Output road test: Markzware Flightcheck
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By Sophie Matthews-Paul
8 December 2011
Marzware's Flightcheck does all the hard work, and makes it easy to locate and correct problems
Increasingly these days we're hearing about the necessity of preflighting jobs, often with stories coming from companies who've failed to follow any such route and end up with output that has bits missing. In wide-format work, the waste that results from just one messed up element can be extremely costly, not to mention time consuming, but few seem to consider a dedicated software option for checking the integrity of data being processed.
I've been thoroughly enjoying myself putting the latest version of Markzware's Flightcheck program through its paces by giving it a selection of files, some with deliberate errors and a few with red herrings. What this software does is open the file it's been asked to verify and determine that the data within it is correct. It looks for problems, and potential ones, and reports back in an easy-to-follow format the elements it's querying, putting a nice green tick next to specifics where correction isn't needed.
There is no stone left unturned with Flightcheck v6.80 as it chooses to overreact with provided information rather than leave anything to chance, erring on the side of caution. Its Ground Controls option details all the areas which the software checks and, whilst this in itself looks daunting, it can be used with a sensible set of default parameters that cover most eventualities. At the outset, it's sensible to make sure that all basic options are retained as these include fonts, colours and images and, even, whether the incoming file is unreadable, unsupported or locked.
Preferences are also best left as they are to allow the use of absolute paths when searching for fonts and images. This is particularly important with the former as the Macintosh has a habit of using more than one library by default for fonts, which can cause location and housekeeping problems.
For my test, I handed Flightcheck an Adobe CS5.5 InDesign file into which I'd deliberately introduced a few minor errors. The program swiftly analysed the file and came up with a comprehensive list that showed which elements needed attention and why. Some of the information was vital, such as missing fonts and images, and an obviously placed RGB file was flagged up (as expected). Other details acted as more of a warning, such as the contents of a picture box being rotated and scaled, with advice to edit it to save processing time.
The program offers the choice of native and PDF file checking, and can preflight multiple formats including Adobe InDesign, Acrobat, Illustrator, Photoshop and Quark XPress. Usefully, it can also work with CorelDraw and EPS files, amongst others. Flightcheck is available for Macintosh and Windows platforms.
Flightcheck's results box makes errors unmissable, and once these have been corrected, the program collates the files into a new folder so that everything's in the right place once checked. The file detail box immediately shows which areas contain errors as these are shown in red, bold type, and clicking on each button provides full information covered by the software.
$399 (£254) for a single user, with discounts for five and ten user licences.
Pros and cons
Markzware's Flightcheck v6.80 goes considerably further than the integrated options for preflighting files now found in page layout programs, and the information extracted during processing and checking is extensive. It might be nice to have possible warnings depicted in a different colour to definitive errors in order to make it easier to establish quickly where there are real production problems rather than potential queries. It's also a shame the text is so tiny in the results boxes. On a dual-screen Macintosh, with both screens running at maximum resolution (2,560 x 1,600 and 2,560 x 1,440 respectively), the text is almost too small to read comfortably, and to segregate lines of detail by eye when there is a lot of detail which needs attention.
This is a deceptively powerful piece of software which does what it says on the tin. Users will be helped enormously if they have a thorough knowledge not only of the print process and file formats they are using but, also, the workings of their computer (and it's surprising how many people don't have a clue about paths and root folders).
Ease of use: 5/5
Value for money: 5/5
Comments in chronological order (Total 2 comments)
09 December 2011 1:35PM
I've been using Flightcheck for years and I agree that it's very useful as a drag & drop error checker. But, it's becoming more and more irrelevant if your workflow stays within InDesign since everything can be preflighted within the app very well. Same goes for Acrobat.
The flightcheck interface could really stand improvement; it's very difficult to tell what those tiny little icons on the left represent. If you're using a Mac, the Windows-like interface will seem clunky compared to other Mac apps.
For checking PDF files you can tell that some images are low resolution but you don't know which ones. It would be great if it could identify them with a preview or something other than Im0, Im1, etc.
Bottom line - if you're accepting files from others in a wide range of formats, it's a great one-stop drag & drop way to see if there's anything wrong. But if you're creating your own files, you can do everything in Indesign and Acrobat, so no need to spend extra $$.
09 December 2011 2:59PM
Hi Matt, thank you for the feedback. You are absolutely correct, the interface needs some modernization. We have been concentrating on the preflight and packaging engine and it is high time to update the look-and-feel.
First note on the PDF image checking, you know the reporting of Im1, Im2, etc - that is a PDF inherent issue. Most older PDFs generated via Acrobat will loose the image name in the PDF creation process. It is literally not there to reference any longer.
Last note is on foregoing FlightCheck in lieu of a built in InDesign preflight and Acrobat postflight. There are several key items, such as placed native .ai Illustrator artwork, which built in preflight systems will not see - but FlightCheck will. It will even see used artwork or fonts used within that .ai or EPS file, even packing it for you too when collecting that InDesign file.
FlightCheck has years of patented preflight expertise put into and it is worth every pence/penny even for CS only users. However as you note, as a sign-shop or wide format printer, it really should be the first step when a file comes in --- drag-and-drop it on FlightCheck and see what you may be up against!
Cheers - David (Markzware)