Piecemeal production

By PrintWeek Team, Monday 29 October 2012

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Piecemeal production

The way wide-format pre-press has worked in the past is through a mix of manual and software-assisted process steps. Images have to be received, resized and edited ready for print with finishing marks added, then colour calibration is sorted and the file passed to the RIP.

The level of automation in this process varies wildly depending on the business. At best you may have had a couple of these steps within a single package, at worst you would have very little automation at all. The most common occurrence is to have islands of automation sitting within a sea of manual intervention.

GMG’s ProductionSuite aims to build some bridges between those islands by putting everything in one place and automating it. Toby Burnett, sales director at GMG UK, explains that a bespoke system of this ilk can bring multiple benefits.

“Your biggest problem is people giving you artwork that’s the wrong size and doesn’t have bleed,” he says. “And bleeding, with all of the vectors in Illustrator and marking the grommet marks, can be quite complex. So what you can do with ProductionSuite’s Editor is tell it the printing size so it automatically scales it, then tell it you need to bleed the top and bottom by a certain amount and you need grommet spaces, and it will just automatically make the coordinates for that.”
And ProductionSuite includes other elements along with this specially designed Editor, also designed to speed up job processing beyond just saving the printer from manually opening up the same file in lots of different programs.
For example, Kristel Moncarey, digital manager at recently-acquired Gardners, says she has been impressed by ProductionSuite’s modular nature, whereby various operators can work on different modules across multiple machines and networks.

“It used to be that within our studio team, one was a Quark specialist and one was an Illustrator specialist – they had their own way of doing things,” she says. “This meant that when one went on holiday or took over from someone else, they didn’t know what had been done. Whereas now they have a central database, which holds all the templates and work in a more uniform way, so there’s always someone in who can process a particular job.”

"Printers who get their artwork supplied to them exactly ready to go, wouldn’t necessarily need all of those tools." Adam McMonagle, Macro Art

The RIP engine of the new system is also proving beneficial, reports Moncarey. “My experience of some RIP software is that where a file was very big, it would sit there in the RIP struggling to get started for the first 20 minutes, then it would start to chew it up and you might get a timed-out or lost file warning,” she says. “We did a project for a company in the Netherlands last year with 47,000 panels. I had to RIP every panel because it was variable data and the older systems would never ever have been able to do that for me within the time I had.”

Moncarey’s experience is indicative of the way wide-format is changing. Client demands for faster turnaround times and more accurate and trackable jobs is seeing the slightly knocked-together workflow systems feel the strain. Likewise, a shift to W2P models for both trade and consumer work, alongside increasing personalisation driving short runs, are also putting pressure on fragmented workflows. From GMG’s perspective, the solution is its Drupa-released workflow product that brings all processes under one seamless and automated roof, but for others the price of that system means the real answer may lie in the reconfiguration and adaptation of existing systems.

Graham de Kock, sales manager at wide-format equipment supplier CWE Solutions, certainly does not think a GMG-style solution is suitable for all. He says that the most obvious target market for the GMG package is high volume printers dealing with lots of short-run jobs and a wide variety of products with different sorts of finishing marks to be added.
“We would say something like GMG ProductionSuite is really for the high end, top 10%-15% of the market,” he says. “The idea of having the Editor sat in the same package as the colour calibration and RIP is that there’s a huge time saving benefit, as you can do a lot more on the RIP without having to find the right version of whatever the artwork’s been designed in, find the right fonts, and then put this file back into the RIP.”

Those in the high-volume POS and signage markets would no doubt feel the benefit of this automation very quickly – faster delivery to clients not only means a better relationship with those customers and more chance of winning future contracts through faster turnaround, it also frees up the company to produce more work.

De Kock adds that other elements of the software can bring the savings to these big printers that are needed to pay for the system, specifically the InkOptimizer feature.

“One company I’ve worked with spent £20,000 on a system, what with all the hardware and colour measuring devices, but in a couple of years they’ll have paid for that on ink saving,” he says, explaining that GMG’s promise of reducing the amount of ink used by an average of 18% can also speed up drying times.

Yet those savings are only worth the expenditure if you are running through enough work, according to some. Indeed, a few printers have looked at GMG and, although they have been impressed, they find they can’t get the business case for the investment to work.

This is why de Kock cited the top 15% figure, as he has certainly found that the all-in-one workflow aspect of GMG won’t speed up the majority of printers’ operations enough to justify its hefty price tag. What most would still be best-advised to go for, he claims, is the halfway-house option that products like Onyx and Caldera colour calibration and ripping engines offer.

“Both Onyx and Caldera realise that the network ability, working from multiple platforms, is an important element, so they’ve now introduced that,” he says. “You can do a certain amount of editing in Caldera, and Onyx has just brought out a range of plug-ins so you can add things like grommet marks in existing applications like Illustrator. So when you consider that those packages are around £2,000 or £3,000 and GMG can cost significantly more, many people will still be inclined to go for them.”

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