Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Paper to Pixel to Paper Again Part 25

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A guide to creating the best looking line art in print in the new digital print world

Part 25
PDF and Preflight


This is the twenty-fifth (collect 'em all!) installment of Paper to Pixel to Paper Again, a series that explains (in an overly thorough manner) the how-to's of preparing line art (and later in the series, color art!) for print.

And as always, if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments!


Last week, we exported our layout document as a PDF. Now we're going to open it and make sure nothing else needs to be done before sending it off to our printer.

But first! If you've been following along with this series since the beginning, you might remember I talked about the 4K Dell monitor I've had for the past two years and how much it's impacted my work flow. Here's a prime example. In order to maximize my chances of catching any additional issues before the PDF is sent to print, I'm going to change the orientation of my 4K monitor to the orientation of the page itself.

In Windows 10, this is as simple as typing Display into the search options and selecting "Change Display Settings". Select the monitor that has rotational abilities, click Orientation drop-down menu, and then select Portrait. 

Some people might prefer to keep their monitor in this orientation all of the time, but I find the downsides outweigh the upsides, and I end up only using this orientation for this last bit of analysis before shipping the files off.

Here's what the screen looks like.

If you're used to seeing these files in Photoshop or Indesign, you'll probably notice how much detail you can perceive in Indesign that you couldn't in the other programs at this zoom level. This is because of the superior rendering/drawing algorithms used by Acrobat as opposed to the other programs. (I would guess that, as processing power continues to increase, the other programs might catch up, but we'll see. Yet another reason I keep the screen oriented horizontally while working in Photoshop--I can work zoomed in on one-third of a page at a time and get around the poorer scaling algorithm).

ANYway. Figure out how much you can zoom in and still comfortably take in the whole page (260 percent on my monitor). And then go to View-> Page Display-> Single Page View. In this view, you can scroll page by page with only your arrow keys—Down arrow to advance a page, Up arrow to retreat a page. 

Now take in your book, one page at a time, making notes of any additional cleanup or changes that need to be made. DON'T MAKE these changes now, just note them. If you try to change them WHILE you're "editing" everything, and you're a really detail-oriented person, you run the risk of putting yourself in an editorial feedback loop where every change you make begets new changes immediately. Just. Make. Notes. On paper. Of what's wrong, what needs to be done. with some kind of shorthand, ideally.

Mine usually looks something like the following—

pg 24 - CU B p1 [clean up the blacks in the first panel]
p 28 - BU p1 b3 [lettering is broken up in the first panel, third balloon]
p 38 - TONE p4 [something wrong with the tone in panel 4]

Don't hunt for things to be wrong, just identify improvements and make a list.

After you're done with the whole thing, we're going to make the changes you indicated, in your original layered Photoshop documents. And here's the sweet part—we'll automate the correction process.

So! Open up the Photoshop document that needs the first correction, then make it. THEN start recording a new Action on your Action panel. Name it something like "NameOfBook_bitmap_replacement". Then flatten your file, convert to bitmap (just as we did two installements ago), and then save it in your bitmap folder. Lastly, close your Photoshop document without saving it.

If your Action has been set up and recorded correctly, you should be able to use this Action on every new correction you make. Open up the layered document to be corrected, Save the changes. Then run your Action and the new bitmap will magically appear in the correct folder.

Once all of your changes are made, open up your Indesign layout file again. It'll ask you about files that have been updated. Click Re-link and magically all should be updated! You can export your newly-corrected PDF in its entirety.

Okay! Assuming all is now perfect in every way (cause this happens, right?), we're going to run one more test to make sure our files made it okay into our document.

We'll be using Acrobat's robust Preflight features, for something admittedly pretty shallow. I want to identify a few potential problems that might cause problems in our printing, especially if we happened to use mechanical tone in the artwork—

-Did we accidentally place any of our line art files as grayscale or color files instead of 1-bit images? (important because most printers set their raster image processors to deal with grayscale or color images differently than 1-bit bitmaps.)

-Did we accidentally scale any of our 1-bit bitmap images within Indesign? (less important if you're not using mechanical tone, but will cause severe moire if you are!)

-Did we accidentally downsample any of our line art images while exporting to PDF?

All of this can be accomplished fairly easily from the same menu. Click the arrow on the right border of the Acrobat screen to bring up the tools, go to the Search bar, and type in Preflight. Now click on the Preflight menu.

As I said, Acrobat has an extremely robust preflight capability, That's not what we need though! 

I used to write tools for Acrobat for my particular purposes, but they kept changing the Creative Cloud version of the program around without warning, making my carefully-crafted tools disappear or become obsolete. So now I just use one of the available settings.

Click on the magnifying glass (the middle of the three icons at the top of the window). Then click on the Image arrow to drop down the options. Far down on the list you'll see a preset called "Resolution of Bitmap Images is greater than 1000 ppi" (which should apply to ALL of your embedded bitmaps :)  )

So, no surprise, when you run it, you should get an error for every page, along with the resolution of every embedded bitmap, and a summary at the top. At a glance, this is all of the information that I need. How many pages? How many images? Any messed-up resolutions? An image accidentally scaled in Indesign would have a resolution other than the one you saved it as, as Indesign doesn't actually resample your image, only "scales" it in the sense of instructing the PDF container to display it at a different size. So an accidentally-scaled image would list a different resolution beside that particular image, making it easy to identify the error.

Last check—run "Resolution of color and grayscale images is greater than 300 ppi". If your document is supposed to only have 1-bit images, this will flag any images that were placed accidentally as grayscale or color images instead.

Did you pass your tests? Then it's time to deliver your PDF to your printer!

Next week: Working with printers, and more Alpha Flight jokes?

Sean Michael Robinson is a writer, artist, and musician. See more at

1 comment:

Mouse Skull Entertainment said...

Scrolling down, I got to the third image from the end, and stopped short and thought, "It's a trick. It's a trap. It's a trick. It's a trap. It's a trick..."