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Proactive Preflighting

October 1999
Preflighting via the Internet. Emulating RIPs to ensure accurate digital files. Automating workflow-critical checks for font usage in PDF documents. A variety of fresh innovations are signaling a new dawn for preflighting.


Preflighiting is experiencing a renaissance, of sorts, with the Internet, PDF and the pressing demand for more intensive automation, which is pushing technology providers to deliver more interactive file checkers.

Markzware is moving its preflighting efforts onto the Internet—proof being the company's recently introduced MarkzNet, a Web-based preflighting application that uses drag-and-drop tools to preflight digital files.

Extensis, also moving to the Internet, has launched Preflight Online, a Web-based preflighting system that allows users to inspect PDF files for dozens of potential problems with fonts, colors and images by dragging the files into a Web browser and clicking a button. Good news: Preflight Online requires no special client software and is free to the end user. Instead of printers having to wait for files to arrive from customers in order to preflight them, the preflighting happens on-line as part of the file submission process.

The goal? Preflight Online was designed to improve preflight communication between customer and printer. Preflight Online addresses common problems associated with digital file submission by providing an automated system to screen files over the Internet—before they are submitted to the service provider—by generating an on-line report displayed in the user's Web browser. The report enumerates the problems that need fixing

The latest product from Enfocus is a new InDesign plug-in that tailors Enfocus PDF Checkup preflighting software for Adobe InDesign applications. Enfocus PitStop 4.0, meanwhile, posts preflighting in its capabilities roster, which includes interactive and native PDF editing and automated correction for PDF documents.

Ultimate Technographics recently released Flight Simulator 3, an automated PostScript and PDF flight checking solution that RIPs files with an Adobe PostScript 3 RIP. Flight Simulator can also emulate any RIP in a shop. It can test RIP PostScript and PDF files and view them with Ultimate RIPViewer on Mac or NT workstations. Ripped files and reports may also be distributed over the Internet.

And then there is EZ-PDF. Acquired Knowledge automatically creates PostScript files, launches and configures Acrobat Distiller based on predetermined printer specifications, and places a resulting PDF file into a user-selected folder—all in EZ-PDF. The company is also continuing to refine its QuickCheck preflighting software, designed to analyze and preview PostScript files in Macintosh environments.

Why is all this significant?

One word: Progress.

As the use of the Internet and PDF in publishing becomes more widespread, there is an increasing need for high-quality preflighting tools that can be used to check the quality and integrity of the files.

Ideally, files should be preflighted before they are submitted to a service provider, while they are still in the hands of the professionals who actually create the documents. But getting customers to purchase, install, configure and then actually use preflight software is a formidable task—if not impossible.

To solve this problem, Extensis has introduced Preflight Online, a technology that takes a completely new approach to preflighting—allowing PDF documents to be automatically preflighted over the Internet. With Preflight Online, document inspection happens right on a customer's own computer, without the installation of any special client software.

Preflight Online initially became available to the public this fall on, a new Internet resource for creative professionals involved in every phase of print and Internet production. Extensis reports the service will be expanded to support, not PDF, but a full range of page layout and graphics applications. Preflight Online offers: Web-based remote preflighting; full support for Abobe PDF, including documents created with Acrobat 3, Acrobat 4 and Adobe InDesign; inspection of more than 30 PDF-specific attributes using a customizable inspection profile; the ability to batch process multiple-file jobs with one click; and a Preflight Online browser plug-in that is self-configuring and performs inspections on local hard drives.

MarkzNet, Markzware's new Web-based preflight tool, preflights, collects, compresses, captures job ticket information and transmits native digital documents. MarkzNet can be used to send files from a creator to a service bureau or printer. Another application, for example, is creating an automatic document classification system on a corporate file server.

MarkzNet uses drag-and-drop tools to preflight digital files using a set of Markzware-coined "ground controls" that are dictated by the receiving side. This gives the receiver remote control over the condition of files allowed to be delivered through MarkzNet. After collecting job data—such as customer info, paper types, colors, urgency and other parameters, and running preflighting checks as defined by the receiver—MarkzNet automatically collects all additional necessary files, including fonts and images.

In addition, MarkzNet will include a TrueFile specification file with the job information as entered by the sender. All the needed files are then compressed into a single archive and sent directly to the receiver. The TrueFile specification file can be used at the receiving end for automatic routing of the incoming jobs. MarkzNet is a standalone application that runs on Macintosh or Windows platforms. It requires a browser and a network connection.

At Enfocus, Catherine McCarthy, North American business development manager, reports that the true production bonus with products such as PitStop is that service bureaus and other key customers for commercial printers can more readily deliver files needing minimum—or no—additional work to output correctly.

Enfocus PitStop 4.0 is a PDF production tool that combines preflighting with interactive and native PDF editing and automated correction capabilities for PDF documents. Fully integrated within Adobe Acrobat 4.0's document window, PitStop 4.0 can check, edit and automatically correct PDF documents in Adobe Acrobat seamlessly. Enfocus also manufactures DoubleCheck, a PostScript and PDF document verification and correction system designed to detect a broad range of problems that can impede successful file output.

"Our customers have been telling us that we achieved our goals with PitStop 4.0 to streamline PDF workflow and to make PDF workflow, itself, as simple and automatic as possible," McCarthy reports, adding that the PitStop Server, announced at Seybold San Francisco, fulfills preflight automation promises with a robust hot folder capability for batch preflighting, automatically executed action lists and fixing files according to preset profiles.

Acquired Knowledge offers QuickCheck—a preflighting program designed for the Macintosh platform, which previews and analyzes PostScript files for missing or embedded fonts and various color and separation red flags. The vendor was recently honored by the Digital Imaging Industry for EZ-PDF, Acquired's latest preflighting tool, designed strictly for PDF.

To use EZ-PDF, the user selects a EZ-PDF printer from the software's print dialog and then prints as normal. EZ-PDF automatically creates a PostScript file, launches and configures Acrobat Distiller based on the selected printer's PDF style and then places the resulting PDF file into a user-selected folder. EZ-PDF can e-mail or FTP the PDF file automatically.

Bottom line: While a number of effective desktop preflighting tools exist, one of the biggest headaches for commercial printers and service bureaus is that the preflight process typically happens much too late in the production cycle.

Although, to date, commercial printers cannot force customers to submit flawless files—or at least execute some degree of intelligent, fundamental preflighting before submitting any and all files—some solace can be taken in the knowledge that a new variety of preflighting solutions, teamed with the Internet, intend to make managing fonts, images and design intentions a little less troublesome.

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