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The Quad CTP Squad

August 1998
CTP allows Quad/Graphics to break conventions—
and break free from conventional plates.


Quad/Graphics has set its eyes on the future, looking into the next century with 20/20 vision. Make that 20/20/20 vision. The company has vowed to reduce customers' cycle times by 20 percent each year for the next three years.

This lofty goal has set Quad on a difficult path leading into the 21st century. Fortunately, the company's commitment to computer-to-plate (CTP) technology promises to make the trip less arduous. Call the journey "2001: A Plate Odyssey."

Computer-to-plate meshes well with Quad's three-year plan. By removing steps from the prepress process, CTP saves time and money for customers. CTP is particularly useful for magazine publishers, granting them the luxury necessary to create extremely time-sensitive editorial content.

"It streamlines the process and enables us to produce a monthly magazine like a weekly," says Mark C. Wheeler, Quad/Graphics' corporate technical manager. "It closes up all those schedules and gives some time back to our customers because we realize there is a big value in that time."

And it's a big value more and more customers are recognizing. Quad/Graphics installed its first CTP platesetter, a Creo unit, in October of 1995. Today, Quad/Graphics operates 19 Creo platesetters, outputting 52,000 digital plates every month.

Digital Dignitaries
According to Wheeler, 85 percent of Quad's work is direct-to-plate. Several Quad facilities have even gone completely digital. In March, Quad's Martinsburg, WV, and The Rock, GA, locations became 100-percent computer-to-plate. They followed in the footsteps of Quad's location in Saratoga Springs, NY.

A web facility specializing in magazines and catalogs, Saratoga Springs removed all of its conventional platemaking equipment in January. Now, armed with four Creo platesetters—two VLFs and two 3244s—the plant creates digital plates that feed 14 Heidelberg Harris web presses.

Wheeler notes that the Saratoga Springs facility has pursued a CTP workflow aggressively. However, he is quick to add that supportive magazine publishers helped make the transition from conventional to digital production much easier for Saratoga Springs. Many well-known titles have made the switch, including Newsweek, Forbes, People, Sports Illustrated and Time.

"The publications seemed pretty eager to go along with the technology," Wheeler says. "Once the word gets out there, and there looks like there could be some savings—whether it's cost-wise, time-wise or quality-wise—people are usually pretty receptive to the idea."

Still, making the idea a reality took plenty of hard work. Change never comes easy, and CTP brought plenty of changes.

"The truth is, when we started three years ago, there were problems," remembers Tom Frankow-ski, vice president of imaging. "There were things that went wrong. This process is not an evolutionary change; it's revolutionary."

The revolution began in the front end. Frankowski notes that the Creo platesetters used a Harlequin RIP, while the proofing devices used an Adobe RIP. This created some compatibility problems. So Quad came up with a workflow using a variety of hardware and software that cleaned PostScript files prior to proofing and platemaking, creating files that could only be processed one way.

Frankowski also claims that the CTP systems were designed for heavy-duty manufacturing, feeding the presses like a pipeline. Driving everything from archiving to platemaking, the CTP software ran off of a single-server platform. Quad decided to change that.

"We unbundled all the software, and put it across an environment of several pod servers that enable us to do many different functions on jobs across a wide platform," Frankowski explains. "That addressed the productivity issue."

Once Quad was happy with the software and platesetters, the company needed to pick its digital plates. Quad chose thermal. "The thermal process really gives you a lot of consistency and high fidelity," Frankowski says.

As Quad assimilated CTP technology, the company added other complementary digital capabilities, such as remote proofing, telecommunications and asset management. Frankowski estimates that 20 percent to 25 percent of Quad's marketplace immediately got excited. These customers, recognizing the time and cost savings associated with the new digital workflow, made the switch to CTP—no questions asked.

"The forerunners were publishers who were looking for ways to present hot editorial content, who wanted to cut cycle time," Frankowski says.

The remaining Quad customers needed time to weigh the risks. Quad has battled this reluctance by showing print buyers how CTP improves quality and turnaround.

"We're working with customers, going through an education process, making them understand where the values are," Frankowski says.

As Quad installed the new equipment, customers weren't the only people who received an education in direct-to-plate workflows. The company cross-trained its existing prepress employees.

Prepress Pros
The workers were quick learners. This is not surprising, considering that many of them have been immersed in digital prepress for decades. Quad/Graphics began adding prepress services nearly 20 years ago, installing electronic front ends at individual plants.

"That created 1,000 digitally literate Quad employees, people who since 1979 grew up through the explosion of the CEPS environment," Frankowski explains.

Although the in-house courses began in the front end, Quad didn't limit its training to the prepress department. Press operators also learned the ways of CTP.

At first, the pressroom workers were very skeptical. Then they saw firsthand the benefits of CTP—such as quicker, more accurate make-readies and fewer dust problems.

"It took about two months, and then the press operators were fighting over who got to run the CTP plates," Wheeler recalls.

While educating employees and customers, Quad decided to include another group of students: the customers' customers. Ad agencies, to be more specific. Its Ad Resource Management (ARM) centers have led the schooling for these pupils.

The ARM centers trace their roots back to 1995. At the time, Quad recognized that jobs such as catalogs and freestanding inserts could—and would—gravitate easily towards CTP. Magazines, on the other hand, would have to make the move more slowly because publishers only control 60 percent of their content: the editorial portion.

"Their ability to get digital advertising in 1995 was nil to none," Frankowski says. "Ad Resource Management became a way for us to educate the ad agencies. It helps our customers receive ads as digital content, so that we don't have this barrier of half the job being digital, half being film."

Quad has established five ARM centers across the country: one in Saratoga Springs, one in New York City, one in The Rock, GA, one in Sussex, WI, and one in Anaheim, CA. The centers act as liaisons with ad agencies, showing them how CTP affects the manufacturing of publications. They also prepare ad materials for the CTP workflow.

"The job of the Ad Resource Management center is, among other things, to take in supplied film, digitize it, and make it computer plateready," Wheeler says.

In addition to working with supplied film, the ARM centers preflight digital ads that come in from agencies. While most of these ads arrive as TIFF/IT files, the centers receive a wide mix—from PDF to native file formats. In each case, the centers must assess each file honestly, qualify it, and decide whether it will reproduce properly on-press.

ARMed and Ready
Since the ARM centers are part of a printing company, their employees appreciate the intricacies of the printing process. "We have a big advantage that prep houses don't have," Wheeler believes. "We keep ink and paper in mind from the beginning of the process all the way through to the end. We don't say, 'Hey, this is a pretty proof.' We look at it and say, 'Can we match this proof on-press?'"

If the answer is no, then the ARM centers work on a solution. Working with, and around, supplied materials is a big responsibility for the centers.

Here's an example. Say that an ad agency supplies materials at a 175 square dot for a magazine with editorial at a 133 square dot. After receiving the ad, the ARM center applies a screening dot shape angle and screen ruling to the digital file. The center then matches that screening to a screen that was used in the original proofing process that the customer approved.

With the ARM centers carrying the burden of ad materials and Quad marketing CTP as the way to be, don't be surprised if the remaining CTP holdouts soon swear off conventional plates. Quad estimates that the percentage of its customers committed to CTP should reach the high 90s by the end of 1998.

Print buyers who have made the switch should expect even more exciting CTP developments from Quad in the near future. The company plans on adding job-tracking capabilities and improving color calibration for even more consistency from prepress to press. Also, Quad intends to bring the ARM centers directly to the customers through Web-based browsers installed at the end users' offices.

While improvements such as these add even more value to a CTP environment, Quad recognizes that CTP, itself, doesn't exist in a vacuum. The process includes clients and employees—and requires their backing in order to succeed.

So as Quad begins its three-year journey toward a future filled with faster turnarounds, the company has not forgotten that it's people, working with technology, who ultimately make the trip possible.

"Along with the computer-to-plate device, it takes good customers who are willing to use the technologies, suppliers who are willing to work with you to obtain this goal, and people throughout the printing plant," Wheeler maintains. "It really involves everybody."

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