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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: InDesign to PDF and PDF to InDesign

It’s surprisingly easy to create an art file for a commercial printing job and then distill the file into a PDF while missing some errors that will wreak havoc with your final desired output.

For instance, you might include an image that is not of sufficiently high resolution. You might neglect to include fonts necessary for accurate printing of your job (you might even include corrupted fonts by accident). Or you might create a print job in the RGB color space (rather than the appropriate CMYK color space). It’s easy to do. You are focusing on the design and content of your project, and it’s easy to forget to check all of the myriad technical details required for accurate output.

Unfortunately, if these problems go undetected, you will be unhappy with your final commercial printing job.

Preflight Software in General

Therefore, over the years software developers (such as Adobe, Enfocus, and Markzware) have developed applications to both check and correct the most common prepress errors prior to the proofing and plating steps of offset lithography. FlightCheck is one of these “preflight” applications. Acrobat Pro and PitStop are two more. They have saved most designers some form of heartache.

Especially Helpful Characteristics of Preflight Software

Preflight software not only catches errors in the PDF files you send your printer; it also corrects them. For simple problems, this sidesteps the need for the printer to always ask you to make the corrections and resubmit the PDF art files. In many cases he can make the changes himself.

Preflight software can correct problems with a print job’s color space, missing and corrupted fonts, and low image resolution, among other things. It is even possible to do minor text editing within a PDF file (without needing to access the native InDesign file).

By not needing to return all problematic art files to the designers, printers can often avoid production delays and compromised schedules. Since the great proportion of art files submitted to printers contain one or more problems, this software can be a major asset.

Preflight software is a “plug-in.” This means a printer does not need to purchase an additional software package; rather, a small additional piece of software can be installed and then accessed through Adobe Acrobat to make the required corrections.

Some preflight software will check not only Adobe Acrobat PDFs but also native InDesign, Quark, Photoshop, and Illustrator files (and even some other file types as well).

Once the files have been preflighted, both you and your commercial printing provider can rest assured that your PDF files will generate press-ready printing plates.

What About Going the Other Way: From PDF to Native InDesign Files?

But what if you need to go the other way, from a PDF to an InDesign file? With all the focus on making press-ready PDFs from native InDesign files, there still is a need to create usable InDesign files from a PDF.

Here’s an example. A print brokering client of mine is producing a color swatch book for fashion and cosmetics. It is a bit like a commercial printing PMS book but for the fashion industry. My client will specify CMYK percentages for swatches printed on the front of each page and then typeset explanatory material for the back of each page.

From a design point of view, this seems easy. What makes this challenging is the following:

  1. There will be 16 separate “versions” of the color swatch books.
  2. Each version will include 60 specific colors. (Taking into account the introductory material for each book, and the front and back of each color swatch page, each version will consist of 126 pages.)
  3. Between 20 and100 copies of each version will be digitally printed on a Kodak NexPress or HP Indigo press.

That’s a total of 2,016 original book pages (16 versions x 126 pages).

My client has the prior year’s PDF of this job but not the native InDesign file. She has two choices. She can create all of the pages from scratch, or she can buy software that converts PDFs to other application formats, such as InDesign files.

Markzware provides such a product (PDF2DTP) and so does Recosoft (PDF2ID). Which one my client chooses will depend on her needs. My sense from reading the reviews is that some of these programs work better in certain situations while others work better in different situations. But the concept is sound, and these software packages are improving.

In my client’s case, this will allow her to start with the prior year’s PDF art files and end with editable InDesign files. My client can then adjust the color builds for the swatches and update the text.

This will save her a huge amount of work, even if she still has to do a lot of “tweaking.”

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

This can save you a huge amount of work if you’re in the same situation as my client. However, be forewarned. The native design files you will end up with after converting from PDFs to InDesign format will still need more or less tweaking. Do your own research online to find the strengths and weaknesses of each PDF-to-native-design-file converter before making your choice.

Based on my research, it seems that for longer projects these programs can actually create more work for you than starting from scratch. Apparently, some programs break the text into multiple unlinked (but still editable) text boxes rather than a series of connected text boxes with a single thread of copy. So they might not be great for books. However, if you’re doing what my client is doing—processing a huge number of originals in the same simple format—this could be the answer you’re looking for.

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