A few years ago, Adobe set out on a quest to promote an integrated, flexible printing architecture developed to streamline prepress and production workflows. Today, Adobe Extreme is in place at commercial printers the likes of Johnson Printing. Is the Colorado-based printer's experience with the new printing architecture truly extreme? Printing Impressions sought the answer.
BY MARIE RANOIA ALONSO
Faster prepress. This was a primary goal for Johnson Printing, a Boulder, CO-based commercial printing operation with its sights set on adopting Adobe PDF.
Circa late 1998, prepress employees at Johnson worked on different computers with expensive, proprietary software that required customer materials to be sent to separate stations for trapping, imposition and color corrections. The process made an integrated CTP workflow impossible, and forced the company to spend substantial time and money on specialized training.
The result: High production costs and delays getting materials to presses, especially if critical elements such as fonts and graphics were missing from client files.
"The demands on commercial printers have never been greater," says Steve Iwanicki, director of marketing for Johnson Printing. "Print jobs are more complex than ever, and customers expect faster turnaround. Plus there is competition from other media such as the Web and CD-ROM. The challenge for us is to keep prices low, quality high and add value to printing so it complements other ways of distributing information."
What to do?
Johnson Printing took to the extreme—with some technical finesse from Adobe and Agfa.
At present, Johnson Printing is meeting increasing market demands with an automated print workflow built around the Agfa Apogee system, Adobe Extreme and Adobe Acrobat. "The introduction of the Apogee system has changed the pace and enhanced print quality—we found the right product for expanding our competitive advantage," says Iwanicki.
The Apogee system uses Adobe Extreme to create PDF files and automate production tasks, allowing Johnson Printing to complete more jobs and keep its presses running at full capacity. Work flows smoothly from submission through production, to print, without costly, last-minute errors. And the system is so flexible that customers can work as they are accustomed, submitting files in native application format, PostScript or PDF if they desire.
The efficiency of the Apogee system is gained by the use of job tickets to control the workflow, and the reliability and production capabilities of the PDF format. After submission to the system, all files are translated to PDF using the Adobe Extreme PDF generator and a job ticket is created to track progress and define production characteristics.
The resulting job—in PDF—can be used throughout production as the digital master of the customer's intent, with all fonts and graphics embedded. Once files are ready for printing, they are sent to an Agfa Avantra 44 imagesetter or an Agfa Galileo digital platesetter.
For these devices, a PostScript stream is created for the Apogee Taipan AX RIP. The RIP takes advantage of Adobe PostScript 3 features, such as 16-bit screening and smooth shading, to improve print quality and to achieve softer blends of shading across documents. The Apogee Taipan AX RIP also uses Adobe In-RIP trapping technology to simplify and enhance the printing of composite PostScript 3 and PDF files.
For the proofing stage, Johnson Printing's prepress personnel are familiar with analog proofs from film (and feel comfortable using them to see how plates will look), therefore, the digital workflow using Extreme and Acrobat has to generate electronic proofs that are equally reliable—otherwise it will fail, emphasizes Johnson Printing's prepress manager, Chris Dyson.
"PDF is the only format offering compact, universal files that can be delivered exactly as intended across any computing platform. All that's needed for viewing is Adobe Acrobat Reader," Dyson states. "With the Apogee system and Extreme, we avoid costly mistakes and can respond to customer needs faster because changes are possible at any point prior to printing. The device- and page-independent PDF files are also easier to manage and more reliable than multiple, native files."
With PDF in place, Johnson Printing is now streamlined, with a complete, all-digital workflow based on PDF as its centerpiece—allowing Johnson to respond to the varied demands of customers who want to distribute materials on the Internet, as well as print. Using PDF files from the Apogee system, Johnson Printing can offer customers files that can be placed directly on the Internet.
"We can expand our services and handle more jobs faster with PDF," reports Iwanicki. "In the end, we spend less time dealing with logistics and administrative tasks and more time focusing on quality."
Prinergy: New PDF-based Workflow Management Tool
The first joint venture technology brought to the table by Vancouver-based Creo Products and German giant Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG, Prinergy is the first workflow management system that utilizes not only Adobe PDF technology, but also Adobe PostScript Extreme. It's a prepress architecture based on Adobe PostScript 3 that uses Adobe PDF and Adobe Portable Job Ticket Format (PJTF) to: automate prepress processes; provide a distributed digital workflow; enable late-stage editing; provide multi-RIP support; and ensure consistent output.
What is Prinergy?
n Prinergy is an Adobe PDF-based workflow management tool that organizes the individual tasks or steps in prepress and plate production.
It leverages Adobe Extreme technology to provide job tickets and job ticket processors that control and perform tasks initiated by users, giving them a single product that automates preflight, trapping, imposition and color conversion.
Prinergy implements the full Adobe PostScript Extreme system, which automates the prepress process, keeping machines running at full capacity to avoid errors and reduce lost production time. It also allows prepress operators much more control over output options, resulting in flexibility for just-in-time imposition.
How open is Prinergy?
The system is open at several levels. Industry standard SQL queries can be made to extract information from the database, third-party Acrobat plug-ins can be added, third-party JTPs (Job Ticket Processors) can be installed and new client applications can communicate with the system through the communication layer.
The modern software architecture also means that additional resources can be added easily, without stopping or slowing down the system. Prinergy is compliant with the data storage protocol for Microsoft NT 5.0, known as NTMS (NT Mass Storage). As vendors bring new devices to the market, the NTMS drivers mean that they can be added to a Prinergy system without modification.
Enfocus on PDF
A strong indicator of Adobe PDF's prospects for industry-wide adoption as a workflow standard is the increasing success of companies such as San Mateo, CA-based Enfocus Software, a supplier that has rapidly achieved victory in the competitive PDF tool space.
Enfocus, which received a significant vote of confidence in the form of a major funding boost earlier this year, is currently busy shipping its new PitStop 4.0 application for combined preflight, interactive and native PDF editing at any production stage, and automated correction capabilities in PDF documents.
A Seybold Seminars "Hot Pick" while still in beta, PitStop 4.0 is based on a modular, core technology that the company is utilizing for a number of other solutions, including the highly anticipated PitStop Server product, as well as for integration into mainstream PDF workflow systems such as Scitex's Brisque. Another product based on PitStop technology is the Enfocus PDF CheckUp for Adobe InDesign plug-in (available at no charge beginning this month) to provide automated preflighting of Adobe PDF files saved in InDesign. Users of Adobe InDesign will be able to download the plug-in at no charge through December 31, 1999, at www.enfocus.com.
Fort Lauderdale, FL-based Power Images is enthusiastic about the new PitStop-based offerings. The company's technical director, Fred Wunderlich, stresses that he is anxious to start work with PitStop 4.0. At present, Wunderlich and his colleagues are big fans of tools in PitStop, particularly Eyedropper, which allows accurate measurement of color from any point on a page—the color information specified within the PDF page description, not just the on-screen RGB color.
"We're a 100 percent PDF shop and have been for more than two years," Wunderlich says, adding, "I don't understand why more people in high-end prepress aren't using it. Acrobat 4.0 is a major leap forward in itself."
Enfocus Worldwide Business Development Manager Peter Soderlund agrees. "In 1999, Adobe clearly placed itself squarely behind PDF with Acrobat 4.0 and InDesign, its new layout application," he states.
Soderlund says that both products are important to the graphic arts market for many reasons. The new version of Acrobat removes the remaining technical obstacles for using PDF for high-end prepress, enabling its use as a primary production format; InDesign will allow one-step generation of PDF (as opposed to "going around" via PostScript and the Distiller), thereby greatly enhancing PDF's appeal as the format of choice for sending jobs from document originator to service provider.
Catherine McCarthy, North American business development manager at Enfocus, brings a stateside view to the changing workflow landscape.
"Most of the complaints about PDF and reasons why people didn't use it before are solved," McCarthy says. "The fact that now you can have multiple Distiller settings—so that, for instance, service bureaus and ad agencies can give Distiller job options to their customers who can consequently make good PDFs—is a boon to our industry."
Making Better Files
McCarthy adds that the bonus with products such as PitStop is that these same service bureaus can make PitStop preflight profiles so that their customers can make better files— "better files" meaning those files needing minimum or no additional work to process through output quickly and correctly.
"Our customers are telling us that we achieved our goals [with PitStop 4.0] to streamline PDF workflow and to make it as simple and automatic as possible," McCarthy says. She adds that PitStop Server, announced at Seybold San Francisco, fulfills preflight automation promises with its robust hot folder capabilities for batch preflighting, automatically executed action lists and fixing files according to preset profiles.
"Up until this point, we've focused on automatic tools for the production stage," McCarthy concludes. "Now, we've taken that a step further with PitStop Server. You don't even have to open up the file; you just throw it into a hot folder and you're done."
Catherine McCarthy, North American business development manager at Enfocus, contends that most early complaints about PDF are now null and void, thanks to multiple Distiller settings.