Droplet like it’s hot

As a prepress operator, a great deal of my time is spent making sure that artwork supplied by clients will print without any prepress issues. Given that most client-supplied files are PDFs, a great deal of my time is spent in Adobe Acrobat checking the files using the print production tools and an invaluable plug-in called Enfocus Pitstop Professional.

While I’ve given the Adobe Acrobat team plenty of grief over my last few blog posts, I do have to sing their praises over a rather massive feature that – for me at least – has gone unnoticed since its inception in Acrobat 7 – preflight droplets.

What is a droplet?

A droplet acts as a “hot folder” that – once a PDF is dragged onto it –  will run a preflight profile on that PDF.

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This works for one or many PDFs. I first learned of this feature from this Jean-Claude Tremblay’s post to an InDesignSecrets article about using the preflight feature to convert a file to outlines, rather than using InDesign-based methods. That said, the droplets feature has been available since at least 2007!

Making a droplet is simple. While in the print production panel of Adobe Acrobat, click the preflight button, and in the new dialog box, select Create Droplet… from the Options button.

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The next dialog box will ask what preflight profile to use, where success/failed PDFs should be processed to, and if a summary PDF needs to be created of each file.

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Many of the built-in preflight profiles either force compliance to one of the PDF/X standards, or analyse a PDF and report the errors that were encountered. However, it is the custom fixup portion that may interest readers in a production role. To see where this can be found, click the Edit Profiles… selection from the Options button of the preflight dialog box.

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Underneath the warnings and standards compliance, there is a section titled custom fixups.

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In this panel is a plethora of changes that Acrobat can make to an entire document to fix common preflight issues such as:

  • Faux blacks
  • White overprint, or other colours that should knockout instead of overprint
  • Black instead of Registration
  • Remove trim marks and take back to 3mm bleed
  • Make pantone spot color names consistent

In addition, it is possible to make your own custom fixups rather than use the built-in ones. Click the add button to add your own fixup.

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It is also possible to drill down even further in the editing by clicking additional edit buttons.

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This allows for further variables to be made.

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Usually, many of these changes would be done using Enfocus Pitstop Professional’s action lists or global changes, but with the creation of an appropriate preflight droplet, not only can they be done without the Enfocus Pitstop Professional plug-in, they can also be done without opening the PDF.

Wouldn’t use it as a catch-all

It would be great to have one preflight that will catch all scenarios and fix the PDFs so that all that needs to be done is make sure the content is right and that the art is fit for its purpose… but because there are so many edge-cases that I deal with, it is more appropriate to make a “catch-most” preflight for common errors such as the ones mentioned earlier.

It can be confusing

With so many options to choose from, it can also be very confusing and – at times – frustrating, especially when some custom fixups contradict each other with no way of being able to sort out what one should go first.

Some of the commands are also not so intuitive. One instruction that I wanted to use – that was to make any object that wasn’t 100% black to knock out – wasn’t where I thought it would be.

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It took hours of trial and error to realise that the color range to select was Gray Object (black below 96%) is set to overprint… but who would know with the other options that appear to make more sense?

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It’s not a magic bullet

That’s not to imply that the Enfocus Pitstop Professional plug-in isn’t necessary – it is an absolute must for prepress operators. Preflight droplets complement the Enfocus plug-in, saving hours of time manually scanning a PDF looking for “the usual suspects” and allow PDFs in a workflow to be “normalised” for colour profile, trim/bleed size, appropriate overprints and knockouts as required, etc.

There are some fixups that work better using the Enfocus Pitstop plug-in, such as the generate bleed action. When run as a custom fixup via Acrobat preflight, it only adds bleeds to rendered art, and usually by scaling it. The Enfocus pitstop plug-in is more versatile in that it will apply to both vector and raster images, and bleed off appropriate edges only.

Importantly, the preflight fixups won’t be able to make content-related changes, such as fixing typographical errors or moving artwork away from a trim-edge… these changes have to be made with manual intervention using the Enfocus tools.

Lastly, preflight droplets are not a substitute for a skilled prepress operator examining a file, given that droplets cannot:

  • Ensure that artwork will fold correctly or be suitable for their intended purpose;
  • Confirm that the artwork is the correct version supplied by the client;
  • Understand the context of the content such as spelling, grammar or “design features”.
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