Preflight navigation to identify problems before prepress

An introduction to preflighting using Adobe to ensure perfect files before Prepress 

There is an adage in the graphic communications industry that goes, “garbage in, garbage out”. Preached by every professional you meet, preflighting is the best defense against printing “garbage” files. The term originates from pilots’ “pre-flight” checklists and, as the name implies, is the process of carefully checking that the supplied digital data meets print standards before ink ever touches substrate.

In an ideal world the earlier a problem can be detected, the easier and cheaper it is to fix. While a veteran prepress operator can identify issues with a cursory glance of a PDF, this is not often the case for salespeople, customer service representatives (CSRs), or the general populace – the individuals who may first come into contact with the file. Costly, time consuming mistakes may have already been made by the time a project reaches a prepress operator.

The attributes a prepress operator watches for may vary in type and importance, depending on the final end product and printing process.  By using Adobe software, such as Adobe Acrobat Pro or Adobe Reader, there are a few universal elements that can easily be confirmed before a PDF file is submitted to the prepress department for scrutiny. The five elements I recommend anyone check before submitting a PDF are: bleed presence, trim size, colour space consistency, image resolution, and embedded typefaces. Problems with any of these elements can result in disastrous finishing, production, or quality issues with the final product.  

If a company can afford Adobe Acrobat Pro licenses, employees will be equipped with a true preflight champion with its Print Production tool panel. Tools such as Set Page Boxes recognize the trim size and bleed quickly, while Output Preview identifies colour separations and spot colours using its Separations filter. Likewise, its Object Inspection filter checks the colour space and image quality of any photos. However, for the preflight beginner, the most important tool is Preflight.

The Preflight panel packs a punch by utilizing canned preflight profiles to analyze numerous file attributes and identify problems.  These would include colour space, image quality, and typeface properties, with potential problems summarized in an easy-to-read Results report. For some of the basic errors, it also performs fix-ups, such as converting RGB to CMYK or colour files into grayscale. Every element of a profile can be edited and custom profiles created to check exacting specifications. The panel also provides the operator the ability to simply analyze using a single preflight criterion.

To streamline operations even more, a user can create an automated Preflight Droplet. This is a small application that will run a selected preflight inspection profile on one or more PDFs. By selecting a preferred preflight profile and choosing Options>Create Preflight Droplet, the droplet icon can be saved wherever the user chooses. It is then simply a matter of dragging a PDF on top of the icon to execute the document analysis.

Of less utility is Adobe Reader. Even though it has limited preflight capabilities, it is readily available to any consumer who downloads the free software. Although image resolution can only be visually inspected, it does have a very useful ruler tool. The file’s finished size can be confirmed by accessing Measure, under Edit>Manage Tools, and measuring between crop marks. To verify if a typeface is embedded, simply choose File>Properties>Fonts.

Preflighting is the cornerstone of any good workflow. With a little education on some of the basics (and the help of software), it is relatively easy for a salesperson, CSR, or customer to execute a quick, cursory preflight check before files are submitted. Screening a file for problems solidifies the expertise of staff, improves the quoting process because one can anticipate problems and price job specifications accurately, creates loyalty with customers by listing elements they need to fix before file submission, and expedites the job. A proper preflight ensures great results by throwing garbage files to the curb.