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Proactive Preflighting

October 1999

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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