Next-level file flow

Barney Cox
Wednesday, April 1, 2009

There are a host of pre-press products on the market to automate file processing and improve file checking and approval, ganging, imposition, image correction and ink optimisation

You might believe that there was nowhere left to go with pre-media technology. Yes, advances in smart automation in top-end workflow systems and the data integrity between what the client sees in InDesign and what comes out of the latest Adobe PDF Print Engine-based RIPs promise pre-press Nirvana. But back in the real world, things are still likely to be more lumpy and clunky and can generally use a little more TLC to finesse the flow of files to press.

For a start, 70% of printers use a version of Global Graphics' Harlequin RIP, rather than Adobe's, according to Crisp Digital managing director Richard Crisp. Many of those firms have only rudimentary workflow automation, if any, having been put-off by the cost of high-end systems. "A big chunk of our business is SRA2 printers with a Harlequin RIP," says Crisp.

For those firms, there are immediate productivity gains offered by switching to PDF-based preflight checking and imposition, says Crisp. His customers are plumping for preflight package Enfocus PitStop Server together with Dynagram's Dynastrip imposition software to add workflow functions to their existing RIPs without having to pay top-end prices for a complete PDF workflow. "You can get a full PDF workflow for under £5,000 including installation and training," he says.

That price includes Enfocus' automation tool Switch. Initially, though, many firms plump for the basic version, LightSwitch, to automate file receipt and delivery from email and FTP sites into PitStop for pre-flight checking.

"Automation isn't all done," agrees Fujifilm workflow manager Andy Walker. "There is still work to be done with integrating to MIS and remote submission and approval." Fuji is beta testing XMF Remote 2, a new version of its online submission and approval tool, which is set to ship later this year. "We've got a queue of people looking to use it," says Walker. "If you can get print-ready jobs coming in, you can get more work through the business with less cost."

Faster proofing
One beta customer reports cutting the approval process from two days to half a day by working this way. Walker argues that even if you can only get some customers to work this way, the savings are worthwhile. He estimates that the investment is less than the annual cost of one employee.

Remote approval puts the responsibility for file accuracy on the client, not the printer. For that to work, Walker says: "It's important to have data integrity, which XMF achieves through the combination of PDF Print Engine with Acrobat."

That is fine for the high-end users, in the mass market, where firms have less advanced workflow and RIPs, remote approval of PDFs can be cause for concern.

"People are moving to PDF workflows, but there is still a chance that things don't come out the same way on press as the customer saw it in Acrobat," says Crisp. This can be due to different settings in their copy of Acrobat, or because they are using the free version, Acrobat Reader.

His suggested solution is DigiPage, a plug-in for the Harlequin RIP. This creates ripped one-bit TIFF single-page DCS EPS files for imposition and platesetting and a composite ripped and screened PDF file that can be emailed or FTP'd for the client to approve. This PDF will look the same regardless of the software and settings used. While it may sound like a throwback to the old rip-once workflows that have since been supplanted by PDF, it guarantees data integrity for a relatively low price of £5,995.

"People who have experienced a problem tend to go for this workflow," says Crisp. It's a case of once bitten, twice shy. The software costs much less than reprinting work and rebuilding customer confidence.

Imposition, or more specifically, automated ganging and layout optimisation, is an area that has recently attracted attention. One example is LithoTechnics' Metrix, which is sold in the UK by Positive Focus. Technical director Alan Dixon says that firms looking to improve efficiency are using layout tools to get more jobs on a sheet to save materials and press time, so their repro departments are looking for tools that can slash the time taken to optimise layouts. "The return on investment can be as short as two days - if it enables you to win a contract," he says. "For complex ganged work, the time taken to plan can be reduced from three-quarters of a day to a quarter of an hour."

Matthieu Bossan, Kodak GCG marketing director, enterprise solutions EAMER, says ganging is not yet mainstream. "But it will be so because of the ability to reduce costs," he adds. Kodak's imposition package Preps has recently gained ganging features, which group different jobs on the same sheet. Bossan sees this as the first step towards further integration and automation, where jobs will be automatically grouped and routed by software to maximise efficiency or run a job to hit a promised delivery time.

Other imposition packages also offer automatic layout optimisation. Examples include Dynagram's standalone application Dynastrip and its plug-in for Acrobat Pro Inpo2 and Heidelberg's Signa Station.

Developments in colour technology also provide tools to finesse pre-press. There are two areas, one at each end of the process, that are undergoing evolution. At file receipt, tools such as Fuji's C-Fit and Elpical Claro are being introduced to clean up images received. These tools are designed to enhance the colour quality of the diverse range of digital files that a printer can expect to be supplied these days. They can be used on individual images, batches of digital photos or on complete documents.

"One of our sales of C-Fit was to a printer for his digital department," says Fuji's Walker. "The quality of digital print output isn't the problem; the nature of the target market isn't sophisticated, so it makes sense to take the images, optimise them and colour convert them."

The second area where colour handling is evolving is at the RIP. Whether it's print or plate output, there is a demand for separation optimisation and/or ink reduction. Tools such as Alwan Color Expertise CMYK Optimizer, GMG InkOptimizer, and OneVision's PlugInkSaveIn have led the way in this market, and are now being joined by modules in the main workflow packages such as Agfa Apogee and, in the next release of Kodak's Prinergy. These tools use ICC colour management to analyse supplied separations and then to rebuild them. This is to make jobs print more consistently on press. It is claimed that this speeds up makeready, and can also cut ink or toner consumption. It's similar to preflight checking and correcting a PDF, but it focuses purely on the separations.

Recently, Alwan Color and Enfocus have joined forces to launch PDF Standardizer, a £6,500 package that combines CMYK Optimizer with PitStop using Switch, to provide preflighted PDFs with optimised CMYK separations. Malcolm Mackenzie, operations director of UK dealer Targetcolour, says the focus for CMYK Standardizer is to support the move towards standard print conditions such as ISO 12647-2 rather than ink saving.

Crisp Digital supplies a separation optimisation tool called Perfx from Canadian firm TGLC and claims the £4,000 price is up to 75% less than rival products and that users have the choice of using the device link profiles that it creates, either in-RIP or at preflight, which makes it simple to proof back to clients.

He adds that if £4,000 is still too high, there is potential for integrators and colour management firms to provide a lower-cost service making the device link profiles using the Tekpro version of the software. "It could be half the price of buying the software and still provides the benefits of helping printers to hit colour standards, use less ink, makeready faster and match the output of multiple presses," he says.

However sophisticated your set-up, there is still room for improvement in most pre-press operations. The answer is to identify what your most pressing problem is and finding a fix to fit your budget.

Finessing your file flow

  1. 1 Preflight checking is a basic for dealing with PDFs and understanding how to fix problems; could you free up your pre-press operators by installing an automated server-based package?
  2. 2 If preflighting is flagging up common problems, offer to help configure their applications to create good files using guidelines such as from he Ghent PDF Workgroup (GWG) at
  3. 3 Do you spend a lot of time manually colour correcting supplied digital pictures? Consider an automated colour correction package that can deal with both pictures and pages
  4. 4 If proofing and approval are a problem, can you help clients set up their systems to match yours, or do you need a more robust solution based on ripped files?
  5. 5 Can you streamline file submission with a tool such as the Enfocus Switch family to route all jobs received over email and FTP directly into the workflow?
  6. 6 Would ganging up different jobs on the same sheet cut your materials costs and press time? Ganging and layout optimisation imposition software could help, especially if pre-press staff are spending hours planning. Check whether your software has the functions or can be upgraded to before investing in new tools
  7. 7 Do supplied CMYK separations frequently cause your minders problems on press, especially during makeready? Separation optimisation software could help to cut makeready time and waste, make your minders' working lives easier, improve the repeatability of reprints and help you towards hitting ISO 12647-2



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