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CIP3--Digitizing Prepress, Delivering Promise

June 1998

No wonder Agfa is excited.

Still, virtually one year ago Agfa, while vehemently supportive of the CIP3 consortium, was less motivated to report its own CIP3 activities. The focus at Agfa then was on a multitude of prepress product launches.

Today, two key factors are in place: Agfa's digital platesetter, Galileo, and the newly touted Apogee PrintDrive output manager. Both are trumpeted by Agfa to be technological champions of CIP3.

Paul Adriaensen, product manager for RIP development for Agfa's Imaging Processing Group, and Donna Bloomquist, product manager for PrintDrive, are quick to report Agfa's CIP3 activities. Adriaensen, based in Belgium, sits on the CIP3 board on behalf of Agfa. Both executives report an upsurge in requests and general inquiries from commercial printing clients seeking information on how to implement CIP3 technology.

"Due to the increased interest in CIP3, we have been receiving many questions from our subsidiaries as well as our customer base," Adriaensen says. "In the CIP3 booth at IMPRINTA last year, it was clear that the technology was ready to take off. Several vendors showed products that were CIP3 compatible, although very few installations could be found at that time."

At PRINT 97, Agfa showed the implementation of technology for CIP3 ink key settings in conjunction with MAN Roland. "Press vendors are indeed the most interested consumers of the CIP3 information," Adriaensen notes.

From a technology base, he says, Agfa has been involved with the CIP3 committee from the beginning, with efforts strongly focused on the CIP3 concept of ink key presettings.

"Still, it seems everyone in the industry talks about ink key settings, as if the implementation of ink key settings is synonymous with CIP3 and vice versa. This is not the case."

At Agfa, the priority is in the area of the press connection. Generation and consumption of the low-res preview image in a PPF file is currently being tested.

Testing CIP3
Tests are ongoing with several major press vendors (MAN Roland, Heidelberg, Komori, etc.) that are the typical PPF file consumers. Similar test cycles are ongoing with PPF files generated by other systems that are CIP3 suppliers.

In the first implementation, the Agfa systems will be considered PPF file suppliers. The CIP3 option, implemented on the Apogee PrintDrive, will generate CIP3-compliant files (PPF files) that are intended to be used by press manufacturers for ink key presets. The option replaces the need for a plate scanner and, consequently, the processing time/manpower of a plate scanning operation.

According to Agfa's Donna Bloomquist, once these tests with the vendors have been successful, beta sites will be established to get real-life feedback on the system.

"At the same time, the system will be previewed at conferences, exhibitions, as well as in the demo rooms. We expect market introduction later this year."

Does Agfa see CIP3 growing? Absolutely. "As CIP3 implementations are new everywhere, we foresee some implementation issues still to be solved. Therefore, a selected step-by-step approach to a product is required," Bloomquist states.

"It's really been the advent of the whole eight-up CTP workflow that has made delivery of CIP3 viable, particularly ink key settings. The revolution to CTP has not only encouraged the implementation of CIP3 standards, it has made it possible," she adds.

Agfa's Adriaensen agrees. "It is clear that CIP3 as a standard document is very important. It has gathered an array of top technology providers together and promoted a common way of thinking," he suggests. "We've seen the future of print, we've seen the impact of the truly digital job ticket, and it isn't tomorrow; it's today, it's happening right now in the movements of CIP3."

Stay tuned for more CIP3 activities from Agfa as the tale unfolds.

An AGFA White Paper
Understanding the Language of CIP3

In order to explain the difference between CIP3 and ink key settings, it's important to give some background information about the implementation of CIP3.

Setting ink keys is a press feature. It is a technique that allows for automatic presetting of the ink valves at the press. The more accurate the settings are before the press run begins, the shorter the time to get to optimal quality prints at full printing speed.

Currently, the information for the ink key presets is found on the plates by using a plate scanner. The information from the scanner is either manually or electronically sent to the press engine.

CIP3 was designed to describe several processes in the graphic arts in a standard way, so that the same information could be exchanged among the different stages in the production process. Therefore, the specification of CIP3 breaks down into two main topics: semantics and syntax. Here are brief details on the two.

CIP3 Semantics: In order to describe a job, several actions that occur to that job have to be explained. The move to describe each prepress to postpress production step in a way that provides clarity and agreement is the semantics of CIP3. A good example of the need for this kind of clarity is trying to define the left edge of a square piece of paper. This is not a trivial pursuit.

Apart from the semantics, each step in the production process must define what meaningful information is found in the semantic description. For instance, although the crop marks indicate the start of a page with a value Y and the height of a page with value H, a paper cutter requires the distance Y+H to find its first cut setting.

CIP3 Syntax: In addition to the work that has been done to define semantics, the CIP3 committee has also debated the file format in which the information should be sent from one element of the print production process to another. Beyond specific needs (readability, structure, etc), it was found that only the prepress departments were actually using digital files. In press and postpress areas hardly any electronic communication was found.

PostScript was seen as the most commonly used file format. Due to its nature, it was well-suited to serve the CIP3 semantics needs. The PPF file is syntactically identical to a PostScript file and adheres to the PostScript specifications. A PPF file can be part of the PostScript file that is consumed by the RIP to create images, but can also live on its own. A native PostScript interpreter will neglect the information found in the PPF.

With the upcoming importance of PDF and job tickets, the CIP3 consortium has decided to start the development of a second encoding of the CIP3 format.

Currently PostScript is, of course, still the most important. All current implementations of CIP3 compatibility are found to be based on the PostScript encoding.

The CIP3 committee has worked long and hard to establish a specification document (Version 3) that realistically can be expected to be used in graphic arts environments.

As the world is changing to PDF and job tickets, the importance of that decision is very obvious. The concepts of the Portable Job Ticket Format and CIP3 standards can be expected to converge as the graphic arts world moves toward PDF-based publishing systems.

Technical information provided by Agfa

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