GWG 2017 PDF Survey Results

Ghent Workgroup held a survey during spring 2017 amongst people that are involved in either the creative or the production part in the graphic arts industry. The aim of this survey was to gain insight on today’s PDF use and discover how well GWG specifications and tools (and other PDF standards) are being adopted worldwide.

To reach a broad audience, this survey was available in 7 languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Czech. This helped significantly in getting more answers. The survey was advertised by GWG and it’s members. A total of 1109 people filled in the survey. This high response rate makes the results even more significant.


Unsurprisingly the United States delivers the most respondents in this survey. Followed by Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. This can be explained by the long history GWG has in these countries. We can also see that a lot of people in the Czech Republic participated, which is thanks to the translation and local publicity that was made.

This slide is important to keep in mind when we take a closer look at some of the results in this survey. Of course, the answers of people in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany are more statistically representative than for the countries that are much less represented in this survey.

We can clearly see that all kinds of company types participated in this survey. Every player in the graphic arts industry was represented with commercial printers, prepress houses, creative agencies and vendors at the top. Which makes sense as they are the primary target groups of the GWG. It’s good to see that a big group of creative agencies and freelance designers participated as well as they are group that has been hard to reach in the past.

If we look at the company size of the respondents we see that most of the companies such as commercial printers employ between 25 and 100 people. Freelancer designers and consultants have of course less employees. As expected, most publishers, brand owners and vendors have more than 500 employees.

PDF Workflow

If we ask about the input and output that is generated in companies, we see that the number of PDF files received from customers has increased significantly compared with surveys done in 1998 and 2008. More than 90% of the respondents say that PDF files are one of the file type they receive a lot.  The amount of PDF/X-files that come in, have also increased a lot. The use of PostScript and EPS has gone down over the past 10 years, although it’s surprising that more than 20% of the respondents say that PostScript is still a format file that they receive as input and over 15% say they still use PostScript or EPS files as their output format.


83% of the respondents say they preflight. This number has also gone up the last 10 years, which is a very positive thing. However before we get too optimistic about this, when we ask how preflight is done (keep in mind that people could give multiple answers to this question), we see that a lot of the people still treat preflighting as the visual checking of the file in adobe Acrobat or Reader and even a small amount of people say they visually check in Apple Preview or other free PDF viewers.  Of course there are risks associated with this and to avoid problems afterwards, it’s preferred to preflight with other and better preflight tools. Luckily we also notice that tools such as Agfa Apogee, callas pdfToolbox, Enfocus Pitstop and Kodak Prinergy also score good in this question.

So in conclusion, we can say that more people do preflight but still a lot of people rely on  visual inspection instead of using more indepth preflight tools.

When we asked how many of the incoming files contain errors, we see that the majority says they receive very few files that contain errors. 17% says none of their files have errors and 46% says that less then 10% of their incoming files contain errors.

Only 5% says most the files they receive contain errors. Which is a positive trend compared to the results of earlier surveys.

When we look at the preflight errors that are made, not much has changed here over the past 20 years. We notice that the errors that score very high are also the problems that are relatively difficult to fix. The most common and noticeable error that still occurs is Low res images.  The only thing that can be done to fix this is go back to the customer. This is the same for when there’s no bleed or when the font is not embedded. To prevent this in the future, we need to educate the creators of the files better.

Color Management

A very high percentage (86%) of respondents say they use color management however, when we ask what you do with ICC profiles in incoming files, we see that 19% discards all ICC-profiles. This may be a valid workflow decision when the files are coming from people you know will not include the correct icc-profiles.

We would expect that people who have a  color management workflow, use some kind of standard but 10% says they don’t use any standard. Most people say they use the Fogra standard. This is probably because the bias towards Europe. But when we look at the results in more detail, we see that Fogra is also used in the US in a lot of cases. This might be explained because that people could choose multiple answers and/or that some people use different standards depending on the project they work on.


With the workflow part of the survey, we tried to get a better idea of how modern the workflows out there are and what their capabilities are. It’s important for the Ghent Workgroup to know if the specifications that we created are and can be used in the real world.


If we ask about the used RIP technology, we noticed that a reasonably high number of respondents say they are not sure or don’t know what they use. This is interesting since most of them are employed in companies that use RIPS.

In comparison with previous surveys, we can see that the use of native PDF interpreters has increased quite significantly. This is nice to hear as the latest GWG specifications are built on PDF/X-4 and native PDF interpreter technology is important to read these files well.


GWG spends a lot of time advertising its own specifications but also the PDF/X and PDF/X-plus specification. In countries where the GWG specifications are not well known, we would expect PDF/X to be the main known spec. This is also reflected in the answers of this question.


A very high percentage (89%) of the respondents say they know the PDF/X standard. PDF/X standard is well known all over the world.

We are very pleased to see that the GWG specifications also score very high. More than 50% of the respondents are familiar with our specifications. This is an improvement over the years. As expected the GWG specifications are much better known in the countries where GWG historically started up and where there are more user-associations that actively promote the standards. In the US, PDF/X is better known than the GWG specs.

Overall, this is a better resulted than expected as the GWG specifications are not marketed as GWG specifications but as the specifications of a local organization. A lot of people use GWG specifications without knowing it.

The PDF/X-Ready standard also scores very high and this mainly in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. This is to expect as a Swiss organization created the standard and a lot of the communication around this is in German.

The reason why a lot of people in the UK and US answered that they know the PDF/X-Ready standard is not because they actually know it but because there must have been confusion with the PDF/X standard.

It’s interesting to know about the existence of standards but it’s more important to also use these standards. When we asked the questions which standards are actually used, we see that both PDF/X-1a and PDF/X-4 score really high. We also notice that a lot of people use their own or their company’s standards.

The Ghent Workgroup has excised for quite some time now and it’s important to ask ourselves on a regular basis what the next thing is we need to work on.  When we asked, which standards do you think are missing and should GWG focus on, we saw that the 2 top missing standards are 2 specifications we have been working on: specifications for digital print and specifications for Large Format Print.  It’s good to see that the survey results show that there is a real need for this. Ghent Workgroup will release these specifications in the very near future.

It has been a challenge to develop specifications for LFP as the workflows are more complex as well as the requirements for files but the biggest challenge has been that the output products are so diverse. It can range from small banners, to photoprints to huge canvasses to cover up building renovations. And of course, for each of the output we need different requirements.

It’s nice to see that most of the respondents know us and have used our workflow tools or specifications. 26% uses GWG Specifications, 19% has used the GWG packaging specifications and 14% has used the Ghent Output Suite. Only 4% has not heard of us or is not familiar with our work.

When we ask the users of the GWG specs how long they have been using them, we see that 30% of the respondents have been using the specifications for more than 5 years, 20% less than 5 years and 21% intend to implement them within 3 years. This is a very nice result.

Only 29% of the respondents don’t intend in using the GWG specifications at all.

If you would like to see the full presentation on the results of the 2017 PDF Survey, click here. For more questions, please contact