Digital File Transfer Get Yourself Connected
Once upon a time, electronic desktop publishing seemed miraculous. No more awkward cameras, no more messy paste-ups. Put all of your work on a disk, then overnight a package to the printer. Simple.
Nowadays, electronic desktop is trite. Everybody's got it. Everybody's using it. And the ability to accept a disk delivered overnight doesn't impress print buyers who want their jobs yesterday.
Today's removable media, such as SyQuests and Zips, may boast high memory capacity, but you can't ship them any faster than floppies. If you want quicker delivery, you need the speed of digital file transfer.
Digital file transfer performs new miracles in the front end. No more removable media, no more courier bills. Click a mouse; the job goes.
Digital file transfer delivers files instantly. But it can be expensive. That's why many print buyers lean towards the Internet. ISPs are plentiful, and access is affordable.
Unfortunately, customers don't always fathom the Internet's limitations. Sending large files as e-mail attachments is impractical; large files that pass through ISPs take too long to transmit. Even small files can move slowly during periods of heavy traffic.
"There has been a strong push from our customers to go the Internet route," notes Thomas Yllander, technical director of K&W Inc., a high-end commercial printer with facilities in Baton Rouge, LA, and Jackson, MS. "But clients don't necessarily understand the complexities and problems associated with e-mail."
Generally, an attachment of one or two megabytes can pass over the Internet without incident. Anything larger can lead to trouble.
Before eager customers with new AOL accounts decide to e-mail all of their job files, educate them about the Internet's shortcomings. At Japs-Olson, a client once wanted to send an 8MB file via the Internet. Prepress Manager Michael Murphy had to dissuade the customer.
"Getting a perfect transmission for the period of time required is unlikely," he explains. "Also, you have to wait so long before you even know if there's a problem."
A St. Louis Park, MN-based direct mail and commercial printer, Japs-Olson accepts files through a dial-up BBS and a password-protected FTP site. Customers can also transfer files through ISDN lines.
Japs-Olson installed 4-Sight's iSDN Manager in 1996, and DAX integrated the system. The company uses a Primary Rate Interface (PRI): 23 ISDN channels with throughput of 12.5MB per minute.
"4-Sight really made it easy to transmit back and forth," Murphy says. "DAX came in and took over the hassle of dealing with the telephone companies. The transfers are seamless, easy, and with the pure digital signal, it's reliable."
Worth the Price?
Still, some print buyers avoid ISDN because they fear getting locked into a technology or vendor. Others can't justify the expense.
Yllander agrees that ISDN's price can discourage print buyers. He points out that installing a Basic Rate Interface (BRI), a single ISDN line, can cost $2,800.
K&W operates a BRI using 4-Sight's iSDN Manager. The company's ISDN users tend to be larger clients. According to Yllander, smaller companies can't always justify ISDN's initial installation price. That's why K&W recently plugged into Wam!Net's digital delivery network. By becoming Wam!Net users, K&W customers gain a new option for transferring files.
Wam!Net's basic contract starts at $250. The company charges a monthly fee based on the number of megabytes transferred. This allows an agency to bill back the costs associated with a particular job.
Atlanta-based GAC Color Graphics not only transfers megabytes with clients, it also transfers megabytes with other companies in its network. GAC Color Graphics uses a T-1 line to distribute jobs to the other five printing plants that Graphic Arts Center (GAC) owns. GAC Color Graphics connects to customers with ISDN lines. The company counts 16 connections, with at least 16 more pending.
GAC Color Graphics operates one PRI and eight BRIs. "Of the eight BRIs, four are on a 4-Sight connection, and the other four are open architecture," says Bill Gillespie, vice president and general manager.
GAC Color Graphics got involved in digital file transfer back in May of 1996. DAX helped with the initial connection. Now, GAC Color Graphics does everything itself. The company has bundled off-the-shelf hardware and software into a suite of services called Cyberease.
Go With the Flow
Although customers can access Cyberease via a Web browser, most rely on a peer-to-peer ISDN connection. An incoming file receives an electronic job ticket before going into the customer's specific "vault": a secure area on the server that the customer can access. GAC Color Graphics then opens the file, which flows through autotrapping or automatic picture replacement, right to a proofer or imagesetter. GAC Color Graphics may also send a remote proof or soft proof.
"Many of our customers prefer soft proofing, stream-to-stream, where they can mark up the file, and we see it on our end," Gillespie says. "We make the correction, and they see it on their end."
Japs-Olson also does soft proofing. It transfers PDF files to clients for certain jobs. "Anything with serious or critical color I would not consider right now because of calibration issues," Murphy explains.
George Lithograph, in San Francisco, practices remote proofing. The company RIPs files to a TIFF image; the TIFF goes to an output device at George Lithograph as well as to a client's proofer. Since George Lithograph specializes in technical documentation, most of the work involves text. So, customers have no trouble accepting the proofs.
George Lithograph has enjoyed great success receiving digital files via its anonymous FTP site. The company operates its own host computers, as does most of its clients. This direct connection speeds things up. Also, most customers are large corporations working in UNIX environments.
"FTP seems to be easiest and more natural for customers using UNIX systems directly or customers working through UNIX servers that can be scripted to handle the process," says Jim Mekis, director of technical development.
By inserting some code in the home directory, a UNIX user can type something as simple as ftp.george.com and transfer all of the files in the directory. The process is simple and safe.
Then again, digital file transfer, itself, is rather simple and safe. A properly compressed file will prevent corruption. And security isn't as big an issue as most people believe. As Mekis points out, tapping into specific data flowing as packets interspersed with other people's information is almost impossible. You take bigger risks with your personal information in everyday life.
"You'll worry about the security of the Internet, then hand your credit card to a waiter who disappears with it for 10 minutes," Mekis says. "Tell me: What happened to it in the meantime?"