Preflighting takes off

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Computer-to-plate continues to shake up the production world, years after its inception. Preflighting, or checking to make sure digital files are clean enough to go through the printing cycle, is the latest part of the production process to come to the forefront, spurred on by the fact that many publishers are sending their ads and edit to printers as PDFs.

"Customers are realizing that by having a cleaner and more streamlined file, it's going to be less costly on both the time and money parts of the equation," said Jayson Hansen, direct marketing team coach at printer Banta Publications Group.

Among the problems preflighting can uncover are: missing fonts, unstable fonts, improper font styling, image-resolution issues, unlinked image files, darkening of colors on the press and overlapping colors.

The two main preflighting software programs used by publishers are Enfocus' Pitstop Server and Markzware FlightCheck. Both have various levels of programs designed for different publishing needs.

"Even within one organization, different types of preflighting systems are set up," said Karen Palmieri, VP-manufacturing and distribution at VNU Business Media. "It's extremely important to tailor your program to your specific company's needs. VNU's dailies certainly don't need the same type of program that its monthlies use."

VNU generally has its dailies preflighted internally while its monthlies are handled out-of-house. Palmieri noted that preflighting was once primarily regarded as a function best handled externally but that now publishers should bring it back in-house if it makes financial sense to the titles involved. "People's skill sets have changed a lot in recent years," she said, "and it's likely you have someone on staff who can do it." The latest versions of Quark and InDesign include preflighting tools, so publishers should consider those as a possible way to save money, said Don Johnson, a workflow specialist at Banta.

One question publishers should ask themselves is at what point in the work flow do they want to preflight.

"You can have a separate group preflight pages while the files continue through the process, but that can slow things down as well," Johnson said. "It's best to build it into the actual work flow at some point."

Palmieri agrees. "I can't tell you how many publishers I've heard of who preflight their pages more than once," she said. "It's not intentional and it costs them time and/or money."

The communication of problems to the client is probably the most difficult part of the process for those in the production world. "The toughest component is the customer not being sure how to interpret an error message," said Andy Bear, business development manager at Banta.

Robert C. Adams, group VP-technology, manufacturing and circulation at Crain Communications, which publishes Media Business, said he hopes the future brings a program that automatically preflights ads that agencies and clients send in and then bounces back a checklist of mistakes that need to be fixed. "That would save our people so much time," he said. "Of course, that would only work if the agencies read the checklist."

Kathy Kuehling, manager of digital prepress for Advanstar Communications, agreed. "There are currently preflighting programs that allow you to build Web sites for specific clients," she said. "The client can find his or her file's problems listed there, but most ad agencies aren't interested in looking at that. They're waiting for our call."

For that reason, Kuehling stresses the importance of publishers' educating ad agencies and advertisers about how the process works. "No matter how streamlined you become internally," she said, "you'll never get all the kinks out of the system without including everyone-even the ad agencies-in the process." M

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