Web Offset--Efficiency Is Inevitable
New web presses are featuring automated functions such as ink key setting, plate changing and press washup. Finishing lines, both in-line and off-line designs, are providing high value-added techniques. Digital prepress is phasing out film and enabling digital file transmission.
Of all of these technological enhancements, the digital front end has caused the most headaches for everyone involved in the printing process. But every advancement brings relief, and many advancements are on the horizon.
A digital, computer-to-plate (CTP) workflow is designed to accomplish speed, efficiency, control. The model filmless workflow is elegant in theory: files fly around the globe from creator to press in the blink of an eye, stopping only briefly to generate a digital contract proof. Digital plates are engineered precisely with a laser, moiré is all but eliminated and "out-of-register" is a term reserved for history lessons.
However, the current reality of the all-digital workflow is not quite the ideal. The technologies are still relatively new and sufficiently varied so as to have made standardization difficult. And industry adoption has been a slow, but steady, process. Any technology upgrade costs significant capital, and the printing industry has seen its margins shrink of late. The interim state—the dual workflow of film and CTP—is a financial drain for printers, but many see it as worth the cost of a complete transition. "Because of our reprint business, we need to have two workflows: a conventional and a digital," Bracken explains.
Another snag in the streamlined efficiency of digital production has been file formats. Without an industry standard, printers have been forced to accept nearly everything generated by ones and zeros. Conversion of inappropriate or poorly preflighted files costs everyone time and money, and can affect the integrity of the print job.
Although it will be some time—and maybe never—before the industry locks down on one digital file format, printers and clients are customizing workflows of their own.