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Can anyone recommend an acrobat pro alternative?


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The biggest problem when people ask about an alternative to Adobe Acrobat Pro is that what they use it for is probably different to what other people use it for.

It is a massive piece of software, with lots of functions that most users will probably never need. I've used Acrobat Pro 9 at work for years, and recently updated to Acrobat DC, but in all that time, I've hardly scratched the surface of what it can do!

The point is, when asking for an alternative, what do you actually need to do? What is an alternative for one person may well not work for someone else, with different needs.

The reality is that there is no alternative to Acrobat Pro per se, but there are a lot of alternatives to it for certain functions. If you're working in a professional environment and need a PDF solution to cover (virtually) every scenario, then you probably do need Acrobat Pro. However, if you're working for yourself, or in a company that has only limited needs to create, edit and manipulate PDF files you can find other cheaper, or even free, alternatives. You may need several apps, which may not be as convenient or as fast as using Acrobat Pro, but they can be much cheaper. For example, for my own use at home I have Foxit Reader, PDFsam, PDF24, Briss, freeOCR (all free!) and PagePlusX9 (only used in preference to APub because it can use embedded fonts). I could actually use this line up for about 90% of what I do at work, there are only a couple of things I need to do with PDFs at work, which I don't need at home. 

So, my advice would be, if you need a complete PDF solution, for all scenarios, stick with Acrobat Pro. But if your needs are not so comprehensive, look around, you'll probably be able to find cheaper solutions. – It just depends on what you actually need to be able to do.

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Last login: Tue Feb  9 09:35:34 on console
Lagartos-iMac:~ lagarto$ gs -sDEVICE=tiffsep -o seps.tiff test.pdf
GPL Ghostscript 9.50 (2019-10-15)
Copyright (C) 2019 Artifex Software, Inc.  All rights reserved.
This software is supplied under the GNU AGPLv3 and comes with NO WARRANTY:
see the file COPYING for details.
Processing pages 1 through 1.
Page 1
%%SeparationName: PANTONE 805 C
lagartos-iMac:~ lagarto$

For this PDF created in Affinity Publisher:

test.pdf

that terminal command (or equivavlent on a WIndows computer) on Ghostscript would give you the following:

ghostscriptseparations.png.dde658ad116c4504827c071b1bf83266.png

...so yes, you could well use Ghostscript to check your spot colors (and separations).

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23 hours ago, Fixx said:

PDF Checkpoint. I have not checked how it performs (still going the Adobe way) but eventually I guess this might be the right one. $39.95. Mac only

It is primarily just what it says: preflighter that flags errors. It does not give much extra information, but you could mark spot colors as "errors" and then you would get this:

pdfcheckpoint.png.a1402531c4233e92e298ce73fb1ff4eb.png

In addition, it can do some conversions, but it is not a true prepress tool. I'd invest a few hundreds more in one of the commercial tools mentioned above, or use Ghostscript. [EDIT: Or use combination of these kinds of tools that can do partial checks. My point is primarily that while e.g. PDF Checkpoint can check whether a file PDF/X compliant -- from version X1 up to X5, I am not sure if it is up to the task compared to someone like callas; and it does not have output preview, which is very important in preflighting; to some extent you could use also Affinity apps for preflighting but how reliable is that ;-) ]

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22 minutes ago, PaulEC said:

The biggest problem when people ask about an alternative to Adobe Acrobat Pro is that what they use it for is probably different to what other people use it for.

As I said at the beginning of the post "an alternative that does all the print stuff - Check separations and ink density, Verify PDF/X standards conformance and all that, also with the ability to print nice sharp vectors and text to postscript printers for proofing purposes (something Affinity doesn't currently do)"

 

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Affinity Designer, Photo and Publisher 1.9.2 + Illustrator CS5 / VectorStyler mainly for Vector distortion workarounds + InDesign CS5 for multipage spread jobs with Slug + ImageVectoizer / Vectorize for raster to vector conversions

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I think, with your needs, you're probably stuck with Acrobat Pro. Or, at least, any alternatives will be at least as expensive! 🙁

I was really just making a general point that Acrobat Pro is a bit of overkill for a lot of people, who just assume that they need to use it.

 

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3 hours ago, Kal said:

An online demo of a JavaScript-based SDK called PDFTRON Webviewer. This isn't really a standalone product; it's something developers can license for their own apps. But by golly, the demo is pretty darn useful! It finds all the spots and lists them (alongside the CMYK inks) with checkboxes that you can turn off and on, just like Acrobat Pro. And it runs in a web browser. So I'm not sure what makes this feature so elusive for all the devs of those cheap PDF utilities out there.

I've checked this one with an Affinity generated production PDF (just CMYK) and at first glance it offered just what I generally(!) need when I check my PDFs for correct colour separation (e.g. the old 100% K Black problem, overprinting, accidental spot colours etc.). I was definitely surprised that it could offer me exactly the information I generally need to decide if that PDF seems fit for the printer or if there's something that should be corrected (e.g. by going back to Publisher make the corrections and exporting a new PDF).

Even if you cannot make any of those advanced preprint corrections, conversions etc. within PDFTRON it certainly looks like this might actually be a very decent tool to quickly scan the PDF you want to send off to your Printing service and be sort of sure that at least the colours are set the way they are intended to.

Just for this functionality (which is probably 95% [or even more] of what I normally do with my PDFs in Acrobat Pro) I'd probably be willing to buy it for a reasonable price as a standalone app... a very good find, Kal!

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48 minutes ago, Lorox said:

Just for this functionality (which is probably 95% [or even more] of what I normally do with my PDFs in Acrobat Pro) I'd probably be willing to buy it for a reasonable price as a standalone app... a very good find, Kal!

Yes, a good find!

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4 hours ago, Lagarto said:

that terminal command (or equivavlent on a WIndows computer) on Ghostscript would give you the following:

...so yes, you could well use Ghostscript to check your spot colors (and separations).

Hey, not bad for a free tool! Thanks for testing!!

 

3 hours ago, Lorox said:

Just for this functionality (which is probably 95% [or even more] of what I normally do with my PDFs in Acrobat Pro) I'd probably be willing to buy it for a reasonable price as a standalone app... a very good find, Kal!

No worries! Yes, I'd be willing to pay for something like that too. Of course, we'd all be even happier if Affinity could roll that sort of functionality into their own apps.

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5 hours ago, Kal said:

Hey, not bad for a free tool! Thanks for testing!!

This was the first time I tested this, based on your link. IT seems to handle overprint / knockout correctly, but I have no idea what else: probably at least ink percentages (as 8-bit index). But it could be useful. Ghostscript can also do other hings like converting embedded fonts to curves (and keep it as CMYK).

UPDATE: Here's a sample of a bit more complex separation with overprints, tints and a transparency:

gs_seps.png.d0e0cb5812234e1837090742b6e68dab.png

It does it much the same as Adobe Acrobat Pro Output Preview, but the UI is less elegant...

colortest.pdf

seps2.tiff

seps2(Cyan).tiff

seps2(Magenta).tiff

seps2(Black).tiff

seps2(PANTONE 805 C).tiff

seps2(Yellow).tiff

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13 hours ago, Kal said:

An online demo of a JavaScript-based SDK called PDFTRON Webviewer. ..
So I'm not sure what makes this feature so elusive for all the devs of those cheap PDF utilities out there.

PDFTRON offers extremely powerful hi-end PDF SDK tools. They're also - and understandably - priced accordingly and are out of reach for small developers.

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2 hours ago, Martin511 said:

EDIT:

Sorry, this seems to be only for non profit oragnizations...

 

Ohh... I am frequently in the red....

Oh, not that kind of non profit. [sad face emoticon]

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8 hours ago, Lagarto said:

It does it much the same as Adobe Acrobat Pro Output Preview, but the UI is less elegant...

That's brilliant. Yes, not nearly as convenient as a desktop app that shows all the seps as a bunch of layers you can selectively turn off and on, but a great option for all us starving artists. Thanks again for testing and reporting back. I'm getting the 'Sorry, you cannot add any more reactions today' forum alert, so here, I'll award you with another of these… Most Helpful Comment of the Month™️ award… 😄

🏆

2 hours ago, leob said:

PDFTRON offers extremely powerful hi-end PDF SDK tools. They're also - and understandably - priced accordingly and are out of reach for small developers.

Ah, okay. I didn't see any pricing on their website, which did lead me to wonder.

 

36 minutes ago, Old Bruce said:

Ohh... I am frequently in the red....

Oh, not that kind of non profit. [sad face emoticon]

😂 😐 😭

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8 hours ago, Kal said:

Yes, not nearly as convenient as a desktop app that shows all the seps as a bunch of layers you can selectively turn off and on

Given that GS is open source I wonder if someone might have created a utility that simply just generates the separations and superimposes the grayscale TIFF layers using multiply blend mode with C, M, Y and K color fills, and then uses the CMYK conversion value of the PMS (I think this information is in plain text format already in the Affinity package). With a script this could be created even with PDF layers, like this:

separations.pdf

The above PDF has been created in InDesign. I do not understand why Publisher cannot create such a layer supported PDF -- I think it used to automatically create PDF layers for layer layers. It still does but for some reason the layer visibility does not work in Acrobat similarly as it does for the PDF created in InDesign. I think it used to so perhaps this feature is broken now?

UPDATE: No, it just seems that in order to have images to behave correctly as Acrobat layers, they need to be in vector containers (the layer layer itself is not enough to create one, except for images marked as spot colors -- I think this is a bug rather than a feature). So below is a Publisher document that correctly creates a layered PDF, and also a PDF created from Publisher.

separations.afpub

separations_apub.pdf

 

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21 hours ago, Lagarto said:

Given that GS is open source I wonder if someone might have created a utility that simply just generates the separations and superimposes the grayscale TIFF layers using multiply blend mode with C, M, Y and K color fills …

There's a project for a keen bean. Not sure you could charge any money for it though, depending on Ghostscript's licensing.

 

21 hours ago, Lagarto said:

So below is a Publisher document that correctly creates a layered PDF, and also a PDF created from Publisher.

Do we need Acrobat Pro to see the separate layers? 😝

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31 minutes ago, Kal said:

There's a project for a keen bean. Not sure you could charge any money for it though, depending on Ghostscript's licensing.

I might myself get in to that at some point -- I've been doing web-based PDF-creation scripts but not based on open source but with libraries like Debenu Quick PDF, which supports CMYK and blend modes and importing TIFF out of the box. I think this should primarily be disc-based (Windows / macOS).

46 minutes ago, Kal said:

Do we need Acrobat Pro to see the separate layers? 😝

Happily we do not, not even an Adobe based reader!

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I think it was me, who re-started that thread times ago with exact that question in the headline. I do want to get rid of any subscription software on my Mac  HD, primarily Adobe which enslaves us with ubearable conditions. As I mentioned, it seems to me, that the basic PDF-technology (name it "engine", libraries or the like) is owned by Adobe or by Callas, and it is implemented in such a deep way in industry standards (workflows, RIPs etc.) that no one can avoid their government – execpt with "clones" of Postscript and the PDF technology. As I'm informed correctly, there is no way to go conform with PDF industry standard (i.e. ISO norm) – as to accept and license for much, much money that quasi-standard...

Good software solutions are worth money. Fact. And therefore I accept to spend good money for good solutions. Everyone who wants to have good solutions for no money is blue-eyed or avaricious (mainly out of the Windows corner ;-). But I refuse to spend money for a subscription by force – and with the effect, that if I do not pay, all my files grow unusable. That's a blackmail construction of companies, and needs to be fighted.

If I see it right, there is no alternative to the Postscript and PDF libraries, and by that to a reliable PDF workflow, than to licence them at Callas or Adobe – for good money.

I know online solutions and free subscriptions to "clones" for PDF functionality online - and I do know their uncountable bugs and shortcommings.

I do use good old Acrobat Pro of the CS6 (Mac) and stay with that. I do use it on regular basis for:
- cutting, editing, collating PDF pages
- trimming pages/eliminating crop marks
- writing to .ps and re-distilling for cleaning up or reduce/finetune PDF
- converting from 4c to RGB and vice versa
- converting to grayscale
- converting to other colour profiles
- converting text to 100% black
- controll colour separation and spot colours
- detect the used/connected colour profile
- controll color application (e.g. ≤ 280%)
- controll the resolution of embeded picts
- controll/view embedded fonts
- do a preflight (for 4c offset printing, 4c + spot colour printing)
- do minimal text corrections in PDF
- extract embedded pictures/grafics
- protect PDF files with password against printing, editing, extracting text (very important at my publishing company)
- embedding keywords, copyright and metadata in PDF files
- editing the the "if opened"-parameters for files (100% view, double sided with cover sheed, etc.)

Any pdf solution would be valuable, even for a resonable price – except from Adobe!

🙂

Johannes

 

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4 hours ago, jweitzel said:

Good software solutions are worth money. Fact. And therefore I accept to spend good money for good solutions. Everyone who wants to have good solutions for no money is blue-eyed or avaricious (mainly out of the Windows corner ;-). But I refuse to spend money for a subscription by force – and with the effect, that if I do not pay, all my files grow unusable. That's a blackmail construction of companies, and needs to be fighted.

I am not sure that I get your point. pdfToolbox and Adobe Acrobat Pro 2020 (manufacturers of which are, AFAIK, not in any way affiliated) can both be purchased as perpetual license software, not rentalware. I still also use Adobe Acrobat Pro X (I guess from 2010 or so) on many of my WIndows 10 (and earlier) computers. It is not Adobe that has made 32-bit versions of Acrobat Pro obsolete on macs, Apple has. Also, as @MikeW explained in this thread above, PDF itself is no longer proprietary but has been for years an ISO standard and is fully and openly documented so there should be no barriers for aynone interested for developing low-costing high-quality preflighting software that is primarily targeted for (semi)professional graphic designers and hobbyists. The problem probably is that the audience is limited (especially considering the withering print industry which can still basically accept any old PostScript content), and developing is not easy. Competition on full-fledged PDF editors (capable of doing nearly anything EXCEPT the prepress-oriented tasks) is also hard so a broader audience for securing some funds is difficult to achieve.

Personally I think that there should be no need to have any complex prepress-oriented tools with the kinds of Affinity apps, as they should be able to handle most of the print production related tasks internally and first of all, produce good-quality industry standard PDFs (a level that Affinity apps, too, I hope, are about to achieve). Some basic and low-cost preflighting tool would suffice then for double-checking, especially one with a fully functional Output Preview, which I suppose none of the existing low-cost or free tools now support.

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24 minutes ago, Boris.Volosin said:

The best one is by my opinion PDF Xchange Editor. Full Acrobat functionality, or even with more functions. Really recommended. And incredibly cheap comparing to Adobe Acrobat.

Hi Boris thanks for suggestion,

Do you know if you can check colors layers with this (CMYK) ? I had a look at the link but did not find any info about this point.

It's a shame it is not Mac OS compatible :(

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You can check document colors. Here is information: https://help.tracker-software.com/pdfxe8/convert-colors_ed.html?zoom_highlightsub=CMYK If this is what you are looking for. Comparing to other software alternatives we have checked this one has all function we need, including context menus, integration into email. Guys at Trasker Software are doing their best to cut away customers from Adobe. They have free version with limited functionality, but still with many features.

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1 hour ago, Boris.Volosin said:

The best one is by my opinion PDF Xchange Editor. Full Acrobat functionality, or even with more functions. Really recommended. And incredibly cheap comparing to Adobe Acrobat. 

https://www.tracker-software.com/product/pdf-xchange-editor

Sounds like a decent app, but like many of the other similar suggestions, it doesn't appear to do what the OP was asking for related to pre-press. Checking spot-colour separations seems to be the feature most lacking in these apps. Check out the full conversation for some options.

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I work in brazilian print shop / print house...a little or almost print shop, and we use a acrobat X with enfocus pitstop 11 and quite imposing plus 3.0. Is the powerfull, fastest and confiable solution for US, dozen of works in a day with little time to analyse and mount, and the combination as very nice. If exists a solution different of this from other companies for serious situations equal to print shops / print house i wait ansiously for see. And we use windows...

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4 hours ago, Bruno Belo said:

I work in brazilian print shop / print house...a little or almost print shop, and we use a acrobat X with enfocus pitstop 11 and quite imposing plus 3.0. Is the powerfull, fastest and confiable solution for US, dozen of works in a day with little time to analyse and mount, and the combination as very nice. If exists a solution different of this from other companies for serious situations equal to print shops / print house i wait ansiously for see. And we use windows...

Hello Bruno,
there is a daily increasing group of customers worldwide, and me too, who would like to swipe any Adobe product off their HD. Not because the software is "bad", but because of their software, licensing and money making strategy.
I'm working in a book publishing company and any of our books since 2 decades we do not store as open files ( Ventura Publisher?, PageMaker?, FrameMaker? 3B2/Arbotext?, PageOne? Quark through all versions?, Indesign through all versions?), but as print PDF. And therefore there is a lot to do... But I've got angry about Adobe and their strategy. And therefore I have all Affinity products and learning... But to get the skills as souverain as after 12-15 years Quark and Indesign, the learning couve is rather "flat" ;-) But Adobe is – currently – not my friend.

Johannes

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