WORKFLOW SOFTWARE -- Betting on a System
BY MARK SMITH
Not to get philosophical, but if a word comes to mean everything, there's a danger of it ending up to mean nothing. The digital revolution was already on its way to making "workflow" a catch-all term in prepress, when the rise of CIM (computer-integrated manufacturing) extended its use to the entire print production process.
As a result, an ever wider array of products now can be called digital workflow solutions. For the purposes of this article, the definition is being limited to the evolution of what used to be called prepress systems.
Vendors have responded to this trend with a shift toward marketing workflow solution brands as much as specific products. Creo arguably gets credit for pioneering this approach with its Network Graphic Production concept, but Agfa Graphic Enterprise, Heidelberg Prinect and Screen Trueflownet came into being about the same time.
Modularity and flexibility are at the heart of this concept, with users able to incorporate specific components based on the demands of their work and operations. Open data formats, such as JDF and PDF, are key enabling technologies. Another central aspect involves extending the workflow out to print customers with online capabilities such as remote proofing, preflight and job submission.
Driving Offset and Digital
The closest thing to a new trend in workflow developments is the ability for one system to drive both offset (CTP, primarily) and digital printing. Also, vendors continue to expand the capabilities of their solutions to address packaging applications. While this trend may create the potential for commercial printing applications to receive less attention, it does help justify continued development of the technology.
Agfa already is previewing ApogeeX 3.0, which builds on the recently released 2.0 version and is slated to be available in the first quarter of 2005. Expansion of the system's JDF/JMF (Job Messaging Format) functionality is a key focus of ongoing development work.
Version 2.0, released earlier this year, was said to extend its application to high-end operations by enhancing system scalability, providing load balancing of processor intensive tasks and adding fault tolerance. It also extended the connectivity of the system with drivers for new Agfa and non-Agfa imaging devices and ability to export PDF/X-1a and PDF/X-3 files.
New features of ApogeeX 3.0 include increased raster data handling capabilities and support of JDF layout information from independent imposition solutions. It also will include a number of improvements for proofing, such as enhanced reproduction of spot colors and additional remote proofing functionality.
Also newly introduced is Arcadia, a dynamic publishing and asset management system featuring browser-based file transformation and fully searchable text.
Creo has introduced new versions of both its Prinergy and Brisque workflow systems, and the Synapse UpFront 3.0 (job planning), InSite 4.0 (remote proofing and job tracking) and Link 2.0 (MIS connectivity) workflow modules.
Prinergy 2.3 is said to introduce new automation concepts, including Rules-based Automation and Unified Versioning. In addition, the system now supports automated ink-key presetting via JDF with the PrintLink module and accepts JDF-based job tickets from Preps imposition software. It also can integrate with the Creo Spire color server and Xerox FreeFlow Print Manager to drive digital printing.
Designed for entry-level applications, the new Prinergy Evo provides a more affordable, automated workflow solution based on the JDF and PDF open data formats.
Brisque Version 5.0 features a client-server architecture, intelligent Job Ticket automation, new intuitive GUI, and PDF preflight and trapping tools. When used in combination with Synapse Director, the update provides access to many of the capabilities that had been specific to Prinergy.
EFI's OneFlow PDF-based workflow solution is designed to provide centralized management of output to multiple devices, including CTP platesetters, digital printing systems and wide-format ink-jet printers. OneFlow RIP employs the ROOM (RIP Once, Output Many) concept.
Geared initially for commercial printers in the two- and four-up market, OneFlow allows users to build custom workflows and automate labor-intensive steps. An intuitive, icon-based GUI lets users easily design a workflow path to handle prepress functions such as preflighting, trapping, RIPing, imposition, soft proofing and more.
New features in version 2.0 include integrated proofing software with Best technology, EFI Impose automated imposition capabilities, browser-based job tracking and a new Hybrid Screening tool that enables AM and FM screening. Additionally, job management capabilities allow for on-the-fly workflow customization and interactive job editing, while the approval and attributes function enables users to preview, approve or modify jobs.
Under recently signed agreements, Enovation Graphic Systems and Mitsubishi Imaging are now offering EFI OneFlow.
Heidelberg has divided its Prinect workflow portfolio into three solutions—Management, Production and Color Solutions.
In the prepress production sector, Prinect Printready System 2.0 provides process automation for offset and digital printing operations by preparing jobs for output through both Prinect MetaDimension 5.0 and NexStation 3.0. It implements the JDF 1.2 specification, with improved linking to MIS for bi-directional communication.
According to Heidelberg, the new Prinect Calibration and Profile (ICC) Toolboxes enable color to be accurately managed from original to press. Prinect Printready PDF Approval Mail and Remote Access provide the ability to integrate customers into the workflow.
Prinect Signa Station 1.0 is said to be a completely new software application that simplifies the planning, creation and management of print sheets. Features include JDF support, separation of folding and print sheets and virtual folding on the monitor.
Updates also have been released in the Prinect PDF Toolbox line. Prinect Trap Editor 4.0 (formerly Supertrap) features overprint settings and the ability to handle complex bitmaps separately. Prinect PDF Assistant 1.0 provides a range of ways to analyze and modify files.
Kodak Polychrome Graphics' (KPG) primary workflow strategy is to team up with vendors of existing systems and add value to these products by incorporating its proprietary color management technology. Under an agreement with Screen (USA), it offers co-branded KPG/Screen thermal platesetters and associated workflow solutions to customers in the United States and Canada.
Trueflow PDF (Certified PDF, PDF/X1-a and PDF/X1-3) is the heart of Screen's Trueflownet. It is designed to drive both CTP production and digital presses in a JDF-based operating environment. Its functions include automated handling of preflight, overprint, auto-trapping, imposition and output in multiple formats.
Operators can employ two different automated workflow paths that use JDF technology. Hot folders can be used to create fully automated custom workflow, or the job container workflow can process PostScript and PDF data for independent pages as they arrive.
Trueflow's automated trapping function handles object trapping, overprinting, centerline luminosity and kickback. Its imposition function features a wide range of template editing tools, color control bars and register marks.
Screen has added a number of new modules in the Trueflownet product family. Riteonline is a Web browser-based print ordering system using JDF/JMF messaging. Riteportal allows content creators to prepare and deliver production-ready Certified PDF files. Ritetransfer enables customers to submit jobs using a customized and branded drag-and-drop application.
More recently, KPG's partnership with Artwork Systems Group NV has led to the release of a version of Artwork Systems Nexus V8 packaging workflow incorporating KPG color management tools and RealTimeProof online proofing technology. KPG says it will integrate this workflow into its CTP and proofing solutions, including Screen platesetters.
Artwork Systems also offers a workflow solution, called Odystar, aimed at the mid- to high-end commercial printing segment. It uses PDF 1.5 as a native data format and implements Enfocus Certified PDF technology. The latest upgrade is said to add true system scalability, multi-document support and use of JDF for communication of production data to MIS systems.
The two companies may extend their product integration in the future, but for now KPG offers the DirectWorks Suite to drive its DirectSet entry-level CTP solution, DirectPress digital press line and Canon CLC printers, as well as the Matchprint ProofPro printer. This system incorporates KPG color management into a workflow that streamlines operations such as preflight, trapping, imposition, approval and RIPing.
Rampage Systems has been previewing Rampage JVX, an automated prepress workflow supporting the JDF standard, which it expected to begin shipping in fourth quarter of this year. Key features of the upgrade include automatic imposition using templates in JDF format from third-party applications and integration with MIS packages via JMF. Among the other enhancements are remote job submission via FTP hot folders, an Adobe Distiller plug-in for cleaning incoming PDF files and automatic document versioning.
Rampage JVX reportedly brings forward all of the features included in older versions of the workflow, including automatic trapping, built-in picture replacement (OPI), a client-server architecture and proofing from Rampage Digital Masters (RDMs).
In the United States, Rampage products are sold through Enovation Graphic Systems and other regional dealers.
Enovation also offers the Fujifilm Celebrant Suite, a modular workflow incorporating the company's color management technology. It features semi and fully automatic imposition in conjunction with desktop imposition applications and provides a document versioning option.
Celebrant can drive a wide range of Fujifilm or third-party CTP devices, and supports PPF-based ink-key setting. The system also can directly drive a range of Fujifilm, Epson and other ink-jet proofers, either with rasterized or screen proofed files.
Dalim Software has introduced version 5.0 of Twist and Swing, its now JDF-enabled, automated workflow solutions available on Mac OSX or Red Hat Linux operating systems. Twist v5 is said to be a "ground-up rebuild" of the system, which is based on modular tools that can be configured into a wide variety of automatic processing paths. The upgrade adds built-in system failover, advanced load balancing capability, a new GUI and native PDF 1.4 and PDF 1.5 file support. New tools provide preflight viewing, RIP control and color separation mapping. Supported file output "standards" include PDF/X-1a, PDF/X-3 and Pass4Press(v4).
Dalim hasn't adopted the "workflow brand" marketing approach, but it does offer other components of a total solution. Printempo version 2.0 is a browser-based, JDF-enabled print production system that enables users to monitor the status of pages and trigger actions in production. Mistral provides a Web-based, common interface that printers and their clients can use for job submission and subsequent production management.
Esko-Graphics has said it will continue to pursue Scope's application in the commercial printing sector despite realigning its business to concentrate on packaging. The company now is only targeting smaller format (four-up or less) CTP systems to commercial printers, which raises a question about the need for the sophistication of Scope in that market segment.
BackStage is the foundation for Scope solutions targeted to packaging printers and converters, as well as commercial printers dealing with higher volume, more complex jobs. Version 2.0 is JDF-enabled and features an improved GUI.
FlowDrive has been the solution Esko-Graphics recommended for small- to medium-sized commercial print operations. Version 5.0 saw enhancements to in-RIP trapping, imposition and color management, with the 5.1 upgrade adding the ability to create profiles for any kind of output device—film or plate, Esko-Graphics or third-party.
Given that Esko-Graphics previously said no further version upgrades were planned for FlowDrive, some reconfiguring of Scope for the commercial print sector is expected.
Building Digital Workflows
Since it sells through OEMs and system integrators, Global Graphics has introduced "Cortex" as a development platform for building digital workflows. It is said to provide a core layer of workflow functions to which "best of breed" technology from Global Graphics and other suppliers can be added to build differentiated solutions. Standard tasks include preflight, imposition, trapping, color management, interpretation, screening, process management and more. The company also introduced a JDF Enabler module that enables use of the specification by the Harlequin RIP.
ECRM's RIP v6.2 is billed as a complete RIP management system powered by the latest Harlequin Eclipse RIP technology. It supports a variety of file formats, including PostScript 3 and PDF—PDF 1.4, PDF/X-1a: 2001 and PDF/X-3: 2002. Options include TrapPro or TrapPro Lite in-RIP trapping, ColorPro color management and ProofReady output options for ink-jet proofers.
For greater functionality, the company's MAXWorkFlow Classic is a modular digital production management system that can be customized to meet production demands. It implements what ECRM calls "S.O.O.M." (send once, output many) capability and provides centralized control of production through use of a series of intelligent smart-scan folders in a semi or fully automated manner. The system accepts industry standard input file formats and offers options such as in-RIP trapping, PDF optimization and proofing tools.
Xitron Inc. has designed the new Xenith 4 PDF workflow for the two- and four-up market. It is an Adobe Extreme compliant workflow offering PDF creation, Certified PDF support, built-in preflight, in-RIP trapping and NORM proofing.
The company also announced a new Presstek Dimension Interface available with Xitron Navigator Harlequin RIPs, the Xenith Extreme workflow line and Raster Blaster. The interface supports Presstek Dimension and Dimension Excel CTP systems (two-, four- and eight-up), as well as many of the leading Presstek-enabled DI presses.
Also available is the XiFlow complete workflow solution, which is comprised of at least three elements: a Navigator or other Harlequin 6.0 RIP, XiFlow Server and XiFlow client software. The system supports up to three RIPs and 10 simultaneous client connections.
The ranks of workflow imports continues to grow, as well.
Polkadots Software, a Canadian company that specializes in database driven workflow automation based on Harlequin RIP technology, has signed xpedx as a national reseller of its PrePage-it workflow solution. The plug-and-play, ROOM solution includes a range of preflight, imposition, proofing and management functions. It processes files in a queue-based workflow and accepts a variety of data formats, including PDF (PDF/X-1a and PDF/X-3), PostScript and TIFF. Rasterize-it, Polkadots' OEM version of the Harlequin RIP, is JDF enabled.
Speedflow Cockpit from OneVision Software AG, based in Germany, is a JDF-enabled PDF workflow control and collaboration tool that also manages all prepress communication. It integrates common production applications and third-party workflow tools for preflighting, normalizing, editing, imposing, proofing, printing and archiving jobs, without the need for an underlying database.
Out of Hong Kong, Compose Software is targeting Express WorkFlow to small- to mid-size print shops. Handling both PDF and raster workflows, it is built around a Harlequin Scriptworks RIP and MySQL standard database. The base product features an intuitive interface and browser-based job monitoring, file submission and process control.