Performance settings for DesignMerge PDF/VT output

This article describes the optimal settings for DesignMerge PDF/VT output that will yield the best possible performance for your variable data jobs. The article includes a training video that discusses how to first preflight your job to search for external variable assets, and then demonstrates how to establish the proper settings for the fastest possible PDF/VT output.


A PDF/VT file is a PDF file that has been optimized for use with variable data. The file format allows reusable content such as graphics to be downloaded and cached, resulting in faster merge times, smaller file sizes, and faster printing times as well. A PDF/VT file can be opened and viewed just like a standard PDF file, which makes it the ideal format for generating variable data proofs, or producing final output for processing on a digital press.


The video below covers the complete DesignMerge PDF/VT output process, and discusses the best combination of settings to use. For VDP jobs that utilize variable graphics or other assets, the video starts by introducing you to the DesignMerge Preflight Report feature. Preflighting your job is very important if you wish to achieve the best possible performance.


The settings outlined below will ensure the best possible performance on your system.

Main DesignMerge (merge) dialog

  1. Choose Create PDF/VT for the merge action.
  2. Make your other selections for the merge.
  3. When ready, click the Start button.
    If prompted, select the data file and then continue.

DesignMerge PDF Driver dialog

  1. Confirm the Base Job Name.
  2. Indicate the number of Page Sets per Job you prefer.
    The default is set to All, which means all pages will be placed into a single PDF output file. Please see the Page Sets per Job section for more details about this feature. 
  3.  Select the Preset named Best Performance
    This establishes the settings most appropriate to achieve the fastest possible output. Your dialog selections should look like the screen shot below:

    NOTE FOR CREO AND OTHER SYSTEMS: Some systems, such as those by Creo, require a compliant PDF/VT file. For those systems, please choose the PDF/VT Compliant preset instead. This serves only to enable the Include Metadata checkbox, which is a requirement for compliant PDF/VT output.

  4. Choose Post-Processing options.
    Click on the Post-Processing tab to display Post-Processing options. The default setting for the Destination Action is Leave in Folder. IMPORTANT: Saving the PDF file to your local disk provides the best performance. 
  5. When ready, click Continue.

InDesign Export Adobe PDF dialog

  1. Select an Adobe PDF Preset.
    For example, we recommend choosing the [High Quality Print] preset.
  2. Choose the PDF/X-4:2010 Standard.
    Select the PDF/X-4:2010 Standard using the dropdown menu at the top of the dialog. If you did not enable the Include Metadata checkbox in the previous section, then you may select any other Standard you prefer (but you generally can't go wrong with PDF/X-4:2010).
  3. Check Compatibility (must be Acrobat 5 or newer)
    Double-check the Compatibility setting in the dropdown menu at the top of the dialog. This must be set to Acrobat 5 or higher (never use Acrobat 4).
  4. Customize the other settings as you prefer.
    Click on tabs to display other areas of the dialog. When customizing settings, do not select Create Tagged PDF (do not place a check in this check box) because this feature is not compatible with PDF/VT output. Also do not select the Create Acrobat Layers option as this can result in slower processing. In fact, don't check any of the checkboxes in the Options section as they are not necessary for print output.

  5. When ready, click Export and when prompted, choose a destination for the output file.
    For best performance, please choose a location on your local disk, NOT on a Server volume. If you must transfer the PDF to a hot folder on a server volume, you can do so manually after the job has been created, or you may choose the PDF Driver Post-Processing Action Copy to Specified Folder instead. This action creates a local copy of the PDF, and then copies it to the specified folder when it is finished.
    TIP: You might want to save your settings as a named PDF Preset at this point so you can load them easily for future DesignMerge sessions.
  6. Your PDF/VT file will be created and stored in the selected destination.
    If you followed the steps in this document, you can be sure that you have created a PDF/VT file produced using the fastest possible combination of settings. Please see below for a few more performance suggestions.


Note on Metadata Option

When you create a PDF/VT file with embedded metadata, this ensures that a conforming PDF/VT file will be created. In fact, the Metadata option is required on some systems, such as those by Creo.

However, customers have reported that other systems (such as those by EFI) may run slightly faster if you turn the Metadata option off. In the specific case of EFI Fiery systems, customers have also reported that omitting the metadata from the PDF is required in order to access certain FreeForm features on the DFE.

To turn the PDF/VT metadata option off, uncheck the Include Metadata checkbox on the PDF Driver dialog. Note that you may wish to experiment with the Include Metadata option to determine if there is any performance improvement to be gained.

Note on Standard PDF

There is an option under the Format pop-up menu on the PDF Driver dialog named Standard PDF. This option will create a standard (non-optimized) PDF file. This can sometimes be desired if you are printing one PDF file for each record, for example.

Otherwise, we do not recommend using the Standard PDF setting for any other type of variable data print output because the content is not cached, and will result in a very large output file and slow overall processing. Instead, always select PDF/VT output, as described above.


Now that you have a PDF/VT file, how do you get it to print? Well, to send the PDF to your printer, please, do not use the File/Print command in Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Acrobat Reader or other PDF viewing application to send the PDF/VT file to a digital printer. If you do, then the pages are actually converted from PDF into PostScript or some other format, you will lose all of the benefits of PDF/VT optimizations, and it's going to take a really long time to spool!

Instead, the proper way to submit the raw PDF to your printer is by dragging it into a printer hot folder, or submitting it directly to the print queue using Command Workstation (on EFI systems) or some other printer management or downloading utility. Please consult with your printer manufacturer for more information on how to properly send a PDF/VT file to your digital press.


If you wish to verify that the PDF file you produced does in fact conform to PDF/VT standards, you can do so using Adobe Acrobat DC, as described below. Note: The instructions provided here are for Acrobat DC 2018.

  1. Open the PDF file with Adobe Acrobat DC.
  2. Display PDF Standards.
    From the Tools panel, select the PDF Standards option (or click More Tools and then choose this option).
  3. Click on the Preflight option.
    The Preflight option is displayed in the PDF Standards area on the right side of the dialog. Clicking Preflight opens the Preflight dialog.
  4. Open the PDF/VT Compliance entry in the list.
    If you don't see PDF/VT Compliance listed, click the pop-up menu at the top of the dialog just below the dialog title and select PDF Standards to show more options.
  5. Click on the Verify Compliance with PDF/VT-1 entry.
  6. Click the Analyze button.
  7. Review the results.
    If the file is a valid PDF/VT file, the report will indicate No problems found.