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GRAPH EXPO 2006: Prepress & Software — Putting All of the Pieces Together

November 2006 BY MARK SMITH
Technology Editor
SINCE THE digital revolution began, developments in the front end of the printing process have been as much about big ideas as they have specific products and solutions. The latest in a string of topics that have been debated include PDF versus native files, violet versus thermal CTP and process automation via JDF.

At Graph Expo and Converting Expo 2006, the discussion tended to be focused back at the product level. The parameters of the state-of-the-art in workflow, for now, have been clearly defined. They include:

• PDF-based file processing in a color managed environment is a given;

• computer-to-plate is also a given, but processless still gets a question mark;

• job data (CIP3/PPF and now JDF) passed to subsequent processing stages;

• Web-to-print interface to customers;

• monitor-based color proofing up to a contract proof and into the pressroom; and

• bidirectional links to MIS.

Vendors and printers, alike, are still working to assimilate a number of these developments and put the pieces together to build a seamless workflow. Increasingly, this also means being able to efficiently drive digital and offset printing from a common data stream.

Moving Forward

Incremental advances were introduced in all of these areas, but there wasn’t any really big announcement that alters the big picture—at least not yet. The development that cut across the most exhibitors at Graph Expo was Adobe licensees previewing their plans for implementing the Adobe PDF Print Engine in the next release of workflow solutions. This represents a significant change in how files are processed under the hood, but it was Global Graphics’ off-site presentation on XPS (XML Paper Specification) that may have foreshadowed the next big thing.

Microsoft is the driving force behind XPS, which is seen as a challenger to Adobe PDF’s position as the “electronic paper” format of choice, at least for online and general document distribution. The degree to which users will attempt to carry the format over into document creation for higher end, volume production is an open question, assuming it catches on at all.

Microsoft is introducing XPS with the release of its Windows Vista operating system and the 2007 Microsoft Office suite. Assuming the operating system is delivered per the latest schedule, its adoption may be slower than previous major upgrades because of all the publicity given to the delays and problems.

Global Graphics has been spearheading development of a reference RIP for XPS. Ralph Lloyd, vice president of product marketing, notes that this puts the company in a leadership role as compared to its current PDF clone status. Even so, he adds, its RIP solution has done native PDF processing from start to finish for years.


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