How Do Adobe PostScript Levels 1, 2 and 3 Differ?

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Developed by Adobe in 1984, the page description language known as PostScript was an early participant in the history of desktop publishing. PostScript, the Mac, Apple's LaserWriter printer and PageMaker software from Aldus were all released at about the same time. Originally a language designed to print documents on laser printers, Postscript was soon adapted to produce high-resolution files for imagesetters used by commercial printers.

Adobe PostScript (Level 1)

The original, basic language was named Adobe PostScript. The Level 1 was appended when Level 2 was announced. By modern standards, the output results were primitive, but just as new versions of software contain new features not available in earlier versions, subsequent PostScript levels added support for new features.

Adobe PostScript Level 2

Released in 1991, PostScript Level 2 had better speed and reliability than its predecessor. It added support for different page sizes, composite fonts, in-rip separations and better color printing. Despite the improvements, it was slow to be adopted.

Adobe PostScript 3

Adobe removed the "Level" from the name of PostScript 3, which was released in 1997. It provides consistent high-quality output and better graphics handling than previous versions. PostScript 3 supports transparent artwork and more fonts, and speeds up printing. With more than 256 gray levels per color, PostScript 3 caused banding to become a thing of the past.

Internet functionality was introduced but seldom used.

What About PostScript 4?

According to Adobe, there won't be a PostScript 4. PDF is the next-generation printing platform now preferred by professionals and home printers alike. PDF has taken the features of PostScript 3 and expanded them with improved spot color handling, speedy algorithms for pattern rendering, and tile parallel processing, which dramatically reduces the time needed to process a file.

In terms of desktop publishing, the PostScript level used for creating PostScript and PDF files is partially dependent on the PostScript levels supported by the printer and the printer driver. Older printer drivers and printers cannot interpret some of the features found in PostScript Level 3, for example. However, now that PostScript 3 has been out for 20 years, it is rare to encounter a printer or other output device that isn't compatible.