Workflow boom is a business boon
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
The wide-format, inkjet and super wide-format sector of the digital print market should be on your agenda for a closer look in 2008. It continues to grow at well above 10% per year and offers commercial printers and service providers a new revenue stream.
The Fespa Digital Show in Geneva in April attracted record attendance from both visitors and suppliers, with supplier numbers up 40% on the inaugural event two years ago. I went along to find out more about the workflows that are available to drive the myriad of different print output engines.
The size and format of output units on offer differ widely, from narrow-web inkjet, to wide, poster and super-wide formats. Markets include silk screen, display and industrial, with a huge number of different suppliers.
However, the file formats, RIPs and workflows used to drive many of these digital print engines are not well defined, integrated or automated. Ideally, it ought to be possible to link any of these major devices to an existing automated workflow from Agfa, EFI, Fujifilm, Kodak, Heidelberg or Screen using JDF. But this is currently not the case. In fact, there is so much variance in the file formats used and in the checking and proofing procedures, that one supplier suggested the situation was a little like the Wild West, with everyone from users to suppliers doing their own thing. The result is that it is currently very difficult to add one of the super-wide format devices, such as EFI’s Vutek, to your Prinect, Prinery or Apogee workflow and fully exploit the features of these workflows to preflight, monitor, proof and control the production process.
There are a number of suppliers, many of them small, that sell RIPs or RIP software to drive these engines. There is some confusion over the devices in this part of the digital print market. Many are rightly called RIPs as they do not offer the sophistication and capabilities of the workflow servers – incorrectly referred to as RIPs by many people. True RIPs include EFI Fiery System 8.2 and Creo Spire 5.0, which drive digital presses from Kodak, Xerox and Canon. Although there are special needs from a colour server or RIP that drive the super wide-format engines, many of the basic controls, including file checking and correction, proofing, and job management, appear to be missing. The smaller suppliers that sell RIP software or servers include SAI, Caldera, Onyx and ColorGate.
EFI, as the major colour server supplier and wide-format vendor, was at Fespa in force to demonstrate its Fiery XF and Vutek. The Fiery XF that drives Vutek products bears no resemblance to the Fiery System 8.2 used to drive the Canon ImagePress range or Xerox DocuColors and iGens. Other firms that are likely, and able, to offer an integrated, automated workflow – be it all-digital or CTP-capable – are Agfa, Esko-Artwork, as well as FujiFilm with its XMF Adobe Print workflow, Kodak, Océ, and Screen with Trueflow.