Schools Navigate Preflight Software for Smooth, Accurate Printing

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The generation raised on MTV, cell phones and computers is not truly prepared to embark on a career in printing. They have a different view of the printed page and the craft that g'es into creating it. Their main point of reference is the computer screen, and, for the most part, the techniques used to create attractive print pieces are lost on them. Many print schools report that it is hard to recruit new students to learn the print process. Those students who do choose print as a career do not know some basic fundamentals of print, such as what CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) means and its relationship to four-color offset printing.

This new generation of tech-savvy students creates content on their computers, then sends digital files to a printer or other service provider. This has made it paramount that the print or service provider engages in preflight activities. However, the real key is to teach preflight techniques to students so that they can send better and more accurate documents to their service provider, which saves both time and money. Preflighting documents before print ensures that the final output of the project will run smoothly and accurately.

Industry-Tested Tool

Currently, one of the top schools teaching print and graphics is the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York. RIT Professor Michael Kleper says: “Preflighting has become an essential step in the preparation of files for their journey through a digital work flow. Anyone involved in any aspect of a premedia operation must be able to locate and correct errors in a digital file as early in the work flow as possible. The further that an error-laden file progresses through the work flow, the more costly it is to make corrections.” In the RIT School of Print Media all of the workstations have Markzware FlightCheck installed, providing every student with an essential industry-tested tool that helps to locate potential problems before they enter the production cycle, according to Kleper.

Preflighting plays an important part of several RIT courses. “This quarter I have been teaching a graduate online course called Digital Printing and Publishing. We use an online preflight tool called PrintFlight (offered by Printable Technologies, which is powered by Markzware) so that off-campus students have the benefit of a preflight software engine,” says Kleper. He also believes that preflighting is a valuable course requirement: “Our intent is to educate students who are able to manage print media operations that are successful, and that embody effective and efficient production. Preflight software is one important element in the digital job engineering process.”

Missing Pieces

Graphics industry software utility programs such as FlightCheck can be used to check designs and teach how to follow the basic rules of print production. A systematic check of your files before they go to a print vendor or are printed at your own institution is the best way to ensure error-free output. Once a layout has been created using QuarkXPress, Adobe PageMaker, Adobe InDesign, Microsoft Word or most other desktop publishing programs, you simply drag the files to the program to be checked for a number of trouble spots, which you can program into FlightCheck or let the program run automatically. This software is a critical component in the design and production process. After the file is checked, a report is generated telling you or your vendor if there are any problems, then allowing for corrections to be made before costly film or plates are created.

The biggest complaint from print vendors is that there are often missing pieces — images that are not linked to a file — or missing fonts. After ensuring that the file has the greatest integrity, meaning that it will print with potentially no graphical errors, the program’s collection feature assembles all of the elements used to create the document into one folder. Then, the folder collects all of the document’s images, as well as its screen and printer fonts, notifying the printer that all of the digital pieces will link together to re-create the digital file at the print facility. For an institution printing its own mailers or flyers, this file is helpful in organizing the content. It also confirms when the piece will be printed, so time is not wasted searching for missing elements. Before digital files and “collect” options existed, a production manager would routinely check to see if all four pieces of film were present and that each appeared correctly.

Avoiding Problems

At The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Media Arts Department Chairman Harris Fogel is a strong believer in teaching preflight. He uses FlightCheck as a tool to help students look at and understand their files, and to make certain they are ready for printing. His class recently printed a 96-page four-color catalog for the senior photography students. The students raised the money themselves and, through a friend of a faculty member, had the job printed in Shanghai, China.

But the time frame was short, and the class didn’t have time for a full set of proofs. So, the students each turned in their QuarkXPress layouts, then integrated those into a master file for the printer. “I’m not exaggerating that it was 100% unprintable when we received the files from the 38 students,” says Fogel. The class used FlightCheck and caught hundreds of errors, none of which showed up in the color-laser proofs. Because of FlightCheck, the catalog was printed on time, on schedule and with only a few minor problems; which, had the class opted for the full set of proofs, they could have corrected. “The best part is that by preflighting the job, we not only saved money, saved on delays and mistakes,” says Fogel, “but we also educated all of the folks involved as to just how complicated a print job can be, as well as how to avoid problems in the future.”

Ken Spears
Publisher, CrossMedia Magazine

Contact Information
Markzware Inc.
Santa Ana, CA
(800) 300-3532
www.markzware.com

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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