What Is Pre-flighting in Print?
You wouldn’t want your pilot to simply drive down the runway without making sure the plane was ready to fly. Similarly, you wouldn’t want to send your file to print without verifying that it was ready to go. Pre-flighting is an important step in the printing process that prevents costly errors. Pre-flighting helps us ensure a timely delivery of your final product.
What Is Pre-Flighting in Print?
The plane analogy is appropriate because civil air flights are what inspired the term pre-flighting in the first place. Pilots have a checklist to go over to make sure that their plane is ready to fly. Similarly, printers have adopted a checklist to review before sending a file to the printer.
The simple act of checking a list might not seem like such an important part of printing, but it is essential. Presses are designed for high volume operation, meaning that by the time an error has been detected, hundreds or even thousands of copies have been printed. That is a major waste of time and money.
Ultimately, errors make the printing process are expensive, and that cost will eventually be passed down to the consumer. We strive to avoid that at Dollco by strictly following our pre-flight rules. But just what types of problems do we avoid?
Issues That Pre-Flighting Solves
At home, your list of things to check before you print is usually not much more than seeing if there is paper in the tray. You might glance at your ink levels. But at a commercial printer, with complex machines and advanced workflows, there are so many more variables to consider.
Each step in the process is one place where something could go wrong. Our pre-flighting process is aimed at ensuring that there are no errors during printing.
File Compatibility With Printers
Speaking of printers, did you know that not all files can be printed on every machine? Although PDF files are the most common ones used in print today, even these must be carefully made in order to ensure compatibility. The file you send to print must be processed by a Raster-Image Processor, or RIP.
Some RIPs are incompatible with certain PDF versions, don’t accept every feature that PDFs have, and can be finicky with certain printers. Sending a bad PDF can result in botched prints, so we always make sure that the files we receive from outside are converted into a compatible format.
Our pre-press department builds files by combining assets, or images. While we keep all of our assets on a central server to avoid missing files or corruption, mistakes can still be made.
Suppose a client has requested an image change on page 4 of their booklet. We go ahead and make the change, but then something happens with the server and we are forced to restore from a backup. That backup may be linked to the old image, which is now deleted.
An operator quickly scanning the job to send it to the printer might not notice this problem without the pre-flight checklist. Keeping a log of changes to the job makes it easier to find issues like these.
Fonts are another troublesome asset. This is especially true whenever we have to work in a language outside of English. Other languages often include special characters or symbols that we don’t use, and our software may not support them natively.
It’s important for us to make sure that the font files are available on the machine that creates the final PDF for print. Fonts have to be installed on every machine that uses the layout files. Failure to have good fonts can lead to a printout that looks like the ramblings of a bad computer program.
Sizing and Fitting
One of the most important parts of the checklist is the size of the document. The size needs to be compatible with the printer, and cut marks need to be precisely applied. Without this information, our machines won’t know how to separate the long sheets of paper into individual documents.
Within the page itself, it’s important to make sure that all the text fits where it is supposed to go. Similarly, images need to fit their boundaries and be scaled correctly. A simple miss-click in production can cause an image to come out distorted or text to overflow onto a page that shouldn’t exist.
In printing, sometimes it’s important to make a certain color stand out. To do this, a printer will make a pass over the paper exclusively printing that one color, ensuring its consistency and quality. These are called spot colors.
If your document uses spot colors, then it’s very important for us to verify that the document’s settings are correct. By default, many designs use spot colors but then transform them to regular CMYK (that’s Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black: the four print colors).
Using spot colors also means that we may have to make adjustments to the printers themselves. Spot inks, for instance, may need to be installed. Nevertheless, nothing makes your color more iconic than spot color.
How to Pre-Flight a Document
If you want to do your own pre-flighting, it’s actually quite easy for you to do this on a normal printer.. Most documents should be made in Adobe InDesign, which has tools to help you identify possible errors. Just open up a document in InDesign to get started.
Pre-Flight in Adobe
Go to the Window menu and hover over the Output option. You can then select preflight from the drop-down menu. This will let you know if there are any issues with your document, and it will even tell you where to find those problems.
Adobe’s Preflight scanner checks for text that has overflowed, missing assets, and font problems. It can also recommend moving items that may get cut off in printing if you have assets near or beyond the cut marks.
Checking Your Printer
Once you are certain your document is ready to go, check your printer. Make sure paper is correctly loaded and that you have enough ink for the job. If you haven’t used the printer in a while, you may want to do a little maintenance.
For instance, you can run the head cleaning tool to remove some of the dried ink and debris from the print heads. You can also perform a realignment to make sure that no bands or stray lines appear in your print. Perform this maintenance regularly to ensure optimal results.
When you’re ready, export your PDF in InDesign and print it out.
Trust the Experts
At Dollco, we have seen it all. We know how to navigate the minefield that printing can be. Regardless of the size or complexity of your project, we’ll get it done. Call Dollco Print Solutions of Ottawa, Ontario or contact us online if you’re interested in having a professional print operator evaluate your needs. We’re ready to make your vision come to life. We’ll take care of every step, including pre-flighting, so that you can focus on what really matters: your business.