Finishing Workflow in Digital
The work-in-progress workflow in commercial printing has evolved over decades and is now fairly well defined. Offset prepress and press workflow and control software has expanded to embrace finishing specifications, workflow and job tickets. In many cases, set-up files can be sent directly to the cutter, binder or saddle-stitcher so that makeready becomes a truly "hands-off" process.
On the digital side, things are still in a bit of a flux. High-volume digital printing (mainly inkjet) has expanded so rapidly that the finishing component has had to sprint to keep up. There is no "universal" printer-to-finishing communication link between continuous web digital printers and the web cutters, binders and saddle stitchers that follow. What exists are mark and barcode schemes that the printer generates. Both printed marks and barcodes will contain varying amounts of instructions that enable the finishing system to both finish the product and track both the item and overall production.
Printed web marks (not barcodes) instruct web cutters to cut and dynamic perforation systems to perf. The limitations of both mark and barcode symbology is that feedback to the print system is either limited or non-existent. In short, a well-defined electronic communication workflow that extends from the printer through each finishing machine simply isn't here yet. So the barcode (which can contain a fair amount of info.) is the best we have so far. The major digital finishing vendors have all embraced this approach.
JDF (Job Definition Format) was developed for commercial printing and encompasses almost all aspects of the commercial print process. This is not to say that all print shops use it, since many have their own home-grown workflows. But there is no equivalent to JDF on the digital print side. So for the meantime, we'll have to work with the mix of printed symbology and the software that now exists.
Don has worked in technical support, sales, engineering, and management during a career in both the commercial offset and digital finishing sectors. He is the North American representative for IBIS Bindery Systems, Ltd. of The United Kingdom.