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Technology Visions--Executive Matters

August 2000
Execs from Dome Printing, Lake County Press, PlanetPrint.com, Graphic Enterprises and R.R. Donnelley & Sons sit down with Printing Impressions to map out the state of color management, PDF, remote proofing, thermal plates and digital asset management.


BY CAROLINE MILLER


The curtain has closed on DRUPA 2000 and the fairground lights have faded, returning Dusseldorf, Germany, to normal. The grand dame of international shows is over for another four years. But while the steady hum of new presses that once filled the air in Dusseldorf has gone silent, the buzz surrounding much of the technology has increased.

That DRUPA buzz will turn to cacophony on Sept. 24th in Chicago's McCormick Place complex as Graph Expo and Converting Expo 2000 picks up where the international show-of-shows left off. Running through Sept. 27th, the recently expanded Graph Expo will be, for many U.S. printers, a first look at the future of printing presented in Germany.

What are American printers anticipating? Printing Impressions polled a group of key commercial printing executives on the state of color management, PDF workflows, remote proofing, digital asset management and thermal CTP platesetting.

Dome Printing on Color Management
There will never be one industry color standard—and that is not an industry catastrophe, says Tim Poole, vice president of Sacramento, CA-based Dome Printing. "We can live by color standards, but you have to be able to print to those standards," he remarks. Poole believes that there are so many substrates and technologies that the industry must contend with, that there are simply too many different variables. "To try to contain them to one standard is really going to do an injustice to the industry," he claims.

So, what is Poole's solution? Simply, set your own standards. Poole admits that "a few years ago, I was frustrated when we purchased all our Creo equipment. I thought it should be Creo's responsibility to establish the color standards to which the equipment functioned, but Creo told us to create our own. I've come to realize that they were right. It is our responsibility to adopt our own standards."

Because Dome Printing's staff is no longer locked into some else's standard, they are able to expand and improve their color. "We have the tools that allow us to improve on how we conduct our business. It has allowed us to deviate from how the rest of the industry perceives standards, which were based on the analog systems."

Since the standards issue is so complex, the color management technology available to the printer has become even more valuable, he notes.

Today, Poole feels that the technology is maturing. "As the technology continues to mature this will cease to exist, but what we are seeing is that there are inconsistencies. The biggest issue for color management is the need for more consistent products," he says, adding that he believes CreoScitex's products are the most stable products currently available.

So what is the future of color management technology? Poole foresees technologies that offer the printer greater control. "Right now we have color repeatability, but we need consistency between the various steps from customer to finished product. As products develop and as printers begin to streamline their workflow, color management will not be as ominous."

PlanetPrint.com on Thermal Plates
Operations manager Beth Hagen is finally satisfied. It's taken awhile, but Hagen firmly believes that Presstek's Anthem plates are the future of thermal CTP plates. "We are now imaging in the positive mode, run lengths are good and dot gain is under control."

Although the technology is still being developed, there was never any doubt that PlanetPrint.com would use thermal plates. "We realized early on that this was where the technology was going. We knew we needed to learn to work with it. We have beta tested all three of their plates. This last Anthem plate is by far the best to date," Hagen reports.

The benefits of thermal platesetting technology are well suited to fulfilling the needs of PlanetPrint, she reports. "Our runs are small, but our jobs are numerous. We need to avoid extra steps, allowing us quicker turnaround. Imaging the plate and then going straight to press is something that has always been very important to us."

Speed is still a need, despite the improvements she has seen in thermal plate technology. "It still takes us eight minutes a plate. But, again, this is moving forward quickly," she notes. Other improvements that Hagen believes will be forthcoming are better software and RIPing compatibility.

Finally, Hagen does not buy into the argument that thermal platesetting is dead. "I'm absolutely convinced that this is where the technology is going."

Lake County Press on PDF Workflows
PDF HAS come a long way, baby, according to Kathy Funk, electronic prepress technology supervisor at Lake County Press in Waukegan, IL. "Two and a half years ago, I heard a lot about PDF technology, and what PDF was going to do. At that time, I didn't think the technology was quite there yet," she remembers.

But that was two and a half years ago. Since that initial introduction, Funk has changed her mind. "Within the past 12 months, PDF has become a stable technology. And I believe it is just going to get better," she remarks. "People are seeing that the technology is becoming more and more stable."

As the technology has improved, so has the number of customer requests for PDF formats, Funk reports. "During the last annual report season, we've seen a huge increase in the amount of requests we get for PDF files," she reveals.

Funk attributes growth in PDF requests to the Internet. "We are only going to see requests for PDF files increase, as company Websites become more sophisticated, and more and more information is posted on their Websites," she predicts.

But it's not just Websites that will utilize PDF, she explains. Funk says she is receiving more and more requests by catalog publishers for PDF files that they can then send to a printer abroad.

While PDF technology ensures that a client can send a complete package to Europe for printing, PDF also has an important relevance to their local customer base, Funk says. "Not only does it open up more business avenues outside of the local region, but we can do things like remote proofing using PDF," she describes. "Clients can proof a PDF file for content on their laptop, even while they are on their way to their son's baseball game."

While Funk extols the virtues of PDF technology, she does concede there are a few bugs that still need to be worked out, such as font issues and conflicts. "I've been in printing for 20 years, and no matter the technology, it always seems like it's a font issue," she says with a laugh. Still, the few bugs that Lake County Press has encountered have been relatively easy to trouble shoot. And Funk has nothing but praise for the CreoScitex Prinergy PDF workflow. "When we began using Prinergy is when we really saw things come together for us with PDF," she adds.

So what does Funk still need from PDF? A time will come, she predicts, when the PDF toolbox will be expanded to include tools that make it easier to make changes to PDF files. "The tools need to get a little better and a little more sophisticated. We find that we need to go in and make changes to the PDF file."

As the PDF technology continues to improve, Funk sees PDF finding a permanent home in the printer's arsenal. "You cannot ignore it. You have to understand it—and you have to have it in your toolbox."

Graphic Enterprises on Remote Digital Proofing
Remote digital proofing has grown up in the past 12 months, according to Robert Fish, director of prepress services for Graphic Enterprises in Detroit. "I think the technology, even within the past 12 months, has come a long way," Fish says, pointing to the improvements in resolution, accuracy of the pigments and the growth in the range of papers available for remote proofing.

But it's not only technology that has improved, so has customer knowledge, contends Fish, who has several customers set up for remote digital proofing. "Our customers have gotten much more intelligent. Every year, they know a little bit more about the digital environment."

This improved technology and customer awareness have resulted in improved efficiency, and a faster turnaround time. "Remote digital proofing allows us to trim hours, and sometimes days, off our production cycle," he says.

While Fish acknowledges that the technology has vastly improved business, he readily admits that he would like to see continued improvement. "I don't think it's ever to the point where any of us want it to be. We'd like to see lower costs and higher-end equipment. We always want better quality with less cost," he remarks.

Fish also sees a need for more affordable, dot-based remote proofing. "Something that actually lays down a halftone dot—that would be the ultimate for us."

Eventually, Fish believes, more vendors will migrate into the digital proofing realm. "We are going to see a lot more companies like Xerox or IBM jump on board, and start making higher-end copiers that interface and are actually able to send files directly too and realistically pull a high-end proof. That is where I see the technology going."

R.R. Donnelley & Sons on Digital Asset Management
R.R. Donnelley's clients are in the midst of a publishing paradigm shift, driven by digital asset management technology, according to Dan Taylor, director of digital asset management for the Premedia division. "Donnelley's customers are in the midst of moving from a very print-centric model to a media independent model—and digital asset management is really driving that move," Taylor says.

"Today, we have sophisticated tools for repuporsing images and text for multiple channels of distribution such as the Web or CD-ROM. "It's changing the kinds of services that we offer," he notes. But even repurposing will not be with the printing industry for long, adds Taylor. "Repurposing won't be the requirement in this new paradigm. It will be prepurposing and creating the content up front that achieves true media independence," Taylor describes.

This vision of the future of digital asset management is not that far off, especially when you take a look at the meteoric rise of digital asset management technology.

Today, the technology is dramatically different when compared to the past year and a half, according to Taylor. "We are past the early adopter stage. We are now in the ramp-up stage, where many customers are bringing in solutions or contracting with service companies to provide solutions, because it is now a de facto need," he reveals.

Digital asset management has become much more specialized, Taylor says. Now there are systems that cater to the advertising, merchandising and prepress communities. Digital asset management is no longer just about storage. Today's databases enable printers to provide product information back to their clients.

Donnelley can now track images and text, as well as very specific information such as pricing, weights and shipping information. All of these fields can be gleaned, put into a digital asset management system and offered back to the clients as product databases that suddenly are not print-centric, he explains.

Digital asset management has also been aligned with the complete workflow. "It's no longer just basic content management. It's digital asset management along with very specialized workflows," he reports.

With this fusion to workflows has come the realization that all of the differing digital asset management systems need to be able to work together, Taylor says. "Technology, especially XML, is being looked at as a way to provide a ubiquitous link between these systems," he notes.

The need for differing databases to have the ability to connect is an important factor in the technologies' future, says Bob Michels, president of Iridio, which is owned by R.R. Donnelley. "It's going to be mandated that those databases are able to speak to each other, in order to help us identify the written and visual assets associated with all of those components and compile it into a single, printed piece or Website."

This ability to maintain databases, track information and provide clients with useable information will require printers to fundamentally redefine themselves to address the larger communications picture and not just print, predicts Taylor. "We at R.R. Donnelley believe that we need to meet our customers' total communications needs with integrated solutions for print, Internet distribution and more."
 

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