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PostScript PS is a page description language in the electronic publishing and desktop publishing realm. It is a dynamically typed , concatenative programming language. At that time Gaffney and John Warnock were developing an interpreter for a large three-dimensional graphics database of New York Harbor. Concurrently, researchers at Xerox PARC had developed the first laser printer and had recognized the need for a standard means of defining page images. In Bob Sproull and William Newman developed the Press format, which was eventually used in the Xerox Star system to drive laser printers.
But Press, a data format rather than a language, lacked flexibility, and PARC mounted the Interpress effort to create a successor. This work later evolved and expanded into the Interpress language. At about this time they were visited by Steve Jobs , who urged them to adapt PostScript to be used as the language for driving laser printers. The combination of technical merits and widespread availability made PostScript a language of choice for graphical output for printing applications.
For a time an interpreter sometimes referred to as a RIP for Raster Image Processor for the PostScript language was a common component of laser printers, into the s. However, the cost of implementation was high; computers output raw PS code that would be interpreted by the printer into a raster image at the printer’s natural resolution. This required high performance microprocessors and ample memory.
The LaserWriter used a 12 MHz Motorola , making it faster than any of the Macintosh computers to which it attached. When the laser printer engines themselves cost over a thousand dollars the added cost of PS was marginal. But as printer mechanisms fell in price, the cost of implementing PS became too great a fraction of overall printer cost; in addition, with desktop computers becoming more powerful, it no longer made sense to offload the rasterization work onto the resource-constrained printer.
By , few lower-end printer models came with support for PostScript, largely due to growing competition from much cheaper non-PostScript ink jet printers, and new software-based methods to render PostScript images on the computer, making them suitable for any printer; PDF , a descendant of PostScript, provides one such method, and has largely replaced PostScript as de facto standard for electronic document distribution.
On high-end printers, PostScript processors remain common, and their use can dramatically reduce the CPU work involved in printing documents, transferring the work of rendering PostScript images from the computer to the printer. The first version of the PostScript language was released to the market in The qualifier Level 1 was added when Level 2 was introduced. PostScript Level 2 was introduced in , and included several improvements: improved speed and reliability, support for in-Raster Image Processing RIP separations, image decompression for example, JPEG images could be rendered by a PostScript program , support for composite fonts , and the form mechanism for caching reusable content.
PostScript 3 was significant in terms of replacing the existing proprietary color electronic prepress systems, then widely used for magazine production, through the introduction of smooth shading operations with up to shades of grey rather than the available in PostScript Level 2 , as well as DeviceN, a color space that allowed the addition of additional ink colors called spot colors into composite color pages.
There were a number of technologies for this task, but most shared the property that the glyphs were physically difficult to change, as they were stamped onto typewriter keys, bands of metal, or optical plates. This changed to some degree with the increasing popularity of dot matrix printers. The characters on these systems were drawn as a series of dots, as defined by a font table inside the printer.
As they grew in sophistication, dot matrix printers started including several built-in fonts from which the user could select, and some models allowed users to upload their own custom glyphs into the printer. Dot matrix printers also introduced the ability to print raster graphics. The graphics were interpreted by the computer and sent as a series of dots to the printer using a series of escape sequences.
These printer control languages varied from printer to printer, requiring program authors to create numerous drivers. Vector graphics printing was left to special-purpose devices, called plotters. Almost all plotters shared a common command language, HPGL , but were of limited use for anything other than printing graphics.
In addition, they tended to be expensive and slow, and thus rare. Laser printers combine the best features of both printers and plotters. Like plotters, laser printers offer high quality line art, and like dot-matrix printers, they are able to generate pages of text and raster graphics. Unlike either printers or plotters, a laser printer makes it possible to position high-quality graphics and text on the same page.
PostScript made it possible to exploit fully these characteristics by offering a single control language that could be used on any brand of printer. PostScript went beyond the typical printer control language and was a complete programming language of its own.
Many applications can transform a document into a PostScript program: the execution of which results in the original document. This program can be sent to an interpreter in a printer, which results in a printed document, or to one inside another application, which will display the document on-screen. Since the document-program is the same regardless of its destination, it is called device-independent. When the PostScript program is interpreted, the interpreter converts these instructions into the dots needed to form the output.
Almost as complex as PostScript itself is its handling of fonts. The font system uses the PS graphics primitives to draw glyphs as curves, which can then be rendered at any resolution. A number of typographic issues had to be considered with this approach. One issue is that fonts do not scale linearly at small sizes and features of the glyphs will become proportionally too large or small and start to look displeasing.
PostScript avoided this problem with the inclusion of font hinting , in which additional information is provided in horizontal or vertical bands to help identify the features in each letter that are important for the rasterizer to maintain. The result was significantly better-looking fonts even at low resolution.
It had formerly been believed that hand-tuned bitmap fonts were required for this task. At the time, the technology for including these hints in fonts was carefully guarded, and the hinted fonts were compressed and encrypted into what Adobe called a Type 1 Font also known as PostScript Type 1 Font , PS1 , T1 or Adobe Type 1. Type 1 was effectively a simplification of the PS system to store outline information only, as opposed to being a complete language PDF is similar in this regard. Adobe would then sell licenses to the Type 1 technology to those wanting to add hints to their own fonts.
Type 3 fonts allowed for all the sophistication of the PostScript language, but without the standardized approach to hinting. The Type 2 font format was designed to be used with Compact Font Format CFF charstrings, and was implemented to reduce the overall font file size. To compete with Adobe’s system, Apple designed their own system, TrueType , around Immediately following the announcement of TrueType, Adobe published the specification for the Type 1 font format.
Retail tools such as Altsys Fontographer acquired by Macromedia in January , owned by FontLab since May added the ability to create Type 1 fonts. Since then, many free Type 1 fonts have been released; for instance, the fonts used with the TeX typesetting system are available in this format. In the early s there were several other systems for storing outline-based fonts, developed by Bitstream and Metafont for instance, but none included a general-purpose printing solution and they were therefore not widely used.
In the late s, Adobe joined Microsoft in developing OpenType , essentially a functional superset of the Type 1 and TrueType formats. When printed to a PostScript output device, the unneeded parts of the OpenType font are omitted, and what is sent to the device by the driver is the same as it would be for a TrueType or Type 1 font, depending on which kind of outlines were present in the OpenType font.
In the s, Adobe drew most of its revenue from the licensing fees for their implementation of PostScript for printers, known as a raster image processor or RIP.
As a number of new RISC -based platforms became available in the mids, some found Adobe’s support of the new machines to be lacking. This and issues of cost led to third-party implementations of PostScript becoming common, particularly in low-cost printers where the licensing fee was the sticking point or in high-end typesetting equipment where the quest for speed demanded support for new platforms faster than Adobe could provide. Apple ended up reaching an accord with Adobe and licensed genuine PostScript for its printers, but TrueType became the standard outline font technology for both Windows and the Macintosh.
Today, third-party PostScript-compatible interpreters are widely used in printers and multifunction peripherals MFPs. A free software version, with several other applications, is Ghostscript. Several compatible interpreters are listed on the Undocumented Printing Wiki. Some basic, inexpensive laser printers do not support PostScript, instead coming with drivers that simply rasterize the platform’s native graphics formats rather than converting them to PostScript first.
When PostScript support is needed for such a printer, Ghostscript can be used. PostScript became commercially successful due to the introduction of the graphical user interface GUI , allowing designers to directly lay out pages for eventual output on laser printers. However, the GUI’s own graphics systems were generally much less sophisticated than PostScript; Apple’s QuickDraw , for instance, supported only basic lines and arcs, not the complex B-splines and advanced region filling options of PostScript.
In order to take full advantage of PostScript printing, applications on the computers had to re-implement those features using the host platform’s own graphics system. This led to numerous issues where the on-screen layout would not exactly match the printed output, due to differences in the implementation of these features.
As computer power grew, it became possible to host the PS system in the computer rather than the printer. This led to the natural evolution of PS from a printing system to one that could also be used as the host’s own graphics language.
There were numerous advantages to this approach; not only did it help eliminate the possibility of different output on screen and printer, but it also provided a powerful graphics system for the computer, and allowed the printers to be “dumb” at a time when the cost of the laser engines was falling.
In a production setting, using PostScript as a display system meant that the host computer could render low-resolution to the screen, higher resolution to the printer, or simply send the PS code to a smart printer for offboard printing. However, PostScript was written with printing in mind, and had numerous features that made it unsuitable for direct use in an interactive display system.
In particular, PS was based on the idea of collecting up PS commands until the showpage command was seen, at which point all of the commands read up to that point were interpreted and output. In an interactive system this was clearly not appropriate. Nor did PS have any sort of interactivity built in; for example, supporting hit detection for mouse interactivity obviously did not apply when PS was being used on a printer. DPS added basic functionality to improve performance by changing many string lookups into 32 bit integers, adding support for direct output with every command, and adding functions to allow the GUI to inspect the diagram.
Additionally, a set of “bindings” was provided to allow PS code to be called directly from the C programming language. Sun Microsystems took another approach, creating NeWS. Sun added a number of new commands for timers, mouse control, interrupts and other systems needed for interactivity, and added data structures and language elements to allow it to be completely object oriented internally.
However, the ongoing efforts to standardize the X11 system led to its introduction and widespread use on Sun systems, and NeWS never became widely used. PostScript is a Turing-complete programming language, belonging to the concatenative group. Typically, PostScript programs are not produced by humans, but by other programs.
However, it is possible to write computer programs in PostScript just like any other programming language. PostScript is an interpreted , stack-based language similar to Forth but with strong dynamic typing , data structures inspired by those found in Lisp , scoped memory and, since language level 2, garbage collection.
The language syntax uses reverse Polish notation , which makes the order of operations unambiguous, but reading a program requires some practice, because one has to keep the layout of the stack in mind. Most operators what other languages term functions take their arguments from the stack, and place their results onto the stack.
Literals for example, numbers have the effect of placing a copy of themselves on the stack. Sophisticated data structures can be built on the array and dictionary types, but cannot be declared to the type system, which sees them all only as arrays and dictionaries, so any further typing discipline to be applied to such user-defined “types” is left to the code that implements them.
PS” as an interpreter directive so that all devices will properly interpret it as PostScript. A Hello World program , the customary way to show a small example of a complete program in a given language, might look like this in PostScript level 2 :.
PostScript uses the point as its unit of length. However, unlike some of the other versions of the point, PostScript uses exactly 72 points to the inch. More readably and idiomatically, one might use the following equivalent, which demonstrates a simple procedure definition and the use of the mathematical operators mul and div :.
Most implementations of PostScript use single-precision reals bit mantissa , so it is not meaningful to use more than 9 decimal digits to specify a real number, and performing calculations may produce unacceptable round-off errors.
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