By Carro Ford Whipping customer files into shape has always been a source of aggravation and bottlenecks, and probably always will be. March 8, 2004 -- When every job is different, and every hour counts, print professionals have no time to waste smoothing out rough spots in the workflow. Automation, product integration and streamlined processes go along way to helping print operations consistently deliver reliable output and content as quickly and efficiently as possible. But one thing remains a constant hassle. Whipping customer files into shape has always been a source of aggravation and bottlenecks, and probably always will be. Now with more color and variable-data applications, the “new work” of printing involves files and preparation more complex than anything before. File problems still appear nearly every day, and “the vast majority continue to be the same ones that have been kicking around since the beginning of desktop publishing: fonts, images, color, and resolution. Other common mistakes include images with the wrong resolution, spot colors versus process colors, RGB elements and overprint, and some overly complex or misused transparency,” notes Adobe Systems Product Marketing Manager Michelle Wohl. According to a Graphic Arts Technology Foundation (GATF) survey conducted in January 2002, among the 10 most common errors in client PDF files were: • Fonts not embedded • Wrong color space • Images missing • Overprint/trap issues “Before Adobe PDF became an accepted format for final output, the most common errors included missing fonts and images. Today, with the acceptance of PDF and better preflighting tools, these problems are less common,” Wohl says. Where's the Profit in Prepress? Most of the file prep work is actually done on the front end in prepress, but for commercial print providers, this still doesn't bode well for the balance sheet. Referencing the TWGA Printing Historical Database, Wohl of Adobe notes that prepress services are declining as sales opportunities for print firms. printers who have the best success with PDFs work with their customers to ensure they know how to create PDFs that will print correctly the first time. “Print production technicians spend a lot of time fixing improperly prepared files. This includes page size formatting, color conversions and many other tasks that require intensive manual interaction. Because the financial return on this type of work is significantly less than the profit resulting from running the press, it is better to resolve problems with files in prepress,” Wohl says. Anything that can help streamline and expedite and facilitate this step without adding greatly to cost and labor is a good thing. “The more work a designer can do to ensure reliable print output, the better for the printer's bottom line. Prepress makes money on output. “The majority of printers now accept Adobe PDF for final output, which can streamline printing processes. Adobe PDF provides a cross-platform compact file that includes all fonts and images. It cuts down on a number of late stage problems that can occur. Print providers are both accepting PDF files from customers as well as building complete internal print workflows based on Adobe PDF.” Still, it's just as easy to create an incorrect PDF as it is to create an InDesign or Quark document that won't print as intended. The printers who have the best success with PDFs work with their customers to ensure they know how to create PDFs that will print correctly the first time. Color It Complex As digital color technology becomes more widely adopted in the print-for-pay market, providers face the daunting tasks of prepping these files for production, and with color, the processes get far more complex. Creating reliable digital color output is becoming as much an art as the traditional coaxing and calibrating of venerable offset presses. Printers who have experience with only black and white digital output now are also learning about terms like hue, exclusion, saturation and luminosity. Things like “transparency” and “flattening” become important. Transparency in color work refers to effects in images such as drop shadows, blends or transparent type. These elements have to be “flattened” in order to be printed. Reams of material have been written on these two topics alone. New Tools for Old Problems Color or black and white, the goal is files that will output reliably and consistently. Vendors are responding by continually improving tools to help identify problems before they cause delays at press stage. “Tools must have robust preflight and conversion capabilities, and there are a variety of previewing and preflighting tools available to designers and print professionals,” Wohl notes. “As with any new tool or improved technology, there is first the need for education. Designers need to know what to expect from these new features, and printers need to keep up with these changes to provide the print output the designer expects,” she says. “Designers must be aware of how files are created to ensure proper output. Files containing transparency, overprint and colors need to be designed properly to output properly.” Beyond product and programs, Wohl says Adobe offers a wealth of education, technical and troubleshooting documents and guides created specifically for print service providers. The Adobe Solutions Network (ASN) provides printers with information and resources to help ensure reliable output from Adobe applications, and customers can find local printers in the ASN. In addition, best practices, education and resources are available at www.adobe.com/asnprint , including documents prepared specifically for designers and printers on how to create and output files using transparency. Getting files fit to print may just get easier every day.