REMOTE PROOFING -- Approved On-site
BY MARK SMITH
Since the dawn of the digital age in the graphic arts, remote proofing has seemed to be a logical way to more efficiently communicate with print clients. At that point, the Internet was still just the domain of computer geeks and researchers, and terms such as e-production and ASP wouldn't be coined for years. Yet, some prepress pioneers were trying to find effective ways to build electronic bridges to their client sites.
The cost of maintaining a digital pipeline to customers had traditionally been a significant barrier to adoption of remote proofing. Given the rate at which high-speed Internet access is being implemented by businesses of all types and sizes, that is now fast becoming a non-issue. The boom in Internet businesses also has spawned a number of new Web-based remote proofing solutions and services (see sidebar below).
Other potential barriers remain largely unchanged, however. What's at issue depends on the type of remote proofing being considered. There is a clear distinction between proofing done on a computer screen (soft proofing) and the outputting of proofs on some kind of hardcopy device at the client site.
Monitor technology has improved and color management has become more practical to implement, but contract color still is beyond the scope of soft proofing. The capability typically is used to proof for content and color breaks—not color match. Even so, clients may not be comfortable using a screen to review these elements.
The primary barriers to remote hardcopy proofing all revolve around the question of responsibility. Who's going to pay for the proofer? Who's going to keep it calibrated? Who's responsible for the consumables?
Current trends would seem to indicate that interest in and acceptance of remote soft proofing is increasing, while adoption of the hardcopy approach has peaked. (Note: Remote proofing is defined here as involving approvals by clients of work done by a print supplier, not designers simply proofing their work internally.)
The Graphic Arts Technical Foundation's "Digital Proofing Study, Part VI," seems to support this conclusion. The study found that about half of the survey respondents were actually providing soft proofs to a percentage of their customer bases, while only 17 percent reported doing remote hardcopy proofing with any clients. In both cases, the remote proofing users typically reported using this approach with 10 percent or less of their clients.
They may be small in number, but remote proofing users are big proponents of the capability.
Take the Holden Direct Marketing Group, for example. According to Bob Buczek, prepress manager, the organization has implemented a combination of remote soft and hardcopy proofing at two of its companies—Advance Direct and Moody Printing & Mail Marketing. The Colorado-based companies produce direct mail pieces for their nationwide customer bases.
The bulk of the work is five-over-four color (tint and spot) jobs with some color photos, Buczek says. For the pieces with color photos, a Kodak Approval digital color proof is sent out for the first round of proofing, he adds. Soft proofing then is often used for any subsequent rounds of approval, as well as for jobs that use PANTONE colors, reprint work and time-sensitive jobs, he explains.
Holden originally tried e-mailing straight PDF files for soft proofing, but customers had a hard time using the Adobe Acrobat tools for marking up the proofs. The group has since standardized on Group Logic's Imagexpo soft proofing solution.
"The tools in Imagexpo for marking up proofs are very easy to use," the prepress manager reports, "and using it for soft proofing reduces mistakes due to miscommunication. Sometimes when you get a faxed proof from a client you can't make out parts of job, or the person's handwriting is hard to read. With Imagexpo, any changes are clearly marked and comments are added as text so they're easy to read."
Customers typically use soft proofing to check for type rewraps, typos, correct fonts, color breaks, high-res file swapping, bleeds and the positioning of objects, Buczek says. Ensuring file integrity does present some challenges, he admits, since the proofing files are not used to output film. At the Holden companies, PostScript files are first converted to PDFs (using Acrobat Distiller), which then can be imported by Imagexpo.
In the cases where it has implemented remote hardcopy proofing, Advance Direct has installed the computer and proofer at the client's site, Buczek says. "With color management, color can be transportable to any device," he asserts.
Providing a Safety Net
Soft proofing has been broadly implemented by The Lehigh Press, as well, reports Eric Roberts, director of graphic technology. He says Lehigh is using ClearLogic's NetProof across its four divisions—Lehigh Lithographers (publishing components), Lehigh Cadillac Direct (direct marketing materials), Lehigh Colortronics (prepress) and Lehigh Press Puerto Rico (pharmaceutical inserts and labels).
The Pennsauken, NJ-based company made the move because its customers were demanding a faster, cheaper way to proof simple, last-minute corrections, Roberts reveals. Depending on the company, the range of products approved using soft proofing includes book covers and end papers, brochures, direct mail pieces and beverage packaging. NetProof is used as a replacement for final blues, but also for things like checking type corrections or confirming the accuracy of different versions of a piece, Roberts says.
"As the NetProof technology continues to improve, with the addition of rulers, zooming, multiple page uploads, etc., it will allow us to use soft proofing for a wider variety of proofs," he says. "The three things our customers are checking proofs for are color, size and content. Currently we are only able to offer soft proofing of content. With NetProof Version 2, we will be able to offer size checking, as well."
In Lehigh's workflow, the JPEG image for proofing is rendered from the RIPed job file, either on a Prinergy or RAMpage front-end, Roberts says. If the job is approved, the same locked file that made the JPEG is sent to a CreoScitex platesetter.
Hard and Fast
Quebecor World Petty in Effingham, IL, primarily uses hardcopy-based remote proofing, according to Eric Hall, system administrator. The direct mail printer uses the RIP once, output many (ROOM) capability of its RAMpage RIP to generate the files that are sent to clients. Group Logic's MassTransit file transfer and remote printing software helps facilitate the workflow.
"At the present time we are only sending remote proofs for approval of copy and color breaks," Hall says. "We have had requests from some customers to go in the direction of remote proofing for color. However, that currently still is a costly endeavor and our comfort level with the process is not where it needs to be.
"We have used remote proofing to approve magazine blow-ins cards, credit card applications, coupon books and personalization (off-line ink-jet) copy, Hall continues. "Customers typically are checking small modifications we have made, such as extending bleeds, adding trim marks and pricing changes for jobs that are being rerun."
Remote hardcopy proofs often are used as a replacement for a blueline proof, but they also can be used as pre-proofs, Hall notes. Clients use the proofs to verify content before a high-quality color proof is made at the Quebecor World plant. "That enables us to get the contract proof right the first time," he explains.
The printer typically absorbs the cost of installing an output device at a client site.
Rammgraph, a Toronto-based digital photography and prepress house, has found an interesting way to use its remote proofing capabilities to strengthen customer relationships. On one level, the company uses RealTimeImage's RealTimeProof Classic product primarily for soft proofing by clients, notes Jeff Holmes, sales manager. Clients also can elect to print out those same files locally, if they choose. The interesting twist, though, is that Rammgraph has made the system available to its designer clients for their use in getting approvals at the concept stage.
"Designers send us PDFs of their concepts and we post them to our server," Holmes explains. "A designer's clients can then log on to the system to review the concepts."
According to Holmes, RealTimeProof's big advantage is that clients actually view the RIPed file that is going to be used to generate film, he says. The technology also gives clients the option to print files from the server to output devices at their locations, Holmes points out.
Color match generally is not an issue, since much of its clients' work uses repurposed images. Hardcopy contract proofs are pulled for new scans before the images are added to the image database.
All of Rammgraph's remote proofing services typically are offered as value-added to customers, rather than billable services, Holmes says.
While their approaches may vary, these users all agree that remote proofing can be an effective tool for enhancing customer relationships. It definitely gets their approval.
Making a Connection
Remote proofing was possible before the explosion in Internet access and services, but the concept has been largely reborn online. A number of capabilities already have become more or less standard features in the current crop of soft proofing solutions. Examples include:
* E-mail notifications sent when proofs are ready for review and have been approved.
* Tools for marking up proofs digitally, with a record kept of all comments.
* Ability for multiple viewers to interact with a proof simultaneously.
* Tracking/reporting of actions.
The following brief look at the leading remote proofing solutions highlights other similarities, as well as differences.
RealTimeImage's RealTimeProof soft proofing technology is offered in three implementations.
RealTimeProof Classic (RenderView) is the client-server software solution that enables streaming of production files through a user's existing server and network. RealTimeProof.com is an ASP implementation that provides access to RealTimeImage's database/image repository infrastructure and proofing tools via any Internet connection. RealTimeProof Express enables users to stream files posted to RealTimeProof.com through their local servers.
All three solutions use Pixels-On-Demand progressive image streaming technology, which provides additional image data as a viewer zooms in. The technology supports standard image file formats, including TIFF and TIFF/IT, EPS, PS, PDF, DCS1 and DCS2, CT, LW, JPEG, BMP and PICT. Users can view high-resolution native production files, with no conversion/interpretation or compression required. All that is needed is a free, downloadable plug-in.
The latest version of RealTimeProof features a new measurement tool and an enhanced version of the densitometer tool for evaluating color on screen. (www.RealTimeImage.com)
RealTimeImage's technology has been integrated into a number of data transfer and e-commerce/e-procurement services, including Wam!Net, Vio, httprint and Noosh. In addition, Wam!Net supports remote hardcopy proofing through its Wam!Proof option. The sender and receiver both must be Wam!Net Direct service users to take advantage of the capability. Automatic remote printing to any PostScript-compatible output device then is enabled through the Chooser.
ClearLogic's NetProof enables users to view proofs in GIF, JPEG, PDF, AIF, QuickTime or any Web-embeddable format. Since NetProof is Java-based, it is said to be a true browser-based application. There is no need to download any special software or plug-ins. Version 2 of the application provides enhanced markup tools, including variable rulers that allow for measurements in different scales.
Two implementations are offered. NetProof ASP is an application service that is accessible through standard Web browsers. NetProof Enterprise is customized software that is designed to run on the user's Web server and be administered by the user. (www.netproof.com)
In addition to marketing the service itself, ClearLogic has entered into a strategic partnership with Digital Art Exchange to offer NetProof ASP as part of the DAX suite of applications. NetProof will be the technology behind the second version of DAXProof, which previously had been based on RenderView. With this implementation, DAX customers reportedly will be able to take advantage of soft proofing on a per-project basis. (www.dax-it.com)
Group Logic's Imagexpo is a standalone application for soft proofing. Its built-in communication software supports connecting via modem, the Internet, ISDN, Appletalk and TCP/IP networks. The product supports common graphics formats, including Photoshop, TIFF, EPS, PostScript, PDF, Scitex CT/LW, JPEG and PICT. Virtual bitmapping technology is said to enable viewing of high-resolution proofs with minimal system overhead. An on-screen densitometer provides RGB or CMYK color values for selected pixels.
Group Logic also offers remote hardcopy proofing capabilities as part of its MassTransit data transfer software, which provides drag-and-drop file transfers via high-speed telecom pipelines, including the Internet. The remote proofing feature enables users to print a file through the Chooser and have it output on a remote device. (www.grouplogic.com)
Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. is implementing a customized version of Group Logic's technology in Version 1.0 of its myfujifilm.com e-production Website. Remote (hardcopy and on-screen) proofing will be one of the Web-based applications featured on the site.
Proofitonline.com provides server space for the uploading of files that can be viewed and approved using a standard Web browser. The recommended procedure is to save files at their actual size and 72-dpi resolution.
The service supports flattened, RGB color images in JPEG, TIFF, GIF, BMP, PNG and TGA formats. A key feature is the low cost to get started. Charges are based on the number of job "buckets" used, with a base charge of $24.95 per month covering 12 buckets. (www.proofitonline.com)