Star product: FFEI RealPro Toolkit

Simon Eccles
Monday, April 15, 2013

This software suite is intended to extend the packaging and label design functions and production capability of Adobe Illustrator

What does the software do?
RealPro Toolkit is a modular suite of design and production plug-ins for Adobe Illustrator that can be bought in six different combinations. Although originally intended for packaging and labels work, it can be used with any complex Illustrator-based artwork and will fit in with any PDF-based workflow.

It is intended as a shot across the bows of Esko, the dominant supplier in packaging and labels software, as well as to complement FFEI’s other products, including RealVue 3D Packager, RealPro Workflow and the Caslon digital label press.

When was it launched and what market is it aimed at?
It was originally announced at Drupa last year as a complete set of plug-ins as part of the new RealVue 3D Packager suite. However, during field trials, users often said they wanted some or all the Toolkit’s functions independently of the 3D elements. "This is something we hadn’t expected," comments Andy Cook, managing director of FFEI. "These guys were saying to us that they’ve got Esko workstations that work very well, but they’d also like to spread different functions around design and pre-press." So FFEI unbundled the plug-ins to ship RealPro Toolkit at the beginning of February.

How does it work?
There are nine plug-ins supplied as different combinations in five packages for various sets of production tasks, plus a complete set.

The modules are: Inspect for pre-flighting; Eye for better previews and navigation; Link controls linked images; Ink controls ink colours and special separations; Search identifies and locate objects in Illustrator, with multiple search terms and conditionals; Tool extends Illustrator’s graphic functions; Mark adds dynamic marks, including step and repeat; Trap enables automatic or interactive trapping, rich black and white underprint generation, written to new layers; and Nest enables manual and step and repeat. There are also three further add-ons: TIFF, which exports selected areas as TIFF files; Seamless, which sets up repeating patterns; and Warp, which generates pre-distortion for later print processes.

The licence and dongle are for one operator, so different packages can be bought within the same company. Cook says that a networked version is now under development with a single site-wide dongle.

What is its USP?
RealPro Toolkit is the first major alternative to the Esko DeskPack sets of Illustrator plug-ins. FFEI claims that its search module is unique in its ability to find and highlight elements within complex Illustrator files. "Trial sites reported that this could save 20, 30 minutes or even an hour per job," says Peter Christianson, sales support specialist at FFEI. He adds that its trapping module is particularly sophisticated, and so is the dynamic Marks feature.

How does it differ from previous versions?
This is a brand new product, but some of the technologies are related to FFEI’s development of the XMF Workflow for Fujifilm, and its own RealPro Workflow. FFEI is the ultimate descendent of Crosfield Electronics’ R&D department, so its experience goes back decades.

How easy is it to use?
"Very," according to Christianson. "If you can use Illustrator, it’s easy to learn. We provide a workspace with all the tools together on a side panel, so it fits nicely in the familiar Illustrator environment. Part of the trial site feedback was a questionnaire. All the trial users said it was very easy to get to grips with. Some required some specialist training on trapping for instance, or step and repeat, but apart from that they were using it right away."

What training and support is on offer?
The purchase cost for each package includes operator training and three months’ technical support. There’s an annual maintenance and updates agreement on offer for £1,600, but this isn’t mandatory.

How many installations have there been and what are the sales targets?
"Including field trials and the first sales, we have six installations," says Cook, who adds that sales targets are in the "how long’s a piece of string" category. FFEI is now setting up a direct sales operation in the UK for packaging and labels. "Establishing our own direct sales contact with clients will allow us to test with clients, get feedback, and use the UK for testing new ideas and products," says Cook.

System requirements Mac OS X or Windows platform running Adobe Illustrator CS3 to CS6. The installer and dongle are designed to work on both Macs and PCs
Price Search, £2,000 but with five- and 10-user licences also offered; Nest, £4,550; Prepare, £4,000; Flexo, £5,200; Studio, £8,000. The Complete package is £10,700. Options for each package are TIFF, £2,350; Seamless, £2,350; and Warp, £1,200
Contact FFEI 01442 213440

Esko DeskPack
Precise cost comparisons between DeskPack and the FFEI Toolkit are difficult because there isn’t always a precise overlap in functions between the two sets of plug-ins or packages. DeskPack is a suite of 18 plug-ins for Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, for packaging and label design and pre-press. The plug-ins are intended to complement Esko’s workstation-based ArtPro and PackEdge packaging pre-production editors, but can run independently.
System requirements Mac OS X or Windows platform plus Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop
Price Plug-ins can be purchased separately (for instance the BoostX set of graphics tools costs £304 and barcodes are also £304. Esko offers bundles for different sets of functions, or they can be modified to customer requirements. A get-you-started Dashboard bundle of 10 plug-ins costs £5,217, while thetop standard bundle, for full label production, costs £13,000 with 13 plug-ins
Contact Esko 0121 667 4200


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