Print File Preflight: Digital and Direct PDF Printing with FlightCheck

Digital and direct PDF printing with FlightCheck, Markzware’s pre press software to check digital files for print file preflight:

Markzware develops FlightCheck, the patented preflight technology to check documents in many file formats, including Adobe InDesign, for print quality assurance for direct PDF printing and more. FlightCheck scans documents thoroughly and provides a detailed preflight report to ensure that documents print properly.

Wow – it has been many years since I (Patrick Marchese) worked as a print production manager for a large advertising agency in California. Computer-To-Plate (CTP) was starting to garner industry buzz, and in my role, I had to best determine how to take creative digital files, produce them internally and ensure that once they were sent off to the printer or a publication, for example, they would work – meaning, they would render on press the way we expected them to and our clients, the advertisers, were pleased with the results. Seemed like a simple enough challenge at the time, but what I soon discovered was that it was anything but.

It wasn’t as though the process was any more difficult than it was back in the “days of film.” At the agency, we had art directors who were mocking up layouts on boards that were turned over to me for recreation in QuarkXPress. After working with the art directors and others within the agency to make final tweaks to the ads, I then had to provide them with the assurance that what I was creating digitally would reproduce in the manner they expected, having the best print quality  and would result in quality image printing. The only real difference in the workflow of “those good old days” and today is that we are no longer shipping film – and that is a great thing. FlightCheck warns of potential printing problems before digital printing.

However, even though a lot of the processes were the same, accountability for the success or failure of the final print result was shifting. While in the days of film, it may have been the primary responsibility of the prepress supplier or printer to make sure the final results were accurate and optimal, in the days of digital file exchange, it’s a whole new ballgame. And anyone who wants to be able to hit the home run out of the park has to realize that it’s no longer only prepress and print suppliers who have to accept accountability. These days, more than ever, the print buyer and digital file creator assume just as much responsibility as their manufacturing partners for quality control of direct PDF printing and more. FlightCheck makes print quality control easy.

It’s one of the reasons why I got out of the ad production game and decided to create a software tool that would alleviate some of the headaches of digital file workflows and make it increasingly easier for print buyers and production professionals to ensure that the documents leaving their shops were in tact, had integrity and would produce in the manner that was expected of them. And with the help of my partner, Ron Crandall, Markzware was born, FlightCheck grew in popularity, and we became widely known in the print industry as the preflight company.

Preflight with Markzware FlightCheck, preflighting software for prepress

FlightCheck can thoroughly preflight print files in Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, QuarkXPress,
and many more file types in prepress to ensure print quality

Preflight and postflight: Defining the terms
The term “preflight” has been adopted by the graphic arts community as the blanket or umbrella term that refers to file checking at any stage of the workflow. FlightCheck solves the essential need to verify file integrity at several points in the process (creative, production, prepress), and it is helpful to distinguish these quality control checkpoints with terminology that, in fact, reflects when and why the file is being checked.

At Markzware, we’ve always considered the term “preflight” to be specific to the creative process, when digital files are in their native application form. FlightCheck handles preflight. “Postflight,” however, is a subset of preflighting that refers specifically to file verification that occurs, for example, after the prepress file (usually a PDF) has been created and is used to drive prepress processes, such as digital contract proofing, platesetting or digital printing. FlightCheck can also postflight PDF files for direct PDF printing. Distinguishing between preflight and postflight ensures that print buyers and their manufacturing parters are clear about when in the workflow quality control should take place. Markzware offers FlightCheck, our flagship application that can both preflight native application files and postflight PDF files for direct PDF printing.

Why do we need to verify digital files at more than one point in the workflow? Some may argue this is a redundancy that digital production and CTP was supposed to alleviate. Similarly, many print buyers and production professionals say, “Why do I need to preflight? I just send my digital files over to the printer. They’re going to check them there anyway.”

Digital and Direct PDF Printing with FlightCheck
Markzware FlightCheck 7 Mac Images Ground Controls ExpandedGround Controls in FlightCheck, pre press software for print file preflight

Point noted, but we mustn’t minimize the impact to deadlines and the bottom line if a printer receives a problematic file. Consider this analogy: When traveling by plane, particularly these days, each passenger expects to wait in long queues at the single security checkpoint that stands between the terminal and the gate. If there were several smaller checkpoints along the path to boarding the plane, long lines could be minimized or eliminated.

While no two digital workflows are alike, there are some commonalities, and to illustrate my point, let’s take a look at a typical print buyer/printer relationship. At the customer’s site, you may have an art director who is pulling elements from a variety of sources (images, logos, copy, etc.) and compiling them into a QuarkXPress or InDesign document. FlightCheck handles these file formats and many more. Once the creative forces and others have approved the final page, that native application file is then destined for the printer (presumably, not hopefully, along with a digital proof that represents that file).

At the printer, the file is then manipulated – and sometimes altered in any number of ways. The printer may apply things like trapping, make textual changes to the document on the customer’s behalf or RIP the file to the type of file format they need to drive their own proofing and plate setting processes. If the original native application file sent from the print buyer to the printer is flawless – if all the elements are in lace, fonts are embedded, graphics are all CMYK and resolution is high – this workflow should be relatively seamless, and the file will move through each of the stages without setbacks.

That’s the ideal preflight process. Now, let’s look at the real world. In the past few years, printers have noted that their customers are certainly becoming more adept at preparing digital files, but still some report that more than 80 percent, including both native application and PDF files,they receive from customers are flawed in some way. If you think about it, that’s an extraordinary percentage of bad files being passed around – poorly prepared documents that cost the print buyers both time and money to remedy.

While PDF has been lauded as the print industry savior, remember this: If flaws are resident are in the native application, they will remain in the PDF, as well. Simply taking your native application to a PDF  and direct PDF printing does not ensure that these problems will be remedied.

So, yes, most printers will happily accept your digital files – good, bad or otherwise – and they’ll happily run it through preflight, make fixes and changes, convert it, postflight the new file and send it on its merry way to the plate setter or digital press. But, remember, there’s a cost for this. Not only are you paying the printer to find and fix these errors, there is the potential cost of missed press schedules and distribution deadlines. It’s really a no brainer: Send your printer a bad file, and accept the costs and risks of doing so. Thank goodness for FlightCheck.

Quality control mustn’t be a print buyer’s afterthought. Preflight and postflight technologies are readily available, inexpensive to buy and easy to apply to the creative and in-house production workflow. Why take the risk?

FlightCheck is the standard preflight solution for affordable print quality assurance, available via the FlightCheck page. Try the free FlightCheck demo today and see how thoroughly FlightCheck can preflight Adobe InDesign files and more. Check out more printing solutions on the Markzware Products page.

Print File Preflight: Digital and Direct PDF Printing with FlightCheck

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