Acrobat Professional How-to: Preflighting

Acrobat 7 offers a wealth of options to preflight your PDF documents and gives you strong control over them pre-press wise. If you utilize these capabilities wisely, you will hardly have any problems once you send your files to press.

Print Production submenuPreflight your PDF document using the Print Production functions

Acrobat 6 Professional had a very good preflight function already which has been enhanced in version 7. You can look at and modify trapping settings, separations previews, convert spot colours to process and much more. All the preflight and pre-press functions are under the Tools>Print Production menu and we’ll explore most of them through several articles.

The Preflight Option

Acrobat’s preflight option is very thorough. You access it by going to Tools>Print Production>Preflight. Once you have initiated it, Acrobat Professional will look at the preflight profiles it has and then will present you with a list.

The first profiles, which are also in bold, are the ones that will scan your profiles to make sure your PDF meets all requirements for a specific printing environment–for example you have profiles that check if you PDF is suitable for CMYK sheet fed offset output (with or without spot colours), web offset output and so on. Those profiles will look for anything that could be a problem in those output conditions.

The profiles that follow the ones in bold, look for specific problems or characteristics such as non CMYK objects, hairlines, spot colours and so on.

To run on any of those profiles, you only need to select one and click on Execute. Adobe Acrobat will do the preflighting and will come up with the problems if there are any.

Preflight window showing problemsYou can trash this document as you will never get it to print properly on an offset press. This was a document created with the screen preset of InDesign and the results show it. (enlarged version)

Once the problems have been listed you can click on the + sign to see a further detailed list of the problems found. Double click on any of them and you will be brought to the point in the document where the problem is located.

You can also save a report of what Acrobat Professional has found in text, XML or PDF format. A very nice feature is also the ability to save comments where problems are in one click, by using the Comments button in the Preflight window. These ways of reporting errors are great for service bureaus who can return the document to the designer who will know exactly what to fix, though I think that sometimes the reports generated by Acrobat can be quite complicated.

If you are a designer and need a preflight profile that has to meet the needs of a particular print environment, yet the default profiles don’t quite cut it, you can of course add to and edit existing profiles by clicking on the Edit button on top of the Preflight window.

Other Preflight Options

Note that at the top of the Preflight window there is a drop down menu called Options. When you access it, you’ll see the functions I have already explained plus a few more, such as the option of removing the preflight comments or changing your preflight preferences, which include but are not limited to changing output intent (ISO, US, etc), and the amount details of the preflight reports.

An interesting function that can be find in the Options submenu is the Create Preflight Droplet. Once you preflight your file, with the preflight droplet you can tell Acrobat to move it in a folder if it succeeded or in another one if it didn’t, and you can also tell it what to do with the report file and whether you want one or not. For people like me who like to optimize speed in their workflow this is a nice and clever addition.

preflight droplet windowPreflight droplet window (enlarged version)

Before and After the Preflight

As a designer you hope you’ll never supply a file like the one I analyzed to a printing firm, though I purposely used the PDF in the example to show you how Acrobat deals with preflighting. The ideal is that there are no problems at all and the best way to achieve that is by preflighting your document in the original layout application and then preflight it again once it has been exported to PDF. If you find there are some problems with your PDF you can fix the original file and export it newly to PDF, but chances are the Acrobat 7’s new tools might be able to help you fix them right there and then.