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Southeastern Color--Mapping Roads

April 1999
With a pioneering spirit, Southeastern Color Graphics is one book printer intent on mapping digital prepress trails and charting new digital horizons.


The management team at Southeastern Color Graphics has a motto: You can't fight and win without good weapons.

"If it's nearly affordable and it's a sound investment, we will find a way to make it happen. We don't just invest for the sake of spending capital, we invest for the sake of perpetuating our success and expanding our portfolio of prepress and printing services," reveals Charlie Montgomery, chairman and CEO. "Our attorney laughs that while, comparatively speaking, we're the size of a gnat, we think like we're General Electric."

Actually, if Southeastern Color Graphics is a gnat, we're talking about one monster bug. With a base of 260 employees—that figure jumps to roughly 450 in the summer months—and projected 1999 revenues in the $25 million range, the Johnson City, TN-based book manufacturer caters to highly specialized product niches.

Typical products include oversized four-color, saddle-wire books. Southeastern Color also manufactures a wide range of pedestal books, ranging in widths up to 36˝. Additionally, this Tennessee operation reportedly is one of the nation's primary sources for full-color overhead transparency sets intended for classroom use.

"Smaller printers are no different than larger printers, or any other business when you consider what makes an operation successful," contends Jack Campbell, president and COO. "In broad terms, we believe a company—any company—must define its market, sell to its market and serve, serve, serve its market, while delivering quality product at a competitive price."

Southeastern also believes in the promise of a digital workflow—hence the company's interest in Agfa's Digital Roadmaps program, an Internet-based consulting channel, of sorts, to assist traditional commercial printers and related operations in their movement to electronic prepress or digital printing environments.

"Early in our search for CTP information, we stumbled onto an unknown gold mine: Agfa's Digital Roadmaps Web pages," reports Gordon Hutchinson, prepress manager. "We discovered the Website because, basically, we were already an established Agfa shop looking to see what Agfa had to offer in digital prepress, circa 1998." (A two-page imagesetter purchased by Southeastern in 1992 was the company's first move into digital waters, followed by an eight-up Agfa Avantra 44S in late 1996.)

Thanks to the digital highway that is the Internet, Agfa's Digital Roadmaps——provided the very inquisitive Hutchinson and related top management personnel, including Frank Burroughs, electronic prepress manager, with the right direction on matters of digital prepress. The Digital Roadmaps Website supports the belief that simply knowing about and purchasing new digital technologies does not mean a traditional commercial printing facility will be able to implement those new digital technologies successfully.

Reading the Map
Digital Roadmaps sports a tool called Agfa Custom Roadmap Builder, an interactive tool that uses the World Wide Web, sophisticated database software and variable-data printing, to allow a traditional commercial printer to customize its own roadmap for CTP, digital printing or high-end PDF workflows.

"A 'roadmap' is basically an online audit of the type of work you do, how the work comes in to you, as well as your existing workflow and equipment. The Custom Roadmap Builder then compiles all this information, giving you the option to immediately download a PDF file to print or have Agfa print and mail it to you," Hutchinson explains.

"The printout contains all the information you originally provided and provides an assessment of how far along you are on the road to your desired objective, whether the destination is digital prepress or digital printing," Hutchinson adds.

The customized, digital roadmap that Hutchinson obtained provided Southeastern direction as to what business and production requirements should be met before implementation of a full-blown CTP workflow—which will eventually encompass digital color proofing and digital platesetting technologies.

At present, Southeastern Color Graphics is in the middle stages of evaluating platesetting devices, both thermal and non-thermal, as well as exploring digital plate options, digital front ends—the likes of Agfa's Apogee or Scitex's Brisque workflow technologies—and the merits of digital halftone proofing.

"The CTP offerings from Agfa, Creo and Scitex and the digital color proofing devices from Kodak Polychrome Graphics and Polaroid all seem very solid," Hutchinson reports. "The area of digital workflow needs the most work; we're struggling with wanting to RIP once and rendorize the RIPed file to not only different output devices, but different manufacturers' digital output devices.

"There isn't a single-solution approach for implementing digital prepress," he adds. "We're learning that as we continue to watch activities from the major technology suppliers, as well as watch the evolution of the PDF file format. PDF will most likely be the file format that takes us into the next millennium."

Hutchinson is also quick to report that although the Digital Roadmaps program was created by Agfa, it's not just for existing Afga customers or prospects. "Digital Roadmaps is not just for people interested in Agfa. It's helpful for anyone exploring the impact of taking the CTP plunge."

Still on its digital CTP quest, Southeastern Color Graphics may invest in technologies from Agfa, or Creo, or Scitex—or any other major prepress player to win its trust and tempt its fate.

Regardless of the parent of the technology or technologies ultimately implemented into Southeastern's rapidly evolving prepress operation, the hope at Printing Impressions is that Hutchinson and crew are satisfied with their investments—and that, in due time, if not overnight, the company scores the prepress productivity boost needed to clearly validate any upcoming purchases of digital platesetting and digital color proofing devices.

May the road rise up to meet them.

If It Works for Southeastern. . .
Exploring the Digital Roadmaps Strategy

Agfa's Digital Roadmaps program grew out of the need for prepress, printing and publishing companies to transition from analog to digital workflows—and to do so by making informed decisions about major new technological investments.

So, what is Digital Roadmaps? The Agfa Digital Roadmaps program consists of several integrated parts that, together, offer the digitally savvy prepress enterprise or the potential on-demand printer a thorough explanation of new digital prepress and digital printing technologies.

The centerpiece of the program is Agfa's comprehensive Internet site——where commercial printers, prepress houses and service bureaus can locate detailed information on implementing digital imaging technologies, including CTP, high-end PDF workflows and digital printing.

A visitor to the Digital Roadmaps Website can view or download any of Agfa's Roadmap "White Papers," which cover current technologies impacting a variety of markets, ranging from commercial printing to package printing to digital imaging service providers. Covered in the series of White Papers are subjects such as CTP, color management, digital color printing and high-end PDF workflows.

To help address implementation, Digital Roadmaps is armed with the Custom Roadmap Builder—an interactive tool that uses the World Wide Web, sophisticated database software and variable-data printing. This allows users to customize a digital roadmap. Working with Banta's Integrated Media Group, Agfa created an intelligent database that provides a "Best in Class" recommendation that is specific to the user's situation. The system evaluates the user's current workflow, configuration and volume to make a sound recommendation regarding future digital purchases.

Here's how it works:

  • Click on "Build Your Own Roadmap" at Log on and follow the prompts to create a password, which ensures that all information remains confidential.

  • Once inside, answer a series of questions about the current workflow in place in your prepress environment, your current equipment and applications. The system then evaluates your responses and provides you with digital workflow "Best in Class" recommendations.

  • At that point, you'll be able to review and download your customized Digital Roadmap, or request a personalized copy printed on an Agfa Chromapress.

Keep in mind that implementing a digital workflow does not happen overnight. A strategy needs to be in place that considers financial requirements, personnel, training and all the ins and outs of implementing a digital technology—whether it be a thermal platesetter or variable-data digital press.

Technical information is provided by Agfa, makers of the Chromapress, which features Personalizer X variable-data software capabilities. Click onto Agfa's for more information, or to build a customized roadmap for future digital investments.

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