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Advancements in Preflighting--Ensuring All Documents

March 1998
Preflighting is gaining momentum. You see it absorbed into comprehensive workflow solutions by major prepress vendors; you read about its growing compatibility with PDF, PostScript and other file formats; and you hear about the latest upgrades in preflighting tools, ranging from preview enhancements to the actual repair of bad fonts and colors within a file.

What's the catalyst for all this?

Mary Sommerset, senior product manager for preflighting at Extensis, makes the following observation: "Ask prepress operators what the single most useful thing a software company can do for them and the answer, a majority of the time, will be to help their customers create better files that print flawlessly."

Sound right?

You bet; right on the money!

"Implicit in this request is the need to improve communication between prepress professionals and their clients," Sommerset continues. "The preflight process is essential, even for the most sophisticated digital workflows."

Thus, commercial printing magnates are aligning with software giants to create an all-digital workflow for prepress operators in the trenches. At the same time, equipment and consumables manufacturers are racing to develop the ideal digital workflow—a start-to-finish solution that solves all problems.

In short, Sommerset speculates, while Adobe Systems is hard at work to further develop its much-needed successor to PostScript Level 2, as well as its vision for PDF, many influential commercial printers are suggesting, demanding and begging that their very specific needs be met.

Let's scrutinize what enhancements are fine-tuning today's preflighting vehicles and what trends are hitting the preflight runway.

  • Today's preflighting tools are better analyzing and previewing PDF and PostScript files, and moving to QuarkXPress 4.0, PageMaker and Frame-Maker compatibility, among other file destinations. For preflighting, compatibility is critical.

  • Preflighting software now makes it easier for commercial printers to ensure all the fonts and graphics have been included within a job—and that RGB images and low-resolution files are identified, for example.

  • Preflighting is not only finding mistakes within a document's digital composition, but actually repairing those mistakes on-the-fly.

  • Preflighting is being incorporated on a large scale into comprehensive workflow solutions marketed by the major prepress equipment vendors.

    "All vendors are now making preflighting software more comprehensive because the future is sending files direct-to-plate," reports Francis Lamy, founder of DALiM. "No one wants to find errors when a job is on-press, so it's up to the automation of the production cycle to fix all mistakes up front."

  • Preflighting is moving to accommodate publishers of Internet products and other multimedia publishing endeavors and, one day, may be utilized virtually entirely by designers on the desktop—before a job ever gets to a prepress department.

"Preflighting is not just for production. More and more, graphic artists are reducing output problems by using a simple preflight process designed to produce correct files the first time," reports Todd Donahue, vice president at Acquired Knowledge.

Pioneering Perspectives
Preflighting pioneer Patrick Marchese, founder and president of Markzware, has a lot of ideas on the drawing board, with keen attention paid to the software guru's latest release of its flagship tool, FLIGHTCHECK 3.3, which supports QuarkXPress 4.0, Adobe PDF and FrameMaker.

The new version utilizes Markzware's TrueFile technology, which helps users get fully trained on the subject of building documents correctly, the first time.

"With the boom in the digital creation of documents, anything printed from any application can be a candidate for preflighting. Primarily all of the contents going into these digital documents are comprehensive and complex, and warrant thorough checking to accommodate problems with fonts and an array of other components—in an array of file formats, including Adobe PDF and more," Marchese says.

Indeed, the promise, the reality, of PDF—distributed, on-demand printing—doesn't leave the need for preflighting sitting in the shadows.

While PDF enables content creators to embed output-related information, such as screening and trapping, in an attached header file, the human factor is still at play, leaving the need for preflighting intact.

It's important to note: PDF—while a major stride in solving many common prepress and printing problems, while promising to eliminate many mishaps inherent in PostScript workflows, while delivering the premium method of storing documents for later digital distribution—still needs preflighting to be all it can be.

Incorporating Preflighting
Few companies purchase an entire set of digital workflow solutions at one time. Rather, solutions are acquired as needed and made to function in a fully customized workflow. This sometimes involves imaginative, multi-step work-arounds, especially for the PDF workflow, explains Sommerset, of Extensis.

"The bottom line is that prepress departments want to get jobs done more efficiently, more effectively, with quicker turnarounds and less mistakes," Markzware's Marchese states. "Demand today is for a communication vehicle that better establishes specifics about each individual document to every segment of the production process, streamlining the workflow and delivering a definitive, flawless file."

Here's a modest sampling of preflight software options currently available. Routinely, inspect the preflight software market for enhancements and new offerings from this team of vendors and others.

QuickCheck from Acquired Knowledge is specially designed for the Macintosh platform. This preflighting utility enables the creative professional to analyze and preview PostScript files in one step, giving a complete list of file contents.

QuickCheck identifies missing, embedded and TrueType fonts, lists colors in separated files, and identifies embedded EPS and needed OPI files.

In addition, Acquired Knowledge has expanded the platform offerings of its Download Mechanic preflight software. Download Mechanic 1.8 for Windows 95 and NT are PostScript utilities that enable users to analyze, edit, test, debug and download PostScript files.

"As the Windows and NT platforms continue to make strong inroads into the electronic publishing markets, prepress providers need the right tools to prepare files for print," reports John Deubert, president, Acquired Knowledge.

PSCheckPro preflight software is offered in the DALiM TWiST automated workflow product. PSCheckPro allows the operator to designate the automatic checking of font substitution, image resolution, page geometry, file names, line work resolution, mirror pages, OPI, multiple pages, spot colors, clipping and bounding boxes.

Preflight Pro from Extensis is designed to inspect files, create a report customized to match the needs of individual organizations and provide a tool for repairing files on-the-fly. Extensis supports PDF workflow, and Quark 4.0, through Extensis Preflight Designer and Preflight Pro. When creating PDF files within Preflight Pro or Preflight Designer, users control specific PDF settings that match particular workflows.

Markzware's FLIGHTCHECK 3.3 will support QuarkXPress 4.0, Adobe PDF and FrameMaker. Also included is a new user feature that will take the operator directly to the document's specific problem by launching the application which created it and zooming on the exact page and problem box.

Markzware's emphasis remains on the native file format. FLIGHTCHECK will check the native file first to ensure flawless output. The software can accommodate 10 file formats.

"The native file is important," says Marchese. "Until the day PDF or Acrobat will enable all designers to create directly within the parameters of those file formats, we are always going to see a need for preflighting. We will always need to check the native file."

Ultimate Technographics' Flight Simulator integrates an Adobe CPSI Level 2 RIP for verifying PostScript jobs on a Macintosh platform. Flight Simulator is designed to easily integrate into the PostScript production environment.

Files are viewed in Adobe Photoshop with the use of the ViewIt plug-in included in Flight Simulator. In conjunction with ImpoPlan, Ultimate's imposition planning tool, Flight Simulator allows for preplanning and testing of the digital stripping process.

"We are incorporating preflighting into our process of manipulating the file," reports Jerry Huffman, Ultimate's vice president of product development. "We put preflighting in trapping, preflighting in imposition—we want to change the way preflighting is perceived. As it stands today, preflighting still allows users to make mistakes, then tells them about those mistakes within a document."

This is ludicrous, Huffman argues, noting that preflighting innovations from Ultimate and other preflight software developers will eventually—perhaps sooner than you think—prohibit the user from making common mistakes in the first place.

For example, preflighting software simply will not allow a user to import an RGB image—it will tell the user to open the RGB image, convert to CMYK, then import it.

No mistake to later correct.

"Preflighting can tell the customer a mistake is happening, and rectify that mistake virtually simultaneously—so the mistake never really happens," Huffman projects.

Now, to invent an all-encompassing preflight microchip to plug into the prepress operator's head during work hours, eliminating all possible traces of human error from the production environment. Stay tuned!

—Marie Ranoia Alonso

A Printer's Preflight Perspective

Here's a talk with Ned Hood, vice president of technical operations at XYAN, which uses Markzware's FLIGHTCHECK. The King of Prussia, PA-based operation owns and operates more than 74 printing and imaging centers in 28 states and has approximately 1,000 employees.

While on-demand digital printing is its hallmark, XYAN also offers graphic design and desktop publishing, copying services, offset printing, finishing operations, online document management services, order fulfillment and facilities management. Visit

When did XYAN implement preflighting?

We began formal preflighting in the summer of 1996 in our San Francisco facility. Files were checked manually prior to that.

Why is preflighting important?

We are converting to a digital print-on-demand workflow in all 74 locations across the country. Our customers want files printed quickly and accurately, with same day or next day service on most jobs.

Our locations in the San Francisco area have been leaders in the use of preflighting software because they handle so many manuals for software and networking companies on tight turnaround. It's not unusual for us to preflight, print, bind, shrink-wrap and deliver 1,000 to 2,000 manuals in as little as 24 hours. Preflighting is essential to meeting these demanding deadlines.

In what ways do today's preflighting programs excel?

Modern preflighting programs quickly identify the most common problems in a file: missing fonts and graphics, wrong page size, trapping errors and failure to convert RGB to CMYK values. With PostScript files, the most-common error is the wrong printer driver. A results window lists the problems so the operator can address each issue.

What do today's preflighting programs lack?

We are extremely happy with the preflighting software. The only suggestion I would make is to have the software automatically launch the appropriate application and serve up a menu of suggested actions for the operator to choose from, much like spell check programs today. Some problems are so complex they require operator interaction, but some of the minor issues could be addressed semi-automatically.

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