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September 22, 2017


New International Standard enables Variable Content Replacement in Real Time for Industrial Production Printing Applications

Reston, VA—NPES -The Association for Suppliers of Printing, Publishing and Converting Technologies announces that a global multi-vendor ISO committee has completed the international standard, ISO 16613-1, Graphic technology — Variable content replacement — Part 1: Using PDF/X for variable content replacement (PDF/VCR-1). The new standard provides guidance on real time variable content replacement for industrial production applications in the label and packaging printing areas, which may require long print runs, closed loop print verification, low latency real time processing for fixed speed printing, encapsulation of security related information, and spontaneous changes in print order.

ISO 16613-1, Graphic technology — Variable content replacement — Part 1: Using PDF/X for variable content replacement (PDF/VCR-1), provides a standardized way of representing full color variable print data streams and defines a PDF-based variable data printing (VDP) template file format, a variable data substitution content format, and a framework for in-RIP variable content merging. The new standard enables the use of PDF as a variable data template file format in industrial production printing environments where variable content substitution must be performed in real time immediately ahead of rendering and printing processes.

Examples of print applications that require real time variable data replacement include letters that accompany loyalty cards, credit cards where a PIN must be generated in real time and never stored, individualized package printing for pharmaceutical packages where lot and serial numbers must be generated in real time from sensor data, and serialization for high-value tickets where ticket serial numbers must also be created in real time and never be stored.

The task force that created the standard includes an international group of experts in variable data printing, digital printing, PDF, color management and high-performance RIP technology.

PDF/VCR-1 is based on the reliable and predictable PDF/X-4 (ISO 15930-7) subset of the Portable Document Format (PDF), thereby supporting the full use of the PDF graphical imaging model including live transparency, layers, and full ICC-based color management.

PDF/VCR-1 allows the creation of a single or multiple page template file containing fixed graphical content together with variable content placeholders. PDF/VCR-1 also defines a comma separated values (CSV) based format representing a stream of variable data substitution content. The template file and variable content can be used for highly efficient merging immediately ahead of printing as is often required in industrial printing applications.

In a conventional VDP workflow using, e.g., PDF/VT (ISO 16612-2), a variable data file is merged with a layout template file in a composition process ahead of the print workflow to generate a merged PDF/VT file, which is printed without further merging. In a PDF/VCR-1 based output workflow, a PDF/VCR-1 writer (VDP application) reads an application template file (created by a VDP design application) in its native format and produces a PDF/VCR-1 template file containing placeholders. A PDF/VCR-1 data provider receives variable data from a static data source or as a stream from a live data source and outputs PDF/VCR-1 data records with substitution content in PDF syntax for each placeholder. A PDF/VCR-1 processor (e.g., raster image processor/RIP), repeatedly receives a PDF/VCR-1 data record with substitution content, substitutes each placeholder object with the corresponding substitution content, and outputs the resulting PDF pages. Using this process, merging can be done immediately ahead of printing.

“ISO 16613-1 leverages the same open PDF framework and technologies that have been used in the printing industry for many years,” says Tim Donahue, consultant and chairman of the ISO TC130 task force that developed the ISO PDF/VCR-1 standard. “With ISO PDF/VCR-1, industrial printing platforms can be extended to take advantage of the versatility and expressiveness of PDF for print workflows involving low-latency data composition and rendering.”

According to Christoph Oeters, SOFHA GmbH, document editor, “PDF/VCR-1 will bring the richness of PDF to an area of the label and packaging printing industry where currently proprietary solutions prevail, while keeping the unique requirements of this industry.”

Weighing in on the benefits of PDF/VCR-1 and how it will make variable content replacement in real time more accessible is Karl-Heinz Wohlfahrt, CTO of Atlantic Zeiser who states, “Atlantic Zeiser's card systems for ID, financial and commercial cards and packaging systems with individualization and serialization for pharmaceutical and cosmetic products often require variable data insertion in real time. PDF/VCR-1 will help us in leveraging the full graphical potential of PDF while at the same time fulfilling the security requirements of our customers.”

ISO 16613-1, Graphic technology — Variable content replacement — Part 1: Using PDF/X for variable content replacement (PDF/VCR-1) is now available for purchase from NPES. For more information visit the Standards Workroom at NPES online:

NPES supports and administers the activities of the ISO Technical Committee Working Group (TC130/WG2) that developed this new standard. For information on how to participate in the standards development process, contact Debbie Orf, Senior Director, ICC and Standards at phone: 703/264-7200 or e-mail:

About NPES
NPES is a U.S. trade association representing more than 650 companies that manufacture and distribute equipment, software and supplies used across the workflow of printing, publishing, and converting processes. NPES owns and produces the global PRINT exhibition, and GRAPH EXPO—the most comprehensive exhibition in the Americas for the printing and digital imaging industries. For complete information about the Association, its programs, and its member companies, visit: or phone: 703/264-7200.

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