Hamilton--How Far Away Is Remote Proofing?
In a world of ever-tightening deadlines and faster production cycles, color proofing is a major stumbling block. Time is required to make the proof, especially in an analog workflow, and delivery and review add to that time. And while nothing can be done about either the creation or review stages of proofing, the delivery of the proof is an area that would seem ripe for compacting. Or at least that's what we've been hearing for some time now.
Yet remote proofing is used for just a small fraction of all print materials produced. Why? If service is one of the primary differentiators between companies—a debatable point—then wouldn't it be wise for printers and prepress service providers to offer remote proofing to their major clients? And with virtually everybody connected to the Web, in many cases via a T-1 or other high-speed wire, shouldn't this methodology be taking off like the proverbial rocket?
Quality's The Thing
If only it were so simple in real life. On a purely business front, proofing is a profit center for the advertising industry, which can mark up proofs—in more than one way—and pass along the cost to its clients. For the same reason, many printing and prepress companies are in no hurry to see Matchprints, Cromalins, Color-Arts, IRISes or Approvals head off into the sunset.
Yet we're now at a point where most, if not all, of the stumbling blocks preventing remote proofing are gone or going away. Obviously, the remote proofing system has to deliver a contract-quality proof if this process is going to be adopted on a widespread basis. To be sure, there are plenty of jobs that require a high-end proof such as the ones mentioned above, but these types of "critical-color" jobs are not the bread and butter of the industry.
To be able to serve as a contract proof, the remote proofing system must satisfy several conditions:
- a reliable and stable source file: no shifting type or missing images;
- both color and content must render accurately;
- cost-effective and easy to use; and
- an efficient and economical transmission system.
These are not simple requirements. Take the file format issue. Despite the efforts of Adobe—then Agfa, Enfocus and Lantana and, more recently, Creo, Heidelberg and Scitex—PDF has yet to displace either PostScript or Quark/Illustrator/Photoshop/TIFF as the primary format for file delivery. To be sure, PDF still suffers from problems, but by and large, it satisfies the requirement for a reliable and stable file. For proof of this (sorry), the AP Adsend program has been working for some time now and ships approximately 75,000 ads every week using PDF. I'm not sure what it will take, but Adobe's InDesign is not going to be the answer to this one.
Then there's the remote proofing device itself. Clearly, content can be soft proofed using PDF and, possibly, some types of "pleasing color" jobs such as newspaper circulars. And with tools such as GroupLogic's ImageExpo white board tool, you can even mark up and discuss the file in real time. For militant "rasterfarians" who can't handle a vectorian approach, there's a new solution from RealTimeImage, which uses the same technology as RenderView—well-known in the Scitex world—that enables remote viewers to check out every last pixel if they want to.
However, the vast majority of four-color jobs will require a physical proof. Here again, the solutions are now at hand, led by Epson with its 3000 and 5000 series piezo-electric ink-jet systems, with companies such as Canon, Hewlett-Packard and Minolta now in hot pursuit. With the cost of these devices already low—as compared with "traditional" digital proofers—and continuing to decline, cost is going to fade as an impediment.
These technologies need careful handling, but are definitely viable and can generate very accurate results; that is, they can serve as a close indicator of the final printed sheet. DuPont was first to see the potential with this type of device and created commercial and publication stocks. Now Minolta is partnering with Imation to offer a complete system called the Color Laser System that will use its toner-based engines to do the same thing.
Further, while the widespread notion that color management is a drag-and-drop technology is patently false, the fact of the matter is that there are a number of inexpensive and good tools that can be used to measure targets and make profiles. But the accuracy of such systems is proportional to the diligence exercised in maintaining them. Unfortunately, this is not something that fits in well with either the creative environment or its tendency to work right up to the deadline.
Although printers and prepress companies can take responsibility for setting up the initial profiles and providing targets for specific paper/ink/press conditions, these types are not the most stable systems and, therefore, require constant calibration.
The final issue is the actual means of delivery—the pipes. In the major metropolitan areas, T-1 lines are now relatively inexpensive, running somewhere around $700 a month, which is not all that many messenger trips or FedEx shipments. For those not located in the big cities, as well as smaller shops that can't afford T-1 lines, DSL is starting to make its way into the market and, partly in response to this, cable television providers have started offering modems in some markets. And of course, there are the private networks or telecom service providers, including DAX, DGNOnline, Vio and WAM!NET. All of them are incorporating tools to add value to their services.
I have been waiting for remote proofing to take off for some time now. Yet, there was always a missing link or impediment that kept this process far from the madding crowds. With the technological ducks all starting to form a nice even row, we'll see if remote proofing is ready to move closer to reality. For now, don't hold your breath.
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.