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Remote Proofing--The Collaborative Proof

September 1998

Remote proofing may be the ultimate form of collaboration between client and printer—each reviewing a proof rendered at separate locations, thanks to technological advances in color management software, digital proofing devices and digital file delivery services.

The benefits of adding remote proofing to a printing organization—outputting less film, buying less chemicals, avoiding shipping costs and time-consuming review periods—seem to position remote proofing as the logical direction for the contract proofing process.

So why aren't more prepress firms and commercial printing organizations rushing to add a digital proofer and team that digital proofing device with digital file transfer technologies ranging from simple dial-up ISDN to T-1 lines to connectivity via managed, secure networks?

Timing may have a lot to do with it. By and large, commercial printers like to see proof in their, well, proofs. Still rather cutting edge, remote proofing is just now refining issues with color management, as the digital proofing field continues to make its own equipment enhancements and new launches.

Polaroid's Jonathan Agger, marketing manager, offers his take on the key to productive remote proofing and what may be the finest attribute of the newest generation of digital proofing systems.

"A digital proofing device that completely meets the needs of both printers and their customers is the key to remote proofing," he explains. "Printers want fast, accurate proofing systems that can emulate their press conditions, while their customers want cost-efficient, type-sharp proofing systems with the economy and simplicity of copying machines."

The Next Generation
The newest generation of pigment-based digital proofing systems that output proofs with extraordinary color accuracy on actual printing stocks now satisfies the needs of both printers and print buyers, and is helping to drive the growth of remote proofing.

"These new systems empower decision-making at each proofing point within the prepress production cycle," Agger reports. "Using the same language through a common proof, printers and their customers are relying on remote proofing as a tool that permits them to interact and manage color far earlier in the process. With remote proofing enabling color-critical decisions much earlier in the prepress process, it is as though customers are, in effect, sending their best color specialists to help run the presses."

Eighteen months ago, though, it was a customer that pulled Cline, Davis, Mann into remote proofing.

Itself a specialist in color manipulation and art design, Cline, Davis, Mann—a New York-based, full-service ad agency focused on the health-care industry—turned to remote proofing by incorporating Digital Art Exchange (DAX) ISDN integration in use with Polaroid digital proofing technology. DAX oversees the links between 4-Sight's ISDN file transfer tool and Polaroid's DryJet.

"We supply high-resolution files that have been proofed prior to leaving the agency, with the understanding that we don't always know who is printing the job," explains Ria Saxton, production manager.

"We are presently using DAX ISDN file transfer technology. One of our clients asked us to link up with them and their vendors 18 months ago for a product launch and it turned out to be a time- and a cost-saver for the clients," Saxton reports. "There is no question that remote proofing is an untapped area for our customers, but we are confident we can bring our clients along in this process."

One of the First
At Colorhouse, Gary Reynolds, prepress manager and color specialist, relies on two Kodak DCP 9000s, three digital halftone Kodak Approvals and one Epson Stylus 5000 system. Most remote work is done on the Kodak DCP 9000, predominantly using WAM!NET's managed network for file transfer. A small portion of file transfer is also done via the Internet and T-1 lines.

Based in Plymouth, NY, Colorhouse also maintains an additional five Kodak DCP 9000 digital proofers at customer sites across the United States, which are linked to WAM!NET for WAM!PROOF work. One year ago, Colorhouse was one of the first printing facilities to get WAM!PROOF installed, as Colorhouse's Reynolds explains.

"We wanted to go to remote proofing almost right after its inception; we couldn't wait to get our hands on the technology. We knew just what customer sites we wanted to connect with for remote proofing and just what relationships with potential customers we wanted to pursue," Reynolds states.

"To date, we've had great success with remote proofing—no issues with color management. It's been a bulletproof deal between ourselves and our customers," he continues. "We do have some customers who have not totally bought into digital proofs as yet, but they need to get over that and accept the concept of an all-digital workflow."

Lancaster, PA-based Acorn Press is just now moving beyond its initial acceptance of remote proofing technology. A fractional T-1 line that is maintained by WAM!NET and linked with Acorn's Kodak DCP 9000—the firm also has Kodak Approval and IRIS proofing technologies—is being utilized by two of Acorn's clients.

"We're feeling the waters," admits Frank Kenavan, network administrator at Acorn Press. "Initially, we had many of the same confidence concerns as most other printers and print customers. In some ways, we're just now moving past those concerns to a point of solid acceptance."

Remote Routines
At present, one of Acorn's customers uses remote proofing to confirm editorial content. Acorn's procedure with this client is now routine: Acorn receives digital files for a given job, puts the files in low res with scanned color, does all the assembly, creates a PDF file and sends that PDF back to the client.

"In many ways we are in our infancy with remote proofing, although we've been discussing it internally as long as the industry has been talking about it," Kenavan reports.

Beyond WAM!PROOFing at Colorhouse and maintaining fractional T-1 efforts at Acorn Press, Mitch Prust, marketing manager for WAM!NET's Industry Smart Applications, reports on the status of WAM!PROOF—about 10 percent of all WAM!NET customers are WAM!PROOFing—and offers projections for remote proofing.

"Several WAM!PROOF customers are already sending over 100 digital proofs a day to their customers and sister operations, with output devices used by WAM!NET customers ranging from black-and-white printers to high-resolution imagesetters," Prust says.

"A trend that is an indicator of the comfort level with remote proofing is that the average proof size has been on a steady increase. This is because people are sending two-page spreads and higher quality work," he continues. "The end result for WAM!PROOF customers is a closer customer relationship and the ability to handle multiple iterations of a design without the cost of taking a lot of time."

In the future, Prust reports, color-accurate, remote digital output should be as easy as selecting the destination site and color management standard of the output device. "For WAM!NET customers that receive proofs, they will be able to inject the client's proof into preflighting and then to the output device of choice with ease," Prust projects.

Correct Calibration
Fujifilm—now heavily marketing the remote proofing capabilities of PictroProof—has its own take on the hoopla surrounding remote proofing and the critical nature of color calibration in remote environments.

"With all of the hoopla of remote proofing, Fuji's main concern still deals with making sure the remote device is calibrated correctly," reports Richard Black, group manager, product development, at Fujifilm. "Many of the current digital proofing systems, including our own FirstProof system, require off-line calibration, meaning that some type of software and densitometer are needed to send new calibration values to the device via a computer."

In some remote locations, Fuji's Black continues, there will probably be technical personnel who can be easily trained to perform and maintain these calibration procedures. However, Fujifilm believes the real growth of remote proofing will be at actual customer locations where these procedures might be difficult to perform on a regular basis.

"This is why we are so excited about our newest digital proofing device, PictroProof," Black reports. "PictroProof has a built-in calibration device. To calibrate the unit, the user selects calibration from the PictroProof control panel, and the unit prints out a calibration print, which is then fed into a strip reading densitometer that is included with the unit."

Polaroid's family of digital color proofing products, the DryJet contone system and PolaProof halftone system, are designed to enable color-critical decisions and approvals more quickly, reliably and cost-effectively at key intermediate proofing points in the production cycle. Using the same language to communicate through a common, trusted proof, printers and their customers can confidently use remote proofing as a powerful tool that permits them to manage color far earlier in the process when modifications are less costly and are easier to make.

"To fit perfectly into the paradigm of a high-performance, responsive and flexible remote proofing network, digital proofing systems must incorporate operating characteristics that provide extraordinary color accuracy on actual printing stocks," Polaroid's Agger reports.

Nicholas Patrissi, print media markets specialist at Imation, is enthused by the growing number of applications for high-speed data transport. "With the trend to broaden the range of the supplier network, out of town or even out of the country, the time and money used to ship proofs—even with express services—can best be used elsewhere," he states.

Imation's Rainbow proofing system provides a complete package available for any appropriate file transfer software and infrastructure. Imation's color fidelity systems help guarantee color from proofer to proofer. For example, the Rainbow proofing system is targeted to industry standard Imation Matchprint color specifications. A printer can use Imation Rainbow Spectral Profiler software to establish color matches to any press or color condition.

One such example from the Imation remote proofing portfolio is Fidlar Printing, a general commercial printer in Davenport, IA. Fidlar set up remote proofing with its biggest account after the customer had moved 140 miles from Davenport to Des Moines, enabling the printer to continue providing the kind of service it offered when the customer was in town.

For Fidlar, Imation saw three essentials to remote proofing: cost-effective digital file transfer from vendor to client; a digital proofer that meets customers' needs, as well as a color target for the proof; and a way to guarantee color at the receiving site.

Thinking about going remote?

Thanks to refinements in both digital color proofing and electronic file transfer, remote proofing is gaining a foothold. With more time and testing, even cautious commercial printers may rally to remote.

TECH TALK--The Remote Reality

Ken Theodos, marketing manager, Color Proofing Systems, at Kodak Polychrome Graphics, discusses the four main technology advancements that have made remote proofing a reality.

The four most obvious technological advancements that have brought remote proofing to the commercial printer are accuracy, speed, simplicity and flexibility—in both the world of digital proofing and the world of digital file transfer.

For accuracy, a proof should be an accurate representation of the final print. Color management and correction software has improved considerably. Media that is produced under tight manufacturing/quality tolerances create an integrated system whereby proofer and media work together to assure consistent reproduction of color.

Turning to speed, RIP and transmission bandwidth technology have improved, and many proofers can now support more sophisticated network configurations.

Regarding simplicity, it is important that operation at the remote site be simple and not require a high operator skill level. Calibration and control utilities now require little operator intervention.

Finally, flexibility. The remote proofing system should be flexible and support different file formats/transmission methods. The system should be adaptable to all situations.

The Kodak Polychrome Graphics DCP 9500 proofer gives a high level of performance in these attributes. It is a highly accurate proofer with exceptional stability from proofer to proofer and from roll to roll of media. Once set up, it is easy to operate the proofer in a remote environment. It is also flexible and able to handle PostScript, EPS, TIFF/IT-P1, compressed pre-RIPed raster files or PDF files.

The Kodak Polychrome Graphics DCP 9500 offers strong stability from proofer to proofer for remote work. The Kodak Approval family of digital proofing devices is targeting the remote marketplace.

Watching the Monitor!
Monitor Calibration & Soft Proofing

Technical tips were provided by Richard Hebert, senior vice president, Pantone.

Soft proofing seems simple enough: A computer monitor is used to display a representation of a design before it is printed. If the representation matches what the printed piece will look like closely enough, it can be used to provide the client with a realistic expectation of how the final piece will look. A hard copy proof need only be created at the very end of the process.

Of the two most significant variables in proofing, mechanical layout and color, depicting the color accurately remains the most elusive. The magic that makes this work is a great deal of digital technology used behind the scenes to make the color of a video image match a printed document.

By considering a few fundamental issues, users can minimize these risks when soft proofing.

  • Use a high-quality monitor. As with any hardware device, a monitor's settings will shift over time and need adjustment. At a minimum, it is important that the monitor offer more control than the standard factory settings. Qualities to look for are: high resolution at 1,024x768 dpi or higher and a high refresh rate.

  • Calibrate your monitor. For any monitor to be effective as a soft-proofing device, it needs to deliver stable, repeatable results so the display represents color the same way from day to day. This can be accomplished with a self-calibrating monitor or by using a monitor calibration device to create a device profile.

  • Foster a color-managed workflow. Designers should work in a color-managed workflow that uses device profiles to describe the color characteristics of all of their specific equipment (scanners, digital cameras, monitors, printers, proofing devices and presses) to properly translate colors between source and destination and back again.

  • Match the output device. Utilize color profiles that match your final output device.

Pantone's color calibrator helps eliminate monitor concerns in soft proofing.


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