Focus on Digital Front Ends

Digital front ends are growing in flexibility and functionality, allowing for greater output opportunities, especially in areas of digital color proofing. Are DFEs where they need to be—technically speaking? Most are headed in the right direction, thanks to the promise of PDF.


The success of any print production process—whether it is direct-to-film, direct-to-plate or imposition proofing—relies fully on the competence of the digital front end in question. Digital front ends, or DFEs—rich in providing controls for color management, PDF support and a host of in-RIP capabilities, including trapping—are taking the front end to higher levels of sophistication.

What is a DFE? In some circles, that may be up for debate, as certain segments of the prepress industry consider the term DFE to be too abstract and even limiting in scope.

At its core level, a DFE is a glorified RIP—with all the hot buzz word bells and whistles—capable of handling a multitude of functions and workflows. A DFE is a sophisticated, multi-tasking RIP.

Another line of thought is that a DFE is more than just a super RIP. While the RIP certainly acts as the conduit for all print production, the functions of a DFE are well beyond the stage where the RIP is the absolute focal point. Case in point: Certain aspects of the prepress production environment in which content is multi-purposed for use on the Internet or for CD-ROMs.

What the industry agrees on, however, is that a cooperative publishing vehicle, capable of a variety of front-end tasks—including PostScript interpretation, PDF support and especially trapping—is needed to control all aspects of output, whether the destination is a digital platesetter, digital proofer, digital color printer or even the Internet.

Until a collection of technology minds within the prepress community devise such a clever term—Cooperative Publishing Engine (CPE), Integrated Production Control (IPC), Production Control Center (PCC), Super Front End (SFE)—the acronym of choice used to discuss the almighty RIP and the complex digital workflows it serves is conveniently tagged a DFE.

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