At the recent Graphics of the Americas show, there was a buzz
that digital-printer manufacturers are finally realizing that the
creative and manufacturing communities need a seamless way
to go from digital, to offset, to Web, and back. There was a consensus
that a “one-workflow-fits-all” approach is needed”?and it
seems that there is much work going on to make this happen.
A holistic approach to printing! It almost sounds too simple.
But, why not? After all, we are starting from essentially the same
point”?with raw files created
by a designer. The challenge,
however, has been
that the end product has a
powerful impact on the
design and production workflow.
At present, the designer
needs to know what the target
output device will be in
order to create a design that
works. Designing for print
requires a different approach
than designing for the Web.
And designing for digital printers uses a completely different rulebook
than designing for output on an offset press.
A merger of technologies
Several technologies have emerged to make tighter workflow integration
possible. One has been around a long time: OPI (Open Prepress
Interface, from Adobe). While many print-production programs
don't follow the precise Adobe code, the essential idea is to
use smaller (in terms of file size), lower-resolution images for
design, and then swap out the high-res images on-the-fly once the
job hits the RIP. That concept is about to be pushed a lot further.
The other is PDF. Used for all manner of file delivery, PDF has
the capability of retaining vector data for clean output of those elements
at any resolution, and the ability to apply compression to
raster images to keep the files small. The fly in the PDF ointment,
though, is that the raster elements can be low resolution, and
common office software likes to treat black text as “rich black.”
For that matter, the vector content of a PDF file can have
every single vector element rasterized at any resolution and still
be called a PDF. While the fact that a print file is in PDF format
means it can be viewed on virtually any computer platform, it
does not mean it can print satisfactorily on any machine.
What's happening is the merger of these technologies into
print workflows capable of yielding excellent print quality on any
output device. At least that's the goal. The key is to develop intelligent
software that can analyze both the file and the output
device, and then make adjustments accordingly.
The idea is to have images available of sufficient resolution
on the server for any of the output options. When the file hits the
RIP, the software detects the resolution of the images in the file,
compares that with the requirements of the output device, and
then”?if that resolution is not what's needed”?it queries the
image database for an image that will work, and can even
change the data coming from the original file without changing
the file itself. And, a truly holistic workflow would allow you to
reverse the process (downsize the file data) for Web output.
Of course, that's not all that is involved in an all-in-one workflow.
Other feature sets needed are: the components of hot folders
to guide the job through production; JDF capabilities to control
JDF-enabled-devices; report and e-mail generation to notify
operators and CSRs of the job status; and, of course, variabledata
capabilities. Plus, there should be the ability to handle anything
the designer might throw at them, like transparency.
No one actually has such a workflow yet, but you can bet it's
coming. And there are some good signs of this.
At Graphics of the Americas, for instance, I saw Xerox running
its new 4110 printer with the latest version of the company's
Freeflow”?a product that ultimately aims to serve all of these
needs. Right now, Freeflow hands down JDF calls to tell the
printer not only how many copies to print, but to control the inline
folder and send an e-mail when the job is done.
And it's not the only product with such lofty goals. Remember
that Creo manufactures the Spire, which runs Xerox's high-end
digital printers and is based on the old Scitex Brisque, as well as
Prinergy (Creo's offset print solution). Part of the reason Kodak
says it purchased Creo is for the latter's workflow technology, so
you can bet that Kodak has a real interest in a workflow that will
drive everything from the VersaMark high-speed variable-data
printers to the Encad wide-format printers and the NexPress.
This month, at the Vue/Point Conference, I'll be moderating a
panel on “The Quest for a Holistic Workflow.” To those who have
been frustrated by different workflows, this will be an opportunity
to help the vendors in attendance understand the value of a
more holistic workflow”?and to see what solutions may already
Stephen Beals (email@example.com), in prepress production
for more than 30 years, is the digital prepress manager
with Finger Lakes Press in Auburn, NY.
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