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JDF: Ready for Take-Off?

(July 2011) posted on Thu Jun 30, 2011

The Job Definition Format has been around for a decade now. So why isn’t it more common in wide-format printing—and why is that about to change?

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Not another acronym, you say? Yes, but this one has the potential to transform your workflow into an efficient, automated process.

The idea behind JDF, or the Job Definition Format, is to provide a way for the different components of a digital print production workflow to communicate with each other – from the initial creation of a job ticket through control of the finishing process. They do that through a JDF file, an XML expression of the specifications for a job.

“I have this file that tells me what my job ticket is, who the customer is, how many I have to print, what my color mode and resolution are – they’re all contained in that XML file,” says Jon Minion, product manager for EFI’s Pace print-management system. Theoretically, any JDF-enabled component can read the information it needs from that file without requiring an extra round of data entry or human intervention.

It’s important to realize, though, that JDF is not a product in itself. “It’s just the plumbing,” says Minion. “It’s up to the individual applications to add the automation features.”

Thomas Kirschner, managing director for ColorGate Digital Output Solutions, echoes Minion: “JDF is nothing that gives an end user direct value out of just having the module. It's an interlink, an exchange format that allows you to connect other systems.” A single JDF-enabled component is like a single fax machine – not very useful until there are other components to talk to.

JDF first arrived on the scene in 1999 but really began attracting attention at Drupa in 2004. “Every other booth was talking about JDF,” recalls Kirschner. Since then, it’s been widely embraced in the commercial and industrial printing markets but has lagged in gaining a foothold in digital wide-format printing. “At this moment, in the sign and display market, JDF is really in its infancy,” says Lieven Plettinck, EskoArtwork’s director of software engineering. Part of the reason, he says, is that this market has so many small shops with their own individual workflows.

HP has noticed the same thing: “We found that JDF is not used at all in the wide-format market,” says José Abad Peiro, worldwide program manager for DesignJet Web. “So we started doing an analysis of why and reached a number of conclusions. One is the differences you find in specific workflows at small firms.”