At a Glance
Preflighting documents -- checking them for production and prepress errors before sending them to a service bureau -- is the desktop-publishing equivalent of flossing teeth. We all know that we should preflight, but few companies or individual designers do so regularly. Until now, most preflighting needs have been handled by software on a user's machine -- either special preflighting programs or the preflighting capabilities built into a desktop-publishing application. Now Extensis has created an alternative: PrintReady. But this product serves only users who want to preflight QuarkXPress 3 and 4, EPS, and PDF files. For a service that's just a few months old, it's surprisingly out of date.
An Online Preflighting Service
Although PrintReady ships in a box, the CD doesn't contain preflighting software. Rather, it holds a plug-in for linking to the PrintReady Web site, accessible only via a browser running in Mac OS 9 or OS X's Classic mode. You then check your documents into the Web site, which examines them online. The Extensis documentation assures you that your file doesn't actually get sent to the PrintReady server, and that the service examines the document while it stays on your machine (however, this may not allay some paranoid fears).
Customized Preflight Checks
For an XPress document, the PrintReady service can flag as many as 60 types of potential errors so you can fix them before sending the file to a service bureau. It covers a wide range of errors, including missing fonts, images of the wrong resolution, and strokes that are too thin. You have the option of prioritizing each type of error and creating profiles based on this information. You can also set a profile so that an error is not reported to you, triggers a yellow caution icon or a red flag, or stops the job from going through.
PrintReady comes with a default profile for each type of document it handles. But the service can be much too strict: PrintReady will flag TIFF images even though today's workflows easily handle TIFFs. And PrintReady overlooks some errors it should flag -- such as two colors that share the same screen angle used together in a multi-ink, and overprinting.
Stuck in a Time Warp
Sadly, much of PrintReady feels behind the times. The service handles only PDF, QuarkXPress 3 and 4, and EPS files. There is no support for XPress 5, Adobe InDesign, PageMaker, or other formats that popular preflighting applications such as Markzware FlightCheck support. The browser plug-in does not work in OS X, although Extensis says that OS X support is a top priority for new versions of the service.
Priced According to Need
The Basic edition lets five users access the online service and preflight as many documents as they wish. At $350, it's a bargain, as it costs much less than a single-user copy of a preflighting program such as Extensis's Preflight Pro or Markzware's FlightCheck. PrintReady also comes in a Service Provider edition that costs $2,000 per year for an unlimited number of users and as many as 12,000 documents. The Enterprise edition lets you check 30,000 documents per year.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Some people can benefit from PrintReady, but most should either choose more-versatile preflighting software that resides on their desktops or wait until the service supports more applications and file formats.