QUESTION: What is PPML?
ANSWER: PPML stands for Personalized Print Markup Language. Here is a basic definition:
PPML is an XML-based print-optimization technology for variable-data printing.
Below, we'll flesh out this definition as we talk more about exactly what PPML is and what it does. But first, we'll digress just a bit to talk about some twists and turns that happened while development of PPML was evolving.
PPML was intended to be a standard file format. However, what has actually happened is that there are several different "flavors" of PPML. Market forces are responsible for this. That is: for business reasons, some manufacturers of printers and RIPs have found that it is advantageous for them to support their own, proprietary versions of PPML.
For example, some variable-data-printing solutions are capable of generating two different kinds of PPML output:
- PPML that is geared for software and equipment made by EFI
- PPML that is geared for software and equipment made by HP (Hewlett-Packard)
What does this mean to you, the user or potential user of software and printers/RIPs that support PPML?
It means that if you're planning to purchase software and/or a printer/RIP to do variable-data printing, and if you're planning to rely on PPML output, you should definitely take it upon yourself to make sure the software and the printer/RIP work together properly before you make the investment. Reputable software vendors and printer/RIP vendors will offer you an opportunity to do such testing free of charge before you commit to a purchase.
When performing your tests, try to think of the most complicated kinds of documents you're likely to produce, and focus on documents like those.
REMEMBER: Just because the literature for a particular software solution claims support for PPML, it doesn't mean that the PPML code generated by that software solution will work properly with all printers & RIPs that claim to support PPML — and vice versa.
Who Developed PPML?
PPML was developed by The Digital Printing Initiative (PODi). PODi, formerly known as the Print On Demand Initiative, is a not-for-profit multi-vendor initiative that has worked to to develop the market for digital printing. The idea for PPML was conceived in the late 1990s, and development began shortly after that.
At one time, quite a few high-profile companies belonged to PODi. Here is a list of some of them:
- Adobe Systems Incorporated
- Electronics for Imaging (EFI)
Why Did PODi Think There Was a Need for PPML?
Sometime around 1998, several of the major PODi member organizations came to understand that the market potential of digital-printing technology had not been realized — even though it had been possible to print high-quality, full-color, personalized documents since the advent of digital printing in 1993. One reason the digital-printing market had not been exploited fully was the lack of a standardized methodology for printing color pages with high-quality, reusable content. Color pages with high-quality, reusable content, such as photos, pose a special challenge for variable-data-printing projects. That's because large amounts of data are required to represent these color elements.
Although the print-optimization technologies listed above had gone a long way toward meeting the challenge of making variable-data jobs print faster by reducing redundancy, the lack of a common technology made it difficult for interested developers of variable-data-printing applications and devices to anticipate a broad market. The PODi member organizations knew the absence of a common print-optimization methodology also made it confusing and risky for printing companies to venture into the variable-data-printing marketplace.
To address this problem, several major PODi member organizations voted in 1999 to develop a new print language for personalized printing. PPML is the language that came out of this development effort.
How Does PPML Work?
Like other print-optimization technologies, PPML makes variable-data jobs print faster by allowing a printer to store text elements and graphic elements and re-use them as needed. This eliminates the need to send the same code to the printer/RIP multiple times during the same print job.
PPML accomplishes this in two ways:
- By allowing printers to understand and manipulate the components (objects) that make up a page. This concept is referred to as "object-level granularity."
- By allowing application developers to write code that attaches names to objects and re-uses the objects as needed during the process of printing a variable-data job.
In a PPML workflow, there is a PPML Producer and a PPML Consumer.
- A PPML Producer is anything that produces PPML code. Typically, a PPML Producer is an application or a driver.
- A PPML Consumer is a device, process, or system that reads and interprets PPML code. Typically, a PPML Consumer is a printer, RIP or Digital Front End (DFE).
How Should I Go About Setting Up a PPML-based Variable-Data-Printing System?
If you are thinking about using PPML technology in your workflow, your best bet is to go with a PPML Producer and PPML Consumer that were designed to work together or were at least tested together.
Because, as we explained at the top of this page, all PPML Producer implementations are not identical, nor are all PPML Consumer implementations identical.