There are a few things that you should be aware of when working with PDF's, especially if you are going to send them to an offset printer. As with any print job, you should check with the individual printing house to see what their preferences are for drivers, file formats, etc. Equipment and expertise varies greatly from shop to shop. Some shops would much rather have you use a driver of their choice and send postscript instead of PDF, others are happy with PDF as long as certain options have been selected in the distilling process.
That being said, there are some major differences between PDF Writer and Distiller. The method you described in your e-mail of printing the files to postscript and then distilling the file using Acrobat Distiller is the preferred method. Distiller is much more robust and has many more options than PDF Writer. In general you will want to either turn off image subsampling or select the compression method to high resolution (JPEG High, 600 dpi tiffs, etc.). Furthermore, you should select 'include all fonts' in the font substitution options. This will ensure that the file contains everything the printer would possibly need for the image to print accurately. The printer may further request color tagging or some other more technical options be included as well.
PDF Writer is not a good choice for files that will be going to an offset printer. It works fine for quick PDFs out of Word that you are sending to be viewed on a monitor or for a quick print from a desktop printer, but there are certain quirks and deficiencies that make it a poor option for industrial printing. Adobe basically substituted accuracy for speed. Some things to notice with PDF Writer is that it uses separate settings from distiller. You can set all your job options properly in distiller and it will make no difference to PDF Writer. Also, the defaults in PDF Writer are built for saving file space, almost all fonts are subsets or not included at all and all images, text, and line art are compressed to low resolutions. While you can adjust these settings to make them closer to your distiller output, Writer has none of the advanced options. If your printer requires any of them, you will be forced to use distiller. Also, I think you will notice that your PDF Writer file size will increase closer to the size of the distiller files once you have changed the settings to turn off downsampling and to include all fonts.
If you have any more questions about this or want further clarification, the Adobe website has quite a few articles on Distiller vs. PDF Writer. You can also feel free to contact me for more detailed information.
If it is of any use, I am including the job options file I use with Distiller here (I am using Acrobat 4.0). It is pretty generous with file size, but it ensures I can send my PDF's to most printing houses and get proper output. Again, check with your printer to see what exactly they want, but this may help get you started. Best of luck!
Diebold Election Systems
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