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Diving into Acrobat: Examine and Fix PDF Files with Acrobat Preflight

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Preparing a PDF file for some commercial purpose—in particular, for professional printing—can be a serious test of your aggravation gene. Are your fonts all embedded? Are all your colors and images CMYK? Are your line widths thick enough to reproduce on a four-color press? Are you sure? Acrobat expert John Deubert explains how Acrobat X’s preflight feature can minimize the number of sarcastic messages you get from the printing company. Not only can it look for common problems in your PDF file; in many cases, it can fix those problems!

If you don’t create PDF files for professional printing, you have no idea the fun you’re missing. (Insert heavy-sarcasm emoticon here.) The PDF document that you send to the print service has, at a conservative count, about 13,286 (some say 13,287) things that can go wrong with them that will make them print badly: missing fonts, RGB images, line art with hairlines that mysteriously disappear, and on and on (and on!).

This problem has spawned a class of software known as preflight utilities, whose purpose is to examine a file (PostScript originally, though almost entirely PDF these days) and determine what might go wrong with it if you send it to a print service. Enfocus, OneVision, and Markzware, to name three, have fine products that do an excellent job of analyzing PDF files for possible problems. All of these do something more, as well: If they discover a problem with the file, they can often times fix the problem. A font is missing? They’ll embed it in the PDF file. An image uses RGB colors? The preflight software will convert it to CMYK.

Pretty nifty.

As it turns out, Acrobat has a very capable, built-in preflight feature and, like the add-on utilities, it can fix many of the problems it encounters. You should get to know it before you looking at other, outside utilities.

Finding It

The first question you’ll want to answer regarding Acrobat X’s preflight feature is: where the heck is it? It’s not among the menus; it’s not anywhere in the Tools pane, at least at first. It’s hidden by default. Part of Adobe’s design philosophy for Acrobat X is that anything that is used by only a fraction of the population should be hidden from view so that it doesn’t clutter up the screen. (I heartily agree with this philosophy, by the way!)

Before we can preflight a PDF file, we need to add the feature to the Tools pane. Preflight lives in the Print Production panel. To add that panel to the Tools pane, we need to click on the tiny menu at the top of the pane and select Print Production in the resulting drop-down menu (Figure 1). The Print Production panel will immediately appear in your Tools pane (Figure 2); toward the top of this panel is our topic for the day: the Preflight tool (also Figure 2).

Figure 1 You must explicitly add the Print Production panel to the Tools pane in order to use the Preflight feature.

Figure 2 To preflight your PDF file, start by clicking on the Preflight button in the Print Production panel.

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