PDF In-Depth

PitStop Professional 6: Preflighting with Panache

January 20, 2004


Prepping PDF files for press -- also known as preflighting -- is an essential step of the publishing process. But if you want your preflight software to do more than just check for missing fonts and graphics in PDFs, take a look at Enfocus PitStop Professional 6.0.

Anyone whose livelihood revolves around PDF needs to have Enfocus's PitStop -- a phenomenal Acrobat plug-in indispensable for inspecting, editing, polishing, and preflighting documents. The newest release of PitStop Professional (version 6) plugs neatly into Acrobat 6, and as a result adds support for Mac OS X, Adobe PDF 1.5, layers, and JPEG 2000. But if you haven't upgraded to Acrobat 6 yet, you can still use Pitstop Pro 6 with Acrobat 4 and 5, although features that are new to Acrobat 6 won't be of any use to you. Users of earlier versions of Acrobat should consider upgrading to PitStop 6 only if they need the new specs or Mac OS X support.

The program also supports the latest PDF/X-1a, PDF/X-3 and Ghent PDF Workgroup specifications -- standards that ensure consistent file exchange. True, consistency can be obtained via Acrobat Distiller's Job Options, but this method requires everyone have the same job option files set exactly the same way. Specs such as PDF/X are industry-standard and if your file complies with its specifications, you will avoid those nasty calls from the printer asking you to resubmit with different settings.

PDF Editing on the Fly

The bulk of PitStop's feature set is delivered as five separate panels: Inspector, Global Change, Preflight, Action List, and Image Matching. You can have any or all of these open on the screen at the same time, and there is good cross-pollination between them. For example, if you set up a global change to resize all the pages to A4, you can save the parameters in an Action list -- PitStop's name for a macro -- and run the same changes on other documents. These panels are accessed from the Window menu, but other functions -- selection, object creation, text editing -- are accessible via the toolbars that install with the program.

The Inspector panel, which has seven tabbed sub-panels, displays every conceivable parameter about a selected item in the PDF file. For example, click on a line of text to see the fill and stroke color, font, spacing, position, and a dizzying array of prepress settings. From within this panel, you can also change settings and resample images if you like (see Figure1).

Figure 1. The Inspector panel is a powerful tool for adjusting the appearance of individual objects in a PDF file.

The Inspector is wonderful for tweaking single items, but if you need the change applied to the specific pages or the entire document, you'll want to use the Global Change panel (see Figure 2). Changes you make in this panel can be saved to an Action List.

Figure 2. Batch-convert fonts, colors, position, prepress settings, and image compression from within the Global Change panel.

Macro Heaven

One of Pitstop's most valuable features is its powerful, well-implemented macro capability. It's amazingly easy to automate any task, either by creating a macro from scratch or editing one of the hundreds of samples available from the CD that ships with PitStop or downloadeable from Enfocus's Web site. Some of our favorites include change page size, embed all fonts, create rich black, add printer marks, and remove annotations. Wander over to the Enfocus Action List Library to check out the full list of macros and get a feel for PitStop's versatility {see Figure 3).

Figure 3. PitStop's Action lists alone are worth the price of the product. Here is a small sampling of what's available from Enfocus.

Because they are easily edited, you can begin with a macro like "Detect Font Courier" and quickly create the alternative "Detect Font Times New Roman." Macros can be applied to single pages or entire documents. In addition they may be assigned to a toolbar button for instant access.

Figure 4. This dialog box shows part of a complex macro that converts certain common TrueType fonts to Type 1 fonts and then embeds them in the PDF file.

Powerful Preflight

We suspect most people who invest in PitStop do so for its invaluable preflighting tools. The unassuming little dialog box shown in Figure 5, with its humble list of profiles, hides a massively complex mechanism for ensuring that your PDFs will output correctly on your chosen device.

Figure 5. Although the bundled profiles look meager, they encompass an enormous number of settings for preflighting.

To customize a setting, you use the Profile Editor dialog box, which reveals the muscle behind PitStop's preflighting capabilities (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. The Profile Editor dialog box shows some of the settings available for preflighting. (a close-up appears in the second cropped figure).

The left side of the dialog box presents a list of problem categories -- font type, layers, transparency, page size, and so on. When you select one of these subjects, the right side of the dialog box lets you choose how you want PitStop to respond. For example, if you choose Font Style as a problem category, you can set PitStop to detect artificial bold, italic, and outline styles, and have the information included in the preflight report. PitStop's ability to automatically fix certain problems such as font embedding and empty pages is an especially valuable, timesaving touch. The default profiles may be edited, and of course you can create your own profiles for special circumstances.

Extra Credit

Pitstop includes object creation tools for creating paths and short segments of text. These features can't replace whatever program originally generated the PDF, but if you need some quick and dirty editing, they work quite nicely. We often use the text editing feature to fix typos when the originating files cannot be found.

We have to say, though, that the text editing feature is the weakest area of PitStop. We sometimes have to click a dozen times to get the cursor inside a text line and Acrobat occasionally crashes while we are doing this. Be warned also that you cannot edit text if the font is not installed on your system, even if the font is embedded in the PDF file. (This nasty restriction is a new "feature" in Acrobat 6 and not PitStop's fault. We are sometimes reduced to copying and pasting individual letters as objects to correct a single spelling error in old PDFs whose originating documents are unavailable and whose fonts are no longer for sale.)

The only real gripe we have with PitStop is the cost: At $599, it's very pricey. But once you've plunked down your money for the initial version, the upgrades are a bit more reasonably priced. If your work revolves around the PDF format, you will find PitStop Professional a worthwhile investment and invaluable addition to your graphic toolkit.

Originally posted on CreativePro.com. Copyright 2003 creativepro.com.

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