Hamilton--A Few Holiday Wishes
With the holidays approaching only too rapidly, I thought it time to generate a wish list for the folks whose primary responsibility it is to make sure that the bits and bytes turn into spots and dots.
With all the jousting that goes on in our industry, a little peace on earth and goodwill among men and women sounds like a good thing. Let's face it: There's really no bad equipment out on the market, just different approaches that each come with their own compromises and drawbacks, as well as features and benefits.
Of course, we all end up with our preferences as to how to handle files, whether it be to use PostScript, PDF, TIFF, DCS, CT/LW or even PageMaker! But why do they keep selling PageMaker 6.5 bundled with Illustrator 8 and Photoshop 5.5? I thought InDesign was finally InDeStore!
However, I say we draw the line with MS Publisher. Hey, with Microsoft getting kicked by everyone from federal judges on down to the rest of us, I thought it'd be fun to join in. We can pretend that Bill is Ebeneezer Scrooge and that we're Tiny Tim and . . .
Goodwill Among Software Giants, Adobe & Quark?
Speaking of companies that can impose their will on the rest of us, how about a little peace on earth and goodwill between Adobe and Quark. While these two behemoths spar over market share, we are left to pick up the pieces when files come in printed with the wrong PostScript printer driver, bounding box problems and other problems that result from their bad relationship.
Then there's the world of CTP. Frankly, I don't care if you expose printing plates with a miniature flashlight, or use it with a magnifying glass to heat up the surface.
Either way, can we declare "enough!" in the debate over visible-light vs. thermal-imaging technologies? Both work better than film, both have their place in different printing workflows.
I am tired of hearing about it. The bottom line is that there are so many other issues that determine the quality of the finished piece that to focus on my 8-micron spot vs. your 7-micron spot—hat or halo—shows how we can lose perspective.
What's really important about CTP is what happens before the file gets to the platesetter. Beyond the issue of file formats and workflow, what I would really like to see is the printing industry stand up for itself and demand that clients become accountable for the materials they submit for production.
There's no doubt that everyone wants it faster, better and cheaper. However, it seems that there is considerable reluctance on the content creation side to take on the responsibility to make sure the files can be printed according to the quote. Sadly, we, as an industry, have abetted this practice (I guess that makes us co-dependent) by offering to fix files for free, and our clients are hooked.
But it seems to me that if publishers/designers/catalogers or whoever want to maintain control over the files and do all the page assembly, then they must invest in the necessary tools and training to make sure they deliver the goods. Buying G4s and preflighting software is a start, but the truth of the matter is that sending designers to classes that teach proper file preparation will do far more to reduce cycle time and errors. No, not the dreaded "T-word."
This brings me to fonts, which is a two-headed beast. First, is the mundane yet maddening problem that only too few designers seem to remember to supply or embed fonts in their files, which results in Courier type, text reflows, kerning problems and headaches all around. I even saw a full-page ad in the New York Times recently that had Courier type—and I don't think that's what the client had in mind! It's hard to believe that, 15 years into the desktop publishing revolution, about 80 percent of all files still come in with pedestrian problems like this.
The second aspect concerning fonts is the important one: the legal issues concerning intellectual property. It seems that we keep going around in circles, as people keep complaining that the existing law is completely counter-productive and that they should be allowed to embed and supply fonts at will.
Sadly, they are right and wrong. The law is FUBAR, to use a crude military expression, but it's still the law—and printers need to be clear about whether or not they are abiding by it. Recent postings to the CTP Pressroom BBS suggest there may be a new take on this ruling that may clarify just who needs to own what.
My opinion is that legal issues surrounding fonts make it unrealistic for far too many printers to abide by the law. Even worse, existing laws will hamper the adoption of PDF, which is beginning to gain momentum. Like 'em or not, one of the cool things about using raster-based workflows is that there aren't any fonts!
Enough of the Font Follies
As if the fonts follies weren't enough, another area I would like to see take a step forward is color management. While there are definitely some very cool tools out there for profiling devices, the ICC's current implementation is insufficient for our heterogeneous working environments. Basically, the ICC specification doesn't go far enough in standardizing how any given device defines its color space, which means that each device ends up speaking its own language.
Color Management Or Color Manglement?
So we continue to end up with color manglement. This is one of the best things about SWOP: it's got a defined gamut (TR001) so that everyone knows what the job should look like. I'm afraid that Santa Claus will need a very big bag and strong team of reindeer to deliver on this one . . .
In fact, the more I think about it, I'm not sure Santa will have solutions for any of the printing industry's digital dilemmas. But I'll still leave a cookie and a glass of milk near the chimney, just in case.
About the Author
Alex Hamilton, a former technical editor with Printing Impressions, is president of Computers & Communications Consulting, which specializes in digital technologies for printing and publishing. He can be reached at (215) 247-3461 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.