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Ditial Prepress--Beta Watch!

May 2000
Eastern Rainbow and Offset Paperback are knee-deep in beta exercises. Eastern Rainbow is testing Agfa's new violet laser digital platesetter, Galileo VS. Offset Paperback is exploring new reverse imposition territories with a new Purup-Eskofot EskoScan.Why the testing? What are the verdicts?


Beta duty. It ain't pretty. In the trenches, dozens upon dozens of commercial printing operations in the United States, each year, open their doors, their digital infrastructures, their prepress departments, their pressrooms, to bleeding-edge technologies. There are PDF workflows to test; there are new digital proofing devices to calibrate; there are top secret on-press imaging technologies to refine for the next-generation of on-demand digital printing presses.

Beta is serious business.

On beta duty right now are Eastern Rainbow of Derry, NH, and Offset Paperback Manufacturers of Dallas, PA; both have been testing two devices slated for launches at DRUPA 2000.

* Eastern Rainbow's beta work is linked to a new digital platesetter from Agfa. The eight-up Galileo VS is a violet laser, internal-drum platesetter designed for use with Agfa's new Lithostar Ultra silver halide plates, which is also on the launch agenda for DRUPA 2000. Eastern Rainbow needed a cost-effective transition into CTP—one that could support its short-run applications with high-end plates, but not drain the company's purchase portfolio. An Agfa shop, Eastern Rainbow saw logic in the Galileo VS.

* Offset Paperback, which produces 1.3 million paperback books each day, is actually the inspiration for the Purup-Eskofot scanner it is currently beta testing: a new EskoScan that sports sophisticated new reverse imposition scanning software, designed by Purup-Eskofot to meet specific imposition requirements at Offset Paperback.

Eastern Rainbow: Raising a Galileo
Before the beta: Interested in an economical transition into CTP, Eastern Rainbow, a $15 million operation—the merging of a $4 million general commercial printer and an $11 million full-service prepress house—was approached by Agfa to test Agfa's new violet laser digital platesetter, the eight-up Galileo VS. The VS enables users to output 17 40.5˝ plates per hour at 2,400 dpi.

Souhegan Color, the $4 million printing arm of Eastern Rainbow, had pulled beta duty for Agfa several times and saw the logic in testing the new violet laser Galileo.

The new Galileo utilizes Agfa's new Lithostar Ultra plates; specifically, the Lithostar Ultra LAP-V, engineered for use with violet laser output devices, and currently compatible with all major visible-light imaging technologies. The Lithostar Ultra's ability to be handled in yellow safelight conditions was appealing to the team at Eastern Rainbow.

Frank Shaffer, president of the Souhegan Color component of Eastern Rainbow, had supervised beta work on the Agfa T-5000 scanner, as well as beta work on Polaroid's PolaProof digital halftone proofer. Shaffer had been investigating moving the printing operation to CTP for more than three years.

Economy. That was the biggest obstacle for Souhegan Color regarding a move to CTP. How could a $4 million printing operation cost-justify a major thermal CTP investment, costing more than one-eighth of the company's annual sales? Souhegan Color simply didn't have the run lengths to support, nor the dollars to acquire, a thermal CTP device.

Shaffer, a longtime proponent of Agfa, overseeing a printing operation that runs multiple Agfa prepress technologies—including an Avantra 30 imagesetter, an Agfa Sherpa ink-jet proofer, AgfaScan T5000 and Agfa's Taipan RIP—saw promise in the violet laser Galileo.

The beta: Early on in the beta process, Shaffer realized the move to the Galileo VS would be more extensive than he had envisioned. Workflow issues were clear. To maximize the Galileo, Agfa's Apogee PDF-based workflow was need-ed—a new, but pivotal, addition to Eastern Rainbow's prepress environment.

"We entered a whole new territory; there were layers of workflow issues we were plowing through," Shaffer reports. "We knew we wanted the Galileo VS, we knew we were comfortable with a yellow light environment for plates, we knew we would have to incorporate the Apogee workflow into our daily routine—these were quickly our daily facts and we knew that to fully succeed with CTP, we would have to get the most productivity possible out of the Galileo working in Apogee."

The verdict: In the seventh week of beta testing on the Galileo VS, as this article went to press, Shaffer and his team reports high quality results with the new violet laser Galileo. "It's been a learning experience. There was a lot more to CTP than I anticipated: It really snowballs on you and impacts every component of our workflow," Shaffer reports. "We are very pleased with the quality of work we are getting from the violet Galileo. And we are reporting time savings, quicker makereadies, cleaner plates and high productivity with the Apogee workflow."

Offset Paperback: Reversing an Imposing Problem
Before the beta: Offset Paperback Manufacturers (OPM) had a distinct problem. Winning new titles year after year, and manufacturing on average 1.3 million paperbacks each day, Offset Paperback needed to be able the reprint a book previously produced at another printer. The catch: What if the previous edition does not exist in digital form and the original films are not imposed correctly for OPM's presses?

As Offset Paperback knew only too well, the new print run can then be based on scanning the pages of a previous copy. Unfortunately, scanning a paperback book is time-consuming and expensive. So, prepress personnel at Offset Paperback literally had to spend hours upon hours cutting films apart and, by hand, reimposing the films to meet Offset Paperback's printing parameters.

Offset Paperback prepress personnel worked daily with what seemed like a ton of film to get into its specified imposition, cutting the film apart and manually stripping it back together again. "This was a huge project and very costly and time consuming, when you consider we are talking about literally thousands of titles," reports Steve Talacka, project manager at Offset Paperback.

What to do? Talacka had an idea—and Purup-Eskofot would be put it to the test. At Graph Expo 1999, Talacka approached Purup-Eskofot, told them of his reverse imposition plight and confided in them that, toward the end of 2000, Offset Paperback would be bringing even more titles under its roof. Talacka and representatives at Purup-Eskofot began sketching ideas on a napkin at Graph Expo. The concept for a new EskoScan was born.

The beta: At Offset Paperback, a full signature consists of two films with 32 pages on each. Two films make the front and two films make the back of the plate, which makes 128 pages. The geometries of the two front films are almost, but not totally, identical, because the shingling is different. The web is slit into four ribbons, which are cut across and stacked on top of each other before being folded, four sheets at a time. The geometry of the back film is a mirrored image of the corresponding front and page numbers are either one up, or one down.

Purup-Eskofot designed a new EskoScan, the EskoScan 3648, to be a black-and-white copydot scanner that does just what Offset Paperback needed—reverse imposition. The unit arrived at Offset Paperback in January. Using the new reverse imposition scanner, the layouts of the two front films are created manually, using the scanner preview. The size of the bounding box of one page is pre-defined, and in the enlarged preview the user simply drags the bounding box into position for each page, aligning to the left side and top of the text.

It is possible to define a bleed, which is added to all sides of the bounding box. The page number of each page is inserted manually; in most cases it can be read directly from the preview.

The layouts of the two back films are then defined simply by mirroring the two front films and incrementing or decrementing the page number by one. To complete the scan preparation, the user then selects the four relevant templates and enters the total number of pages in the book. Enough scan jobs are created to cover the whole book.

The verdict: "We mutually worked on developing the reverse imposition technology with Purup-Eskofot; it was very much a give and take process," Talacka reports. "This scanner will help us with the several million pages we are going to have to impose later this year, when a significant new account comes on board. The time we will save will be immeasurable—we are taking on 200,000 film flats, with 32 pages on each, when the new account hits."

To Eastern Rainbow and Offset Paperback, thick in the trenches of beta research to improve not only their existing production environments, but, ultimately, the production environments of countless commercial printing operations across the globe: Job well done.

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