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FILE PROCESSING SOLUTIONS -- Getting into the Flow

September 2002
BY MARK SMITH


The computer has been an amazing enabling tool for the printing industry. The problem is, it has put capabilities in the hands of anyone with a computer and some software, but not the expertise that goes with the craft. Creative types have been lured into attempting more production-oriented tasks by the potential to gain greater control over their work and save money.

In bridging the boundaries between creative and production functions, digital technology also has blurred lines of responsibility. Too often, the outcome has been disappointing printed results and/or frustration with the process, now broadly called "workflow."

But wait, here comes CIM—computer-integrated manufacturing. Just automate wherever possible and take the human factor out of the equation whenever possible, and everything will come out great. How all this integration is accomplished is the tricky part, especially since the print customer needs to be a partner in the process for the full potential of CIM to be realized.

One option for print providers is to turn to a major workflow system vendor for a turnkey solution. Or, they can opt to do their own system integration using third-party components. The latter option will be explored in this article, with an emphasis on the core functions of preflighting, trapping and imposition. These function must be addressed for virtually every job, and now are potentially within the reach of the print customer.

At Kaye-Smith, preflighting was set up as an independent department to get it as far ahead as possible of the company's production workflow, says Matt Beals, preflight engineer. "We don't want to get caught by a problem on a live job when it should have been resolved at the preflight stage," he explains. "Once I finish my preflighting, the job is turned back over to the salesperson, who then submits it through our order-entry process. Only then does a file become a live production job."

Kaye-Smith still considers preflighting part of its production process, but it does encourage customers to try doing it themselves, Beals says. "Most are still leery of taking responsibility for preflight and don't feel comfortable with the process," he adds.

With an emphasis on document management services, the Renton, WA-based firm designs, prints, stores and distributes an array of business documents. Its clients range from Fortune 500 organizations down to small businesses.

Right From The Start

According to Beals, native application files are still the typical—and generally preferred—format for the shop's incoming work. "We do accept PDFs from some customers at their request, but we don't just automatically accept the format," he says. "We've found that most clients don't yet know how to produce press-ready PDFs."

Internally, the company checks all native application files using Markzware FlightCheck and PDFs are processed through Enfocus PitStop Professional, reports the preflight engineer.

As for the other steps on the way to press-ready files, Beals says the trapping and imposition requirements for the work generally is pretty straightforward and is handled internally. The automated trapping capabilities (FAF) of the shop's Creo Brisque front end is sufficient for the bulk of the work, he notes. Kaye-Smith also has a couple of licenses for the Creo PressTouch standalone, Mac-based trapping solution to tackle more complex trapping requirements.

The company has the Brisque Impose version of the workflow system, so the workstation is able to handle imposition of PostScript files, as well. ScenicSoft Preps is used to impose the bulk of the shop's other work.

There are similarities and differences in how Perry Judd's Inc. structures its prepress operations and manages customer relationships. One of the differences is the extent to which the printer has embraced PDFs. Native application files still account for at least 40 percent of the organization's work, but the percentage of PDFs is now at about that same level, reveals Edward Bacsik, vice president and division manager of its centralized prepress facility in Madison, WI.

Perry Judd's maintains separate workflows rather than converting everything to PDF internally, the prepress exec reports. "The tools we use change with the format. For a native application or PostScript file, we'll use FlightCheck prior to rasterizing. If it's a PDF, we'll use PitStop Professional or PitStop Server to do preflighting," he says.

The printer charges customers for preflighting, Bacsik adds. If there is a problem with a file, then the customer has to fix it and re-submit the file for preflighting—again for a fee, he says. However, pricing incentives are offered to clients submitting PDFs.

"What's nice about PDFs is that they are compressible and travel through the production system more efficiently than a native or PostScript file—once a client knows how to generate them correctly," he continues. "To that end, we have a specification sheet we give out that lists dos and don'ts in Acrobat Distiller. In some situations, we will provide a customer with FlightCheck and set up the proper Ground Controls."

After preflighting, jobs are passed to the prepress operation's Nexus front-end system from Artwork Systems. Any required trapping is done on that system for a fee. "Customers are welcome to take trapping on themselves," Bacsik notes. "The products we print are primarily catalogs and publications, so all that's generally required is setting overprints. We usually only get involved with more complex pages. Nexus provides in-RIP trapping, but we still need to evaluate the page."

The prepress operation has opted to go the third-party route for imposition by integrating ScenicSoft Preps into its workflow. "We got started with Preps probably five years ago, so we have a lot of experience with it," Bacsik says.

A myriad of options are open to other printers in dealing with these issues. Several vendors are offering solutions designed to integrate the print customer directly into the preflight process, as well. With regard to trapping, design and layout applications, some printers have put some level of control in clients' hands, but any tools beyond that level still are being targeted to print professionals. The need to match the press configuration all but ensures imposition will remain in the domain of print providers.

Tools For Customers

Markzware recently announced a new preflighting tool, called HawkEye, which is specifically targeted to creative professionals. It is enabled through plug-ins for most of the popular desktop publishing applications. Pages are evaluated based on preset design specifications. The company also offers the Markznet Web-based preflighting solution as a way to integrate print creators into the process.

Enfocus Software continues to upgrade and enhance its implementation of the Certified PDF workflow. The technology extends preflighting upstream to the creative stage through the Instant PDF application that directs the generation of proper files in Acrobat Distiller. Print providers can supply PDF Profiles to clients to ensure incoming files meet their specifications. For PostScript workflows, Enfocus DoubleCheck includes a client verification module.

Extensis Inc.'s Preflight Online is a Web-based file submission solution that includes a preflight function. Print providers can customize their implementation to match production requirements.

Having been the topics of heated industry debates in the past, trapping and imposition have seemed to slip into anonymity under the workflow umbrella. Print creators and providers have been largely satisfied with the processes and tools they have in place to address the processes. This may help to explain why the recent announcement of Creo's plan to acquire ScenicSoft elicited such strong reactions in some quarters.

Most of the concern centered on the future of Preps, given its broad use and integration into the workflow solutions from many of the vendors that compete with Creo.

Ironically, the announcement brought increased attention to standalone imposition solutions from other vendors. Some Preps users started to research alternatives on the remote chance that any of their worst-case fears—about Creo's plans for the product or other system manufacturers ceasing to integrate the application—were borne out.

Heidelberg continues to offer its standalone Signastation imposition system that it says can produce files ready for output on any standard PostScript RIP. Available in Mac and PC/Windows versions, it imposes PostScript, PDF and Delta Lists data formats. The system also creates a CIP4-PPF file.

Dynagram Software recently introduced version 3.5 of its Dyna-Strip software for Windows 95/NT, which it says offers the same functions and easy user interface as the Macintosh version. The application is offered in four packages tailored for specific market segments. Having acquired the product earlier this year, Dynagram also released version 5.0 of INposition, the XTension for exposing native QuarkXPress files and imported pages.

More Options Available

Ultimate Technographics offers its Impostrip imposition application as a standard client-server version and Solo single-user product. The applications support PostScript, PDF and TIFF pages, and can also generate CIP4-PPF data.

From its U.K. headquarters, Farrukh Systems continues to sell Imposition Publisher in standalone and server versions for the Mac OS, as well as a client-server implementation for Linux. Version 4.2.3 features support for native PDF.

Other commentaries have noted that the Creo/ScenicSoft deal is most likely to have an impact in the trapping arena. As was noted earlier, Creo already offers integrated Full Auto Frames trapping and the standalone PressTouch application. The addition of ScenicSoft's TrapWise product seems to create redundant product lines.

In-RIP trapping has pretty much become standard equipment for workflow systems, but a number of other vendors also offer specialty products.

Lucid Dream Software released I-Trap, a raster-based trapping solution that can be used as an interactive, standalone package or run as an in-RIP option by Harlequin RIP users. The application runs under WindowsNT.

Heidelberg recently launched version 3.0 of its Supertrap trapping solution for Apple Mac OS X. It is said to process native PDFs without converting them into an intermediate format. This plug-in for Acrobat can perform inter-active, object-oriented trapping.

Ultimate Technographics is distinct in the market for targeting some of its trapping applications to the graphic designer. The first example was Trapeze Artist, an interactive, zonal trapping solution. Earlier this year, the company introduced Xtrap for Mac OS X. It is targeted to graphic designers and service provides, with support for EPS, PostScript and PDF files in an automated workflow.
 

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