The Next Wave - Digital Directions
Technological strides in areas of digital prepress, plus new moves in digital color printing, will push for strong attention this year. Are commercial printers ready for the next wave of techno-hype? Time will tell.
BY MARIE RANOIA ALONSO
Tired of hearing about thermal CTP? Bored with PDF discussions? Less than enthralled with the latest digital color proofing claims?
Too bad—the next wave of PDF functionality, digital front-end output flexibility, thermal CTP strides and competitive advancements in digital color proofing devices are poised to make 1999 another hot year for digital developments.
Still, hearing the tech talk isn't always easy, as many a prepress director can readily attest. "I'm so tired of hearing about platesetters, digital color proofing, PDF, color management, the Internet, remote proofing and variable data," confesses Paula Tognarelli, director of prepress at Somerville, MA-based United Lithograph. "But I could just be having a technology midlife crisis," she quips.
Tognarelli is quick to point out that United Lithograph—which served as the beta site for and currently operates an Agfa Galileo digital platesetter and Polaroid PolaProof digital halftone proofer—is looking forward to purchasing a new color scanner in 1999. United also has big plans for ongoing prepress and digital workflow studies throughout this year and well into the year 2000.
"In 1999, we plan to research a variety of digital prepress technologies, in addition to replacing our 10-year-old drum scanner for a more efficient scanning device. We're going to upgrade our imposition proofer for our direct-to-plate workflow to a two-sided device and study an upgrade for our server," Tognarelli reports. "We are inspecting all of our workflow processes internally and seeking to automate and expedite wherever possible. We are also learning how to best finesse the digital prepress technologies we already have in place, as well as target future purchase decisions," she continues. "This will remain our primary technology focus for 1999 and into 2000."
For those, like United Lithograph, interested in gaining a better understanding of up-and-coming digital technologies, ranging from digital file delivery solutions to cutting-edge strides in digital color printing, Printing Impressions offers this exclusive look at what a key sampling of savvy industry innovators—from file transfer gurus to remote proofing trendsetters—see on the horizon as the countdown ticks to 2000.
Patrick White, founder of Digital Art Exchange (DAX), on realizing the potential of the Internet.
"The graphic communications industry will begin to realize the potential of the Internet in 1999. As fast, affordable services such as DSL emerge, this industry will see one pipe serving all of a company's needs—from secure, fast, digital courier services, to enablers for hot new project and media asset management solutions, to e-commerce applications, to an explosion in distribute-and-print services.
"Together, these technologies will reduce costs, improve turnarounds and create a new level of collaboration between clients and their suppliers. This can only help industry vendors solidify their relationships with key accounts, while improving the value proposition for the services these vendors provide."
Howard White, product marketing manager, Advanced Product Marketing, at Scitex America, on digital front ends (DFEs) and Brisque advances via Adobe's PDF.
"In 1999, Scitex will further extend the capacities of its Brisque digital front end by adding support for additional input and output formats. Export PDF will allow users to automate the generation of PDFs from RIPed Scitex CT and LW files. Compact PDFs can be sent electronically to clients as a reliable remote proofing tool, and full-resolution PDFs can be provided for output in other environments. Brisque will also move to Adobe's PostScript 3 RIP, which supports native consumption of PDF."
Nick Orem, president of Logic Associates, on the two primary reasons electronic job ticketing will increase in use this year.
"The electronic job ticket will increase in use for two primary reasons: just-in-time production and computer sophistication of printers and suppliers. To meet today's timelines, jobs must be started before specifications are known. With shorter production cycles, change orders must be communicated instantly.
"Simultaneously, technology in the plant has expanded, offering the entire operation networking and PCs to easily access a virtual job ticket. Vendors like Logic have added to the benefit of this new technology by fully integrating the electronic job ticket to the order entry and production process—in real time.
"Our product allows current job status, material availability and shipments—updated remotely—to appear instantly on the ticket, with notification by e-mail to all affected parties. Standardization efforts like CIP3 will offer further value to printers using electronic job tickets, expanding MIS database integration to computerized imaging systems."
Robert C. Ross, president of XANTÉ, on trends in the two-up imagesetter market, with electrophotography gaining momentum.
"In the two-up imagesetter market, electrophotography (laser) is going to put major pressure on the traditional imagesetter. It is impossible for traditional two-up imagesetters to compete with the cost, environmental benefits and speed of electrophotography. Electrophotography is now at 2,400 dpi and could reach twice that in years to come.
"In the four-up and larger markets, the platesetters will have a major impact. They are cleaner and faster. It's just a matter of when they take over—not will they? Costs of this equipment are coming down rapidly and will continue to do so. Now is not the time to stop selling imagesetters, but certainly the imagesetter market will decline with each passing year."
Ralph Lloyd, chief product specialist, Harlequin Digital Printing and Publishing Group, on multilingual RIPs.
"At IPEX 98, Harlequin and its OEMs demonstrated the first adaptive process control environment. This unique approach to graphics production features a new breed of modular, highly efficient and multilingual RIPs that can be dynamically reconfigured.
"These dynamic RIPs can interpret multiple file formats in native modes (including PostScript, PDF, TIFF-IT) and enable late binding changes in the production flow that are not practical or feasible today—such as allowing late page replacement and redirecting workflows automatically to accommodate production changes and priorities.
"Before 2000, adaptive process control environments will be commercially available to optimize such key production devices as digital color proofers and digital front ends."
Efrem Lieber, director of sales and marketing at Presstek, on direct-to-press imaging.
"Digital direct-to-press imaging is alive and well for 1999—and beyond. Users of Heidelberg Quickmaster DI and Adast 705C DI presses are producing litho quality on short-to-medium-run work at low costs per page, all in highly productive turnaround times. This year will bring improved makeready to the Quickmaster, as well as the first installations of the Scitex-KBA 74 Karat and Heidelberg Speedmaster 74 DI presses. Along with the Adast 705C DI, these four-page DI presses will provide commercial printers with the cost and quality benefits of on-press direct imaging and the productivity of larger formats.
"Like Heidelberg and the others already mentioned, press manufacturers will decide that DRUPA 2000 is a great venue to announce new DI press offerings using Presstek on-press imaging technology and thermal ablation plates. At present, Presstek has nearly 4,000 CTP imagers operating worldwide.
"We believe that 1999 will begin a new growth era for digitally based waterless printing. Not only will digital, on-press installations with waterless plates continue to grow, but large format thermal off-press CTP devices will fuel a resurgence in waterless. Imagers from Scitex and Creo, and plates from Presstek, Toray and others later, will bring full CTP capability to printers that recognize the faster makeready, better color stability and remarkable quality of waterless printing."
Axel Zoeller, director of prepress marketing at Heidelberg USA, on the German giant's great expectations for 1999—and the next frontier for thermal CTP.
"Heidelberg expects that in 1999 we will bear witness to the continuing adoption of technologies, which will make streamlined publishing workflows a reality for the wider marketplace. Five key areas stand out as being especially dynamic this year: thermal platesetting, digital color proofing, digital asset management, workflow management and scanning technologies.
"In the past year, thermal CTP technology gained recognition as a superior solution for the eight-up market sector. Key drivers of this trend were gains in output quality, faster makeready, increased stability and added conven-ience. As a result, thermal CTP is seen today as the dominant direction in CTP implementation.
"The next frontier for thermal platesetting is the swiftly emerging four-up market. Confidence is inspired by the aforementioned gains, and the four-up market is particularly ripe considering its strong moves to streamline the workflow for cost-effectiveness.
"On the scanning front, our indications are that both high-quality drum scanners and professional-level flatbeds will enjoy growth in conventional, as well as expanded, markets. Sophisticated CMYK software tools, previously the province of very high-end scanners, will offer easy-to-use LAB interfaces for broader market adoption."
Betty LaBaugh, communications and marketing manager at Polaroid, on the strides digital color proofing will make in 1999—in both continuous tone and halftone directions, as well as remote moves.
"This year will show increased growth for digital proofing, both continuous tone and halftone systems. The population growth of high-quality digital proofing solutions will improve communications between the client and service provider (as examples, creator to printing provider; prepress provider to the press operators).
"The new generation of digital proofing devices will bring the industry back to the original need for a non-press proof—a cost-effective, accurate indicator of what will come off the printing press.
"I predict two things will come to light for digital halftone proofing in 1999: Direct digital halftone proofs will be recognized to offer quality that surpasses analog (or digitized-analog) solutions, and remote proofing will make strides.
"A wide range of companies spent 1998 setting up digital infrastructures. Therefore, remote proofing will be more broadly implemented in the industry in 1999, especially with creator/originators. Originators such as agencies, designers and photographers will gain time and cost savings with reliable and consistent remote proofing solutions. They will also benefit from the flexibility of testing their output on actual printing stocks. The result will be improved communications between originators and their printers. Each party will see the proof and understand what the job will look like once it starts rolling off the press."
Burke McCarthy, president of ISDN innovator Hermstedt, on ISDN connectivity in 1999.
"A well-known business guru said that if you want to gain competitive advantage, differentiate. This seems like common sense, but, in 1999, digital file delivery, using technology such as ISDN connectivity, will give printers across the United States a distinct business edge.
"If you can establish your icon on a customer's desktop, how easy is it for them to send a job to you? It won't go to your competitor, who only takes work by overnight courier or express mail. The path of least resistance is digital file delivery, which delivers that mission-critical job in minutes, not several hours later or the next day. ISDN connectivity is a proven solution that's here to stay. Let's hope 1999 sees more of the printing community take advantage of it."
Dave Brown, vice president at Creo, on the acceptance of CTP, advancements in digital halftone proofing and Creo's thermal-eye view of PDF.
"1999 promises to bring widespread acceptance of both CTP and digital halftone proofing technologies. With the last of the barriers to a fully digital workflow now removed (i.e., the limited customer acceptance of digital proofing), more customers can benefit from a faster, more predictable printing and proofing process.
Commercial printers recognize that making the transition to CTP will let them deliver the quality and responsiveness that their customers are demanding.
"To date, more than 700 Creo and Heidelberg/Creo customers are already demonstrating that CTP and, in particular, thermal CTP, is a sound business investment that delivers superior quality, greater consistency and improved efficiency in even the most demanding commercial printing environments.
"Increased competition amongst hardware suppliers this year, particularly in platesetting (both thermal and visible light) and proofing, will give customers a broader choice of solutions and increasingly competitive pricing. We now see all the major plate vendors competing with production-ready CTP thermal plates—reducing another perceived barrier to CTP adoption. Already, Heidelberg and Creo have stepped up production to more than 50 output devices per month in response to increasing demand.
"In 1999, savvy commercial printers will continue to make the transition to digital contract color proofing. Once a roadblock to a fully digital CTP workflow, a wide variety of halftone and contone proofing options let printers in any specialty select the right answer for their particular needs. High resolution halftone proofers from a number of vendors, including Heidelberg and Creo, offer intuitively appealing proofs that meet the real expectations of print buyers today.
What is Creo's PDF stance?
"PDF is poised to emerge this year as the industry's dominant file interchange format, with customers already finding ways to use PDF to improve their workflow and facilitate document distribution. As the industry moves toward this new standard, customers are implementing a variety of innovative workflow solutions that combine digital front-end components from multiple vendors with high quality output."
William DeMarco, worldwide product manager, digital halftone proofing, at Kodak Polychrome Graphics, on digital color proofing's need for DFEs compatible with multiple RIPs.
"In 1999, customers will increasingly require the use of open front-end architecture. Customers want to use a common proofing system across many environments in the industry; therefore, they need an open front-end specification to ensure electronic interface capability.
"The Kodak Approval XP system is meeting these requirements in digital color halftone proofing systems. Our forecast for 1999 calls for high demand for digital front ends that are compatible with the many RIP environments customers operate."
Gerald Walsh, vice president of market development at Hagen Systems, on refining electronic ticketing and computer management technology—leading to CIP3 advancements for this year and beyond.
"1999 should redefine and refine the technology trends of the '90s. As printers become more comfortable with their new tools, they will be looking to their vendors for help in the effective utilization of this technology.
"One line of thought: Electronic ticketing is good, but only if it talks to my information system, providing full, real-time access to CSRs, sales and management personnel. Job and client data should be integrated with digital asset management, providing quick, easy access to working and historical data.
"And, the computerized data generated and consumed throughout the production process must be shared and managed—a CIP3 file is only good if it's usable!
"Throughout this year, Hagen will focus on the potential of our open-architecture product, with an emphasis on the development of industry partnerships and the advancement of information sharing throughout the production process."
Francesco Rietti, MediaSphere product manager, Cascade Systems, on the new digital infrastructure of publishing for Y2K.
"Digital asset management (DAM) is central to the new digital infrastructure that will take the publishing industry into the next millennium.
"DAM systems are rapidly becoming a critical component for successful media-independent publishing, making it possible for content to be searched, published, dynamically maintained and pushed through to the Internet, where it can be leveraged in new and exciting ways.
"Forward-thinking publishers using DAM systems will create several products from the same content, thereby expanding their businesses and increasing their revenues.
"As the year 2000 approaches, publishers replacing their editorial systems to achieve Y2K compliance should be including DAM systems to better archive and repurpose their content, as well as to address the overall shift to digital technology for everything from pagination to photojournalism."
Rick Mazur, director of worldwide CTP marketing, Kodak Polychrome Graphics, on thermal plate technology in 1999.
"With increasing customer demand for thermal platesetters in 1998, we forecast that thermal platemaking for computer-to-plate solutions will make up more than 65 percent of the market in 1999. With the Thermal Plate 830, Kodak Polychrome Graphics has established thermal technology as the viable way to reliably image digital plates and to see improved benefits on-press.
"Customers have asked for thermal technology that can deliver no chemical processing. In 1999, Kodak Polychrome Graphics will introduce a plate to market requiring no chemical processing, as previewed at GRAPH EXPO 98, in addition to the commercial launch of Electra, our no-preheat thermal plate.
"We forecast a continued move toward thermal plate imaging, which gives customers the added benefit of faster makeready and consistent, reliable press performance."
Miranda Tivey, director of marketing at Vio, on managed network directions for global connectivity.
"The graphic arts industry is looking for ways to increase customer service: shorter production lead times, improved quality and turnaround time on proofing cycles, and serving customers on a global basis.
"In response, the managed network became a reality in 1998, with solutions like Vio providing fast, secure and dedicated services to the graphic arts industry—placing control into the hands of users across a global network.
"Now, the market is looking beyond simple file delivery. Network services are responding, with online job tracking, remote color managed proofing and delivery to multiple destinations from one job ticket.
"In 1999, customers will demand even more sophisticated workflow applications that are possible through managed network services—end-to- end production—focusing on integration and automation, direct access to remote asset databases, improved management of digital ad delivery and streamlined distribution to multiple print sites."
Jim Crawford, product manager for PS plates, Fujifilm, on the thermal plate potential for this year.
"As printers enter the new year, 1999 should finally deliver the commercial availability of new thermal plate offerings. Until now, users had to rely on large processing footprints utilizing multiple ovens to benefit from thermal plate advantages.
"Now, as Fujifilm introduces the Brillia LH-PI thermal plate, the market will applaud processing equipment that reminds them of the 'good old' conventional days—in other words, no more ovens! With a standalone processor that allows platemaking to be performed in daylight conditions, printers will reap the functionality benefits many Fujifilm customers have experienced for years with our conventional plates."
Marc Olin, president at Prograph, on strides toward the comprehensive adoption of electronic job ticketing in the printing industry.
"Electronic job ticketing, while a fairly young technology, promises to make large strides toward adoption within the printing industry this year.
"There are two basic approaches to electronic job ticketing currently being implemented within the printing industry today: In the prepress area, PJTF—the Portable Job Ticket Format developed by Adobe—is being implemented as part of a new PostScript Extreme standard; and PROSE, authored by the Graphic Communications Association, is being used by publication and catalog printers. A third standard for electronic ticketing, CIP3, deals with press, postpress and finishing instructions.
"At Prograph, we have built systems to support PROSE since it was released over five years ago. During 1999, we will be adding capabilities to support PJTF and PROSE together, to provide the most detailed electronic job ticketing available within the industry. Currently, we have well over 100 customers with PROSE capabilities, including many publishers. And, given the inquiries we've received, many more publishers and printers are investigating the advantages of a PROSE or PROSE/PJTF system.
"PROSE and PJTF both can be used by customers to send a set of job instructions to their prepress house or printer. PJTF, designed to be embedded within the actual content files, contains a set of instructions for operations to be performed on the images being sent, as well as the image placement within the final printed product.
"PROSE is sent as a separate file. While it does contain placement information for all images in the job, it does not have prepress operations. PROSE files have far more detailed manufacturing instructions and support versioning, which PJTF does not."
Scott Seebass, president at Xinet, on mainstreaming digital asset management (DAM) and the direct-to-plate push for dynamic DFEs.
"In 1999, providing asset management to customers will move from the early adopters to the mainstream. Vendors that are realistic about what DAM can actually deliver—and promise their customers only what they can deliver—will finish the year with a competitive advantage. Service providers that have developed or invested in systems with high, ongoing costs will have a hard time competing against those using off-the-shelf products that succeed in lowering overall costs.
"The emerging trend of DAM vendors failing or exiting the industry should continue and, by the end of 1999, there will be far fewer players in the market serving far more customers.
"As for DFE directions, customers of graphic arts service providers are demanding quicker turnarounds and higher quality, but they don't want to pay more for it. In order to compete in this market, companies need a fully digital workflow that can handle all jobs quickly and reliably. The main force driving customers to digital front ends is direct-to-plate, which promises both lower costs and higher quality.
"Direct-to-plate demands an all-digital workflow; digital front ends are necessary to provide the same proofing integrity that was available in traditional prepress. Service providers that have not made the transition to all-digital by the end of 1999 will be prime targets for the industry consolidators."
Gil Pekelman, president and CEO of Portalis, on DFEs empowered to bring digital color printing to new marketing heights.
"The U.S. market for color digital printing exceeded $6.5 billion in 1997, and more than 50 percent of that amount was generated by color copiers 'off-the-glass.' In addition, more than half of what's printed today did not originate in digital form and can't be reproduced by digital front ends.
"In 1999, the technology that enables digital front ends to address both of these markets will be readily available. This will give users of digital presses another formidable marketing tool to spur demand, increase press utilization and significantly change the dynamics of owning a digital press."
Don Waugh, president and CEO of DataVation, on the growth of digital asset management and the rise of the media bank.
"In 1999, the fast-growing digital asset management (DAM) software industry will further encourage printers to offer asset management services to their customers. Printers have recognized that their customers' digital assets have real strategic value that appreciates with use.
"The management of image banks and libraries are among the services printers are offering their customers. These services require intelligent storage, retrieval, archival and backup solutions that integrate seamlessly with existing production systems. The choice of hardware for DAM services is as strategically important as that of the software module. It's critical that printers thoroughly investigate and choose a fully compatible hardware/software combination."
Jim Bellina, president of Sinar Bron, on the two critical areas in which digital photography will see great expansion this year.
"First, more and more photographers are utilizing digital capture, for both the creative potential and the productivity enhancement. Second, printers and prepress houses continue to view digital photography as a natural front-end addition to their existing digital capabilities.
"In many cases, these companies have been able to provide a greater range of services to their customers and significantly increase profits by leveraging existing overhead with a relatively small increase in operating costs.
"With more elements under one roof, communication problems are limited and the process is streamlined. The end result is a quicker path to the printed piece and a higher degree of customer satisfaction."
Mitch Prust, third party integration specialist at WAM!NET, on delivering remote proofs in 1999.
"Digital connectivity to major customers has been a requirement for years, which is why WAM!NET and 4-Sight have been so successful—remote proofing is the next step.
"As files are sent and received digitally between the various entities in the life of a printed job, the ability to proof remotely becomes necessary. Waiting for a final contract proof to be shipped overnight or hand-delivered might be acceptable, but earlier in the approval process when additional iterations are still possible. The digital remote proof can shave days off the production timeline. The more iterations of a job that can be handled with a remote proofing solution like WAM!PROOF, the closer the customer relationship becomes and the more time that is saved.
"WAM!NET customers share color profiles using WAM!NET and close the loop with color management. Color management tools for managing hard copy remote proofs will have to improve to keep up with the rapid advancements in digital softproofing. Communicating changes back to the originator are much easier when softproofing is used. A trend that indicates the acceptance of remote proofing is that the average size of a proof has been steadily increasing with the proofing of two-page spreads and high-resolution images. The heart of a color proofing system of the future will be at the OS level—both with external profiling and color management tools."
Bill Gillooly, product marketing manager, Input Systems, at Scitex, on the downfall of the drum scanner and the graduation of high-quality CCD flatbed functionality.
"Scitex believes that 1999 will be the year that the PMT drum scanner finally falls from its position as the preeminent professional scanner. With the current crop of high quality CCDs and the hardware and software enhancements that Scitex has applied to improving CCD image quality, such as CCD Dynamic Cooling and Scitex MaxDR, the PMT's days are numbered.
"Throughput will continue to improve. For the first time, Scitex scanner throughput is high enough to exceed the data transfer rate of the SCSI interface. Current and future Scitex high-performance scanners will use some sort of high-speed link such as SCSI-2.
"Also, the increasing performance of general-purpose computers (such as Power Macintosh G3s) will continue to influence scanner technology. No longer will a scanner manufacturer have to design and manufacture special purpose image-processing hardware. Instead, the image processing can be transferred to the host computer benefiting from the revolutionary performance improvements that come out of the general-purpose computer world."
Allen J. Dunn, senior product development manager, Electronic Imaging, at Fujifilm, on DFE solutions rich in PDF support.
"No matter whether you are going direct-to-film, direct-to-plate, digital proofing, imposition proofing, remote proofing or a host of other digital activities, the digital front end (DFE) is where it must begin.
"The solutions available are wide and rich in features, providing controls for color management, PDF support, back-end production processes, front-end estimating and preflight, but what do you really need? That is the question one considering changing his front-end process must first ask and understand.
"A commercial printing operation needs to consider the equipment it has at present, then find a solution that enables the operation to utilize its existing equipment with the flexibility to grow toward the company's goals. The cost to replace everything for a brand new solution is prohibitive and training-intensive. In 1999, digitally progressive commercial printers will need to look for DFE solutions that best meet their needs—believe me, they are out there."
Jason Taylor, vice president, sales/marketing, Canto, on how digital asset management will play out in 1999.
"The DAM market is still a developing industry with lots of small companies with diverse offerings, making it hard sometimes for customers to recognize the ideal solution for them.
"The entry of large industry players to this market in '99 will signify a major maturing. These will include a partnership between Heidelberg and SAP, along with a release of the Quark solution. The current number of 100-plus asset management companies will reduce through acquisitions and failures, resulting in a much clearer division of solutions. These will come in three forms: individual organization tools for single users, vertical workgroup solutions and larger enterprise solutions."
Agfa's Outlook for 1999
Recently, Printing Impressions spoke with three key product managers at Agfa: Steve Musselman, marketing manager for CTP, imagesetting and Agfa's Apogee digital workflow; David Furman, marketing manager for thermal plates and consumables; and Deborah Hutcheson, senior marketing product manager for proofing.
Not surprising, as their titles would indicate, the discussion focused on output directions for digital platesetting and imagesetting, digital workflow trends, movements in the thermal plate environment, opinions on the digital halftone proofing craze and the status of analog proofing.
What is Agfa's 1999 technology message? See for yourself.
Musselman on workflows and digital platesetting: "In the spirit of workflow, a look at digital front ends and solutions, such as Apogee, reveal that Adobe's PDF is going to make even deeper impacts on workflow productivity and prepress profitability in 1999.
"More and more commercial printers will view PDF as the more viable, cross-platform format for faster throughput and productivity.
"As for digital platesetting, a focus on faster throughput—more so than thermal technology—is the real issue. Platesetting options that increase throughput and the implementation of CIP3 interfaces will push the industry to more productive levels."
Furman on thermal: "Ultimately, the goal is to eliminate as many variables as possible within a workflow, which is why processless has been deemed as the Holy Grail. The concern is what do you have to compromise in terms of productivity and profitability to get there?
"Clearly, there is going to be a logical coexistence of visible light, thermal and other technologies to come. In reality, reduced makereadies, pinpoint registration and other benefits that users see are the result of CTP in general, regardless of which plate technology they use. Because of this, thermal is, and will continue to be, just one of many CTP technologies from which a printer is going to have to choose. It boils down to which technology gives them the most in terms of productivity, quality and profitability."
Hutcheson on proofing: "Digital halftone proofing will continue to grow this year, with a real resurgence of halftone acceptance in the marketplace. We will continue to see ink-jet proofing make strong strides, ultimately improving and coexisting with digital halftone proofing in many printing environments.
"But don't rule out analog. The analog market is not disappearing overnight—not by a long shot. Most printing operations are running dual workflows between analog and digital proofs. Analog proofs often remain the benchmark for digital proofs."