Callas: complex tool generates ready-to-print PDFs from HTML and CSS codes to facilitate print workflows

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Time and money – that’s what the proper conversion of web content into printable PDF files for commercial applications costs. A tool provided by Callas features particular strengths in this regard…

There are scores of free online conversion tools that generate PDFs from HTML and CSS codes. But what should you do if you have to handle really complex print files, which not only always have to be error-free, but also have to be converted in line with established PDF/X print standards? You either have to commission a graphic designer that you can rely on to convert web content into a printable version or you require a reliable tool.

Callas’ tool converts web content into PDF files for various applications; Source: pdfChip brochure – callassoftware.com

Given that cross-media usability of once-only edited content is of relevance not only for web-to-print environments but also for many other online offerings with printable PDF file requirements now and in the future, I should like to introduce you to some software solutions to complex conversion challenges. pdfChip is the name of a product made by the German software service provider Callas (Berlin), which has been taking cross-media communication work off the hands of publishing and prepress professionals using HTML, CSS and PDF resources since the beginning of 2015. It is the first of three rendering tools for this line of work that I want to profile.

Markup languages normally do not factor in print-specific parameters such as page size, spot colors, CMYK as output color space etc. And that’s where pdfChip comes into play – it extends the syntax of HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript in terms of printability and archivability. This feature therefore enables standards-compliant PDF/A files and the PDF/X files required for professional publishing and printing to be produced, in fact in a full range of versions up to the most up-to-date ones. This means that web content can be used for graphical workflows too, which reduces the duplication of inputs involved in producing print editions separately. pdfChip is operated and controlled via a command line interface (CLI), i.e. it does not feature a GUI; it also features functions for automated output and merging of multiple PDFs and for using alterable elements in addition to static content, e.g. specific user data to produce bulk mailshots with personalized content, in templates. VDP, where HTML templates are customized using data from CRM systems, is also feasible. In addition to the “classic” application of using up-to-date web content for newspapers or books, the tool can also be used to convert documents with fewer pages or dynamic-generation documents like invoices, tickets and order acknowledgements – i.e. items that you encounter as standard in an eCommerce environment. And for whom does it make sense to use this tool? Activities, where the software is incorporated into the workflow, include for example, digital print providers with book-on-demand lines or online print providers, who use pdfChip to generate PDFs of all the documents required in transaction printing. It can be used for any application where lossless, high-quality prints based on PDFs of web content are required quickly and in large quantities. Callas therefore meets the full spectrum of requirements, including those relating to graphic quality, which all companies that use or provide the same content in various channels are confronted with.

“In terms of price and range of functions, Callas’ pdfChip tends to be positioned in the upper PDF conversion solution segment. But the general rule is that even these higher amounts should not put potential customers off. That’s because proper software and maintenance are often guarantors of hitch-free processes.” – Bernd Zipper

What about pricing? Callas is offering the smallest and least expensive version for generating PDFs from HTML codes – pdfChip S – at 5,000 Euros (excl. sales tax), while the XL Enterprise version costs five times as much. Added to that is the maintenance contract, which is priced (per annum) at 20% of the product price and is obligatory, at least during the first year of use. Basically the four license grades offered by Callas differ in the number of parallel conversion processes, in the number of pages converted per hour and the maximum number of pages per PDF document. The least expensive S version is not sufficient for those requiring or wanting to offer their clients printable PDFs of more than 25 pages. They need to opt for the next biggest license at 10,000 Euros plus maintenance.

How the various Callas pdfChip license grades compare; Source: callassoftware.com

Leaving the advanced pagination feature aside for the moment, most companies will opt for the M version or higher – assuming they all have greater quantity requirements. That means nothing other than 10,000 Euros plus sales tax plus 2,000 Euros in the first year for the maintenance contract. So if edited web content also has to be converted to a PDF print version, e.g. for a leaflet, brochure or book, the M version of the tool is adequate for completing most of these jobs of up to 250 pages. Here is a small costing example: assuming pdfChip M is used for a year (including maintenance contract), then an entrepreneur could employ a graphic designer during the same period for around 170 hours at an hourly rate of 70 Euros; if we’re talking a fulltime position, that corresponds to around one month’s employment. Therefore what service is bought in has to be decided on a case-by-case, quantity-dependent basis. That’s because a graphic designer is not just employed to create personalized invoices …

Of course there are also free solutions in this segment. But in my opinion they are only good for occasional use at home. Tools like PDF24’s Online PDF Converter have nowhere near the capabilities and functions required for commercial applications and to meet the complex requirements described above. What these free solutions do have in common is that they are only suitable for creating “simple” PDF files with no proper ready-to-print aspirations. Why not check them out – there are plenty of online converters to generate PDFs from HTML and CSS sources.

There are several free options for converting web content into PDFs; Source: pdf24.org/doc2pdf

My take: there’s no question that the usability of HTML, CSS and JavaScript for print applications offers considerable benefits. Time and money can be saved, depending on requirements for such tools and can vary depending on capacity utilization. CallaspdfChip is a really comprehensive solution for many online print applications. Fellow PDF Association member RealObjects offers a similarly powerful tool – PDFreactor – but it is priced somewhat lower, and I will be taking a look at it here in the near future. Then I will compare each range of functions and relate these to pricing. We’ll see which product has the edge – to be continued.

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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