDF, TIFF, and PCL with no degradation of quality and maximum preservation of page formatting and searchability.

SwiftView and SwiftConvert 8.3.5 support a private Microsoft TIFF extension for searchable text.  Documents converted to TIFF by SwiftConvert can be searched by Windows file search engines, and OCR'ed text saved in TIFF files from Microsoft Office Document Imaging can be searched in SwiftView.  SwiftPublish captures searchable text in PDF and Windows documents, embedding it in the output PCL, PDF, and TIFF files.


Your choice of document formats can have a significant impact on the capabilities of your document processes.  But it's important to remember that choosing any standard portable document format is better than trying to manage and archive documents in their original authoring format - just consider Microsoft's recent abandonment of support for older versions of Office files.

SwiftView's long experience with document formats has given us insights into the devil of document standards.  If you are starting a document management, archiving, or conversion project, we would be happy to discuss your needs and relevant best practices.  Regardless of your format choice, SwiftView can help you build productive document workflows.

For more discussion on choosing formats, visit

To learn more about eLynx and SwiftView Tools, please contact us at sales@swiftview.com or call 1.800.304.5941 Press 2. Or visit our website at www.elynx.com or www.swiftview.com.


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