PREFLIGHTING -- Getting a Fix on Files
BY MARK SMITH
Like digital cockroaches, file errors have threatened to infest electronic prepress operations since the first job was sent to a RIP. Problems caused by missing fonts or photos, RGB colors, improper transformations, etc., persist despite the industry's best efforts to eradicate them.
What makes the situation so frustrating is that there's a ready solution for eliminating these bugs—just get clients to prepare their print files correctly—and processing bottlenecks will become extinct. Given that the digital revolution is more than a decade old and receiving bad files still is a top industry complaint, that doesn't seem likely to happen any time soon. Rather than fading away, the problem is becoming more acute. With the move to all-digital workflows, having clean files becomes a must.
The adoption of PDF-based workflows was supposed to provide relief, but instead has actually made the problem more complex in some ways. Now there's a whole new crop of tools that have been designed just to address the issue of preparing proper PDF files. Other development efforts have focused on bringing preflight responsibility back to the job originator, where it rightly belongs and where the fixes are easiest to make. Internet-based solutions are prime examples of this trend. At the same time, professional grade tools are being enhanced to provide more detailed analysis of files and greater automation of the inspection and correction processes.
Some of these developments are reflected in new preflight product introductions slated for PRINT 01 or later in the year.
Markzware Inc. reports it is preparing to launch FlightCheck Vision, which will offer a greater depth of file inspection and enable users to implement an automated preflight workflow. At the application's core is a relational database—called MarkzONE—that records all of the intricate details of a file.
For example, it can identify all the RGB TIFFs placed in a document, list the colors used on specific page, or find a box rotated more than eight degrees. The database can then be searched with simple or advanced queries about the job in order to pinpoint problems that could stop production.
The automated workflow feature allows users to specify how documents are to be scanned. Once preflighting is completed, the originating application is then launched so a PostScript file can be output to the folder "watched" by Acrobat Distiller, which automatically writes a PDF file.
The preflight software currently handles QuarkXPress, PageMaker, Illustrator, Freehand, Microsoft Word, Photoshop and Multi-Ad Creator application files, as well as PDF and PostScript. It generates on-screen and/or printable reports that can be customized to show any depth of information desired. Alternatively, the Vision Viewer function enables report screens to be shared via a Viewer file that can be reviewed as a run-time display.
FlightCheck Vision is said to be intended for use as a high-end professional preflighting tool and is expected to sell for $599. The company says it is striving to make the application commercially available either in the fourth quarter of 2001 or the first quarter of 2002. Vision will not be replacing any existing product. (www.markzware.com)
Enfocus Software is extending its core technologies, including Certified PDF, further toward the document creator with the introduction of Instant PDF 2.0, slated for introduction at PRINT 01. The application basically is a combination of the Certify PDF and EZ-PDF (which Enfocus acquired from Acquired Knowledge) applications, and will replace both, according to Vicki Blake, director of business development.
One of the key upgrades is an expansion of the software's auto-correction capabilities. The application's feature set was still being finalized when this article was written, but the number of checks offering an auto-fix option is expected to be an "order of magnitude greater," Blake says.
The core of the application is the Enfocus PDF Profile, which specifies the proper parameters and file attributes for a workflow. The PDF Profile concept also is being incorporated into the company's PitStop PDF professional preflighting products, which have the capability to generate actual profiles. The intent is for the printer/prepress operation to provide a profile to the job creator for use with Instant PDF to direct the file checks and fixes that are performed. The PDF Profile also functions as an Acrobat Distiller helper application by generating the proper settings for use in writing the PDF file.
Enfocus' Certified PDF technology is fully implemented in Instant PDF and the latest versions of the PitStop products, Blake notes. This means that the PDF Profile and results of any preflight analysis are attached to the PDF file itself. As a result, a file can be automatically rechecked after it is edited and the file receiver can verify it has been successfully preflighted. In addition, a detailed log is kept of all changes made to a PDF document and by which user. A "roll back" feature enables users to revert back to a snapshot of the file at any early stage of production.
Instant PDF can process PDF-X 1a and 3 files, as well as standard PDFs. Final pricing was yet to be set, but is expected to be in the same range as Certify PDF, which retailed for $249. (www.enfocus.com)
Three Different Views
Currently in beta testing, Callas Software's pdfInspektor2 reportedly analyzes PDF files based on more than 400 criteria. The application ships with preflight profile templates, but users can also create their own XML-based profiles to match specific workflows.
The software offers three different views of the potential problems it identifies. The first is a conventional preflight report with detailed problem descriptions. As an alternative, the Breakout function creates a report for each page, displaying each non-conforming element together with a succinct description of what is wrong with it. Thirdly, users can visually review individual problematic elements in an inspection window via the Snap feature.
The base version of pdfInspektor2 will sell for $149. The Platinum Edition, selling for $349, adds correction features to the standard preflighting capabilities. Auto Edition ($749) can be teamed with Callas' AutoPilot to build automated workflows. (www.callassoftware.com)
Earlier in the year, Markzware released FlightCheck Classic v4.0 for the Macintosh, which offers added support for Microsoft Word files and greater depth and flexibility in its Ground Control preflight settings. The application can now process Version 4-9 (Office 2001) Word files from both the Mac and PC/Windows platforms. Its four new Ground Controls provide the capability to report on the use of application-generated clipping paths, ICC profiles, PostScript color management and ink density values.
In addition, the upgrade features 70 new "views" on the Views Palette, which essentially correlate to the Ground Controls for color, font and image usage. Also, a "Next Problem" button has been added to the Problems Layout so users can locate the next occurrence of any problem based on the currently selected criteria. The full version of FlightCheck Classic sells for $399.
Extensis Products Group, meanwhile, has upgraded its Preflight Pro application to Version 2.2, which inspects files (singly or in project groups) based on customizable output profiles. The profiles also are used to generate PDFs by customizing Distiller settings. The application's flexible report feature enables users to view analysis results for the entire job or any combination of files, pages and elements. Alternatively, the Pilot feature will highlight each problem individually, suggest intelligent solutions and give the user the option to immediately fix the problem.
The Mac OS software features a collect function that pulls together all elements of a job and compresses the files into archives for quick and easy transfer. The full purchase price is $399.95. (www.extensis.com)
Flying by Wire
Markzware and Extensis also continue to up the ante in Internet-based preflighting solutions. Markzware launched MarkzNet, its Internet-based client/server system for preflighting native-document, PDF and PostScript files. Extensis shot back by adding support for QuarkXPress (4.x and Passport) documents to its previously established Preflight Online file inspection service.
The two solutions have a number of similarities, but one very central difference in approach. MarkzNet is a software solution that is installed and maintained on the print provider's Web server. Preflight Online is a subscriber-based service that operates on the ASP (application service provider) model.
Both systems use a Web-browser interface and conduct the actual file inspection on the job creator's (designer's) local computer. Only a small text file is passed between the server and the client site, thereby eliminating any potential concerns about security or access bandwidth.
MarkzNet checks digital files against a customized set of Ground Controls defined by the receiver (printer/prepress operation) and contained in a TrueFile Specification (.tfs) file. The sender is automatically notified of required corrections before the job is transmitted and instantly receives confirmation when it is accepted. TrueFile technology also makes it possible for the customer identity and job ticket information to be passed to third-party applications.
MarkzNet's suggested retail price is $15,000—plus an annual $1,500 fee for maintenance and upgrades—which includes server software and unlimited client software seats. No transaction fees are charged.
Preflight Online uses a free browser plug-in that is self-configuring and auto updating, so new features and file format support become instantly available when added to the Web server software. Once a client has preflighted a file, the report can be accessed by the printer/prepress operation before the job is submitted.
A new subscriber to Preflight Online is charged a $6,000 setup fee and then pays for each file submitted using its setup and plug-in. The standard fee is 95¢ per file, but volume pricing is available.
As good as the tools are getting, fixing file errors remains a stop-gap measure. The ideal solution would be to wipe out these bugs at the source, so they never make it into files. Hopefully, that won't require killing off all the creators of bad files. Getting them more involved in preflighting may be the right first step, since people don't like to make work for themselves.