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Please Don’t Rely on InDesign’s Preflight

We get plenty of questions regarding InDesign’s preflight feature, but they usually come down to, “What the heck?!” Here’s the problem: InDesign’s File > Preflight feature doesn’t totally suck, but it isn’t particularly good. However, because InDesign tends to be chock full o’ great features, users keep thinking, “I bet I just don’t get it. It must be too good for me to understand.”

[Note that this article refers to preflight in InDesign CS3 and earlier. Preflight was significantly updated in CS4 and later. See more on InDesign preflighting here.]

Don’t fall for that old line! You know more than you think! Long ago I simply resigned myself to ignoring Preflight for the most part. Every now and again, I take a quick glance at it, but it just isn’t that helpful. For example, why is there no way to tell it, “Hey! RGB files are not a problem in my workflow. Stop telling me there’s a problem whenever I import RGB files.” (Sandee did find one solution, which she wrote up here.)

And why won’t Preflight warn me when I have 72 dpi images? I mean, come on! If I’m going to print, that is something to warn me about.

To make the point even more clear, David Dilling at Markzware made a great little movie on youtube about why InDesign’s preflight feature pales in comparison to Markzware Flightcheck. Granted, it’s a marketing piece, so take it with a grain of salt. That said, Markzware has been in this business for a very long time, and they certainly know what they’re doing.

So what do you do if InDesign’s Preflight isn’t doing it for you? Markzware FlightCheck is obviously very good. There’s also Zevrix InPreflight, which is less expensive, but doesn’t have all the bells and whistles. Of course, there is also the option of exporting a PDF file and then running it through Acrobat’s preflight features (or a third-party acrobat plug-in).

What preflight solutions do you use? Are you happy with them?

David Blatner

David Blatner

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
David Blatner

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30 Comments on “Please Don’t Rely on InDesign’s Preflight

  1. ID’s Preflight feature s.. from v1! And it’s quite funny to see sometimes somebody from Adobe showing this tool as a must have a in a prepress workflow.

    Here’s why the feature is bad from the very beginning:

    – does not warn that a document contains protected TrueType fonts even if the document
    – warns if the document contains pictures in RGB color space (so what? This is what people should do, ID converts them into the chosen profile!)
    – does not warn when EPS files in RGB color space are imported in the document
    – list the whole lists of inks (CMYK + spot colors) despite the fact that we change the spots into process ones in the Ink Manager…
    – does not list imported images by resolution


  2. David (and Branislav), it’s a relief to hear this — so thanks! I’ve felt a bit “guilty,” occasionally, for not using ID’s built-in preflight, which I never warmed to, instead I’ve preferred to preflight the final PDFs in Acrobat. But no more guilt!

  3. InDesign’s ability to export PDF/X versions and Acrobat’s preflight are so good that I never even think about preflighting in my paging application. I’m more concerned with the file that I’m sending to the printer. And if that printer has APPE, then there are even fewer things to worry about.

    Preflight warnings can usually be set up depending on what you want to see. When I was doing textbooks, I worked on a lot of computer books with low-res screen captures. So we wouldn’t have wanted to be “warned” about low-res images. Acrobat’s preflight tool does have profiles for reporting on resolution at several levels (below 300, below 200, below 100). I’m pretty sure that you can set up a similar profile in ID as well.

  4. I use Enfocus Pitsop to do my preflighting. I’m happy enough with it, but I wish I could get it to report to me when I have a PDF that could have font extraction problems when people try to view it.

  5. I’m using ID’s Preflight to see if there are any RGB files, embedded fonts or whatever. However, as I transmit nearly 100% of my layouts as PDFs (to clients, printers and so on), I always use Acrobat’s Preflight to finally check the files (PDFs generated by Distiller, I somehow don’t like InDesign’s PDF Export,even if it’s mostly superstition ;). That said, I don’t like Acrobat’s preflight neither. It might be reliable, but configuring it is cryptical (to me, at least). Not to mention it changes radically between Acrobat versions ? Adobe engineers love to do this, I think :/

  6. Glad someone said this, yes me too on the Acrobat pre-flight over the ID one.

    Dr. isn’t the distiller and ID pdf export one in the same engine?? Am I wrong to trust ID?
    No problems so far.

  7. Thank you David and InDesignSecrets for highlighting this fact.

    Keep in mind, (and I understand in part the reasons), that solely checking a PDF is something we call more a “postflight.” It is wise and more economical to first preflight and correct the source, non-pdf document (especially the larger and more complex the job is.) and then make the PDF- and postflight it as well.

    Not to mention, FlightCheck Professional v6 can preflight a range of file formats- 50+, including InDesign, Illustrator, QuarkXPress and the resulting PDF to name a few.

    Just wanted to share this.

    Friendly Regards,
    David Dilling

  8. Tim: You are not wrong to trust ID’s PDF export, though no, it is not the same as Distiller. The PDF Export feature is very robust, but some people just prefer to use Distiller. Let’s not have that discussion here. Instead, check out this post.

    David: Thanks! I like “postflight.” I also like Sandee Cohen’s idea of a pre-preflight (something you do even before you’re ready to do a preflight).

  9. David from Markzware – I dont get your arguments about postflight. Why is it more economical to preflight? The whole export to pdf and check takes no more than a minute or so.

    Anyhow: If you preflight, you still have to postflight. Then you have to do almost the same procedure twice.

    And if you have your “productionline” in order, there are seldom mistakes…

  10. As Demming said, “Quality is everyone’s responsibility” and I add, should be done any time the assets switch hands or is otherwise transformed.

    Hi Carsten- The export to PDF is not the major issue. It is what happens once you are in Acrobat and perhaps then within a PDF editor and “post”flighting tool.

    If you find errors in the resulting PDF, you of course have to fix them. How do you do that? In the PDF? (many think this ok) If so, then your original file differs (also an issue perhaps). Furthermore, if you are editing your PDF and then come across something that you can not fix (text flow over pages or low-res image, etc.) in your PDF preflight and editing program- what do you do? You have already mucked around with the PDF for 15 minutes trying to edit it…

    You trash the PDF go back to the InDesign file, open it, find the preflight problem(manually), and fix it (often with other programs included, such as Photoshop.). Thus, you have just wasted a lot of time, which could have been prevented if you preflighted before making the PDF in the first place. Even if you just postflight a PDF, trash it and go back to InDesign, it (often) takes a lot of time to figure out what and where the errors are within the source file compared to the PDF. (image names in PDF are changed to “im1”, “im2”, etc- for instance.)

    FlightCheck will allow you to preflight your InDesign and other source file types and then navigate right into it- so that you can fix the said problem on the spot. This is far more efficient.

    We have a nice “upside-down triangle” graphic that visualizes this nicely. On our next video we will highlight this. (Subscribe to markzwareTV on YouTube… plug-plug!)

  11. Hey people, just a reminder. Importing a RGB image in InDesign is not a problem because ID converts them anyway in CMYK. So…

  12. Someone wrote us to ask how the Preflight feature can convert RGB to CMYK. Actually, the preflight feature doesn’t do it. The conversion to CMYK occurs in when Printing or Exporting to PDF. The key is the Convert to Destination (Preserve Numbers) option.

  13. We used to use Flightcheck, but it threw up so many spurious errors that we called it FRIGHTcheck – i.e. it frightened people with the sheer amount of red flags it generated – most of which could be safely ignored. The best way of making sure a file is OK is when you are building it to start with. Check as you go.

  14. >Carsten Pihl said:
    >The whole export to pdf and check >takes no more than a minute or so.

    Unfortunately, it’s true for some really small documents only. With all its advantages, InDesign can be awfully slow on printing and export. I work at one of the largest Canadian ad agencies where we deal with large InDesign files every day – from newspaper ads to huge billboards. Exporting and printing many of these files takes enormous time, so if you wait till you create PDF and then discover errors, you can waste hours and hours of production time.
    So that’s why I created InPreflight in the first place – to have a fast and reliable preflight solution for the real world environment where I work. And to replace FlightCheck – which we found unacceptable after the version 5 was released.
    Only users however can judge how effective it is – and I get solid feedback from the InPreflight users that InPreflight is on the right track. Check it out at, and please feel free to contact me with any questions and suggestions.

  15. the biggest bear i have encountered is outputting to newspapers in greyscale i get surprising results especally in the cheap local papers.
    the same file prints differently on each press.
    Dan Margolis suggests that you lower the dot gain in photoshop to 15 or so to prevent “clogging” this may be the real key to better newsprint images I’m using acrobat 8 and the greyscale conversion seems to work fine but the newspaper preflight looks like a christmas tree.
    Im sending a bunch of files with the lowered dot gain and seeing what happens.

    i will post results

  16. Does anyone know why if I work on an Indesign files and save as another name, then export a PDF it keeps the original name even though I have renamed the file?????
    Drives me nuts!

  17. I have preflighted with Acrobat, but this is really POST-fight. I like the idea of having all files correct prior to creating the PDF file.

    I am nearing completion of a 300+ page Art book in InDesign CS3, containing hundreds of TIFFs, many in JPEG which will need to be converted to CMYK, 300 dpi, and a slew of fonts.

    Is Enfocus PitStop the best app for this and similar projects, or InFlight, or InPreFlight, of is there a better method?

    Mac OS X 10.5.8, InDesign CS3, PS CS3, Acrobat 9 Pro .

  18. Thanks David,

    Although I realize it does have it’s limitations, once customized, I do find it useful. The main issue I have with however, is that I can’t figure out how to get it off of the [Basic] (Default) setting. The default setting checks for almost nothing. I’ve created my own profile which checks for many more parameters within my documents. But every time I open a document I need to remember to switch from the Default profile to the one I created. I realize that I can embed a profile in a particular document, but I would prefer if I could set my profile as the default – then I don’t have to worry about it. Is there a way to change the default preflight settings?


  19. Using Indesign preflight to make sure of greyscale conversion and my printing contractor is still charging me for colour…Has anyone had this problem. Or is it the printer I should be looking at?

  20. @Alicia: That’s insane, in my humble opinion. If the printer can’t print it grayscale and charge for B&W, then they aren’t worth their salt (or ink).

  21. I like the new preflight feature on CS5.5 but the defaults are not relevant to may workflow. So Ive made a custom preflight profile with all the checks I need but I can’t make it the default profile. Everytime I open a new document I have to re-assign my preflight profile to the document. Its getting annoying having to do this as I check a lot of documents every day.

    So in short, can I change the default Preflight Profile or how do I make my custom profile the default?

    Thanks all.

  22. I’m with Cam on this one – i want to be able to either:

    1. Set the default to what i want it to be ie edit the settings

    2. Tell Indesign to open my preflight setting instead of the default one

    Seems to me to be the logical use of the preflight panel and something needs to be changed to make it work correctly.

    I’m using 5.5 currently, never mind if it is fixed in 6

  23. found = app.activeDocument.findGlyph ();
    The above script is working fine for locating missing glyphs for open type fonts, but its not locating the missing glyphs in case of post script fonts. Do we have script for locating missing glyphs through preflight reports. Please share your suggestions.

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