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It's disconcerting how quickly things change in this business.
It's even more disconcerting how that change has a snowball
effect”?the momentum keeps building and there's nothing
that can hold it back.

Wide-format has always been a digital environment. And
because it was spawned in the digital era, you might think print
providers are in little danger of being shut out of the market by
technology innovation. As you prepare your business for 2006,
however, keep in mind that you may again have to upgrade
your equipment”?particularly your digital front end and software.
In fact, keeping up
with technology may be
more important now than
ever before.

Wait, let me catch up
If your digital front end is
more than 3 years old, any
competitor with the latest
machines can probably
clean your clock in terms
of both speed and quality.
And it's probably fair to say
that your competitors are
not going to stop buying new machines just so you can catch
up to them.

Bigger, better, faster, and cheaper are what this market
is built upon. The difference between 3-year-old models and
today's current products is equivalent to comparing a leer
jet with lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. Sure, the old prop plane
got “lucky lindy” from New York to Paris in about 33.5 hours,
but few people would want to try that today given the power,
speed, and comfort of the jet planes now available. It's fun to
read about, and lindbergh will forever be a symbol of courage
and tenacity, but who wants to run a business living with the
daily fear of the equivalent of crashing into an inky black atlantic

The “fast” computers of 3 years ago are beyond obsolete
“?they have become barriers to production and need to be
relegated to surfing the Internet (or something even less taxing).
Today, computer manufacturers are shipping dual-core
machines that simply blow away their predecessors. and not
only are they getting faster, but they're also becoming more
affordable”?you can buy two or three cutting-edge machines
for what you once paid for a single slogging behemoth.

What about software? admittedly, we're typically forced
to upgrade software simply because our customers are doing
it”?not because we get anything out of it. There are few items
in the latest releases of any of the major software products
that really give print providers added capabilities. and the cost
of these upgrades seems to be inversely proportional to their
value”?little value: ridiculous cost.


But you have little choice but to keep up with the latestand-
not-much-greater versions. and since it's a trend that
will not stop in 2006, my best advice is to get in on some of
the deals offered by software companies, such as adobe's
Print service Provider Program. Not all software vendors offer
upgrade programs, but they're well worth the time and effort
to check out. software upgrades are likely to cost you several
thousand dollars a year without providing much gain in efficiency;
a little preventive planning is at least a partial budget
solution to this problem.

Files: bigger, less-professional, more PDFs
You probably have already had a glimpse of some of the incoming-
file trends you're sure to see more of this coming year. Here's
what I believe you'll find”?and have to deal with”?in 2006:

  • Files are bigger. Remember when digital files arrived on
    floppy disks? Today, many files won't fit on a 100-MB Zip disk
    (remember those?). Raise your hand if you are starting to get
    files on UsB flash drives. My company receives the vast majority
    of its jobs on CD and some on DVD. I admit to a slight panic
    flutter when a job arrives on a half-dozen CDs, but this isn't

  • Transparency is the “in” thing. It may still choke your RIP to
    get multiple-layer Photoshop files from your customer, but you
    will probably need to figure out workarounds because designers
    simply love to play with transparency. It's another reason
    you need the latest-and-greatest hardware backing up the latest-
    and-greatest software.

  • Who's creating these files? You've no doubt seen a growth
    in the number of nonprofessionals involved in creating files
    intended for professional output. You're likely receiving files
    created in Word, PowerPoint, and Publisher”?and all by people
    who have no idea what it means to embed fonts, convert color
    space to CMYK, or collect for output. They have no idea what the
    terms “color management,” “overprint,” or “trap” mean, but they
    love to play with their software controls for all of these file attributes.
    If these folks are not already making your life miserable,
    they will be.

  • PDF is taking root. Customers providing PDF files could be
    a good thing, but it probably won't be until designers figure out
    how to create printable PDF files. Given the penchant for transparency
    and the increasing lack of appropriate training for file
    creators, PDF is not yet the holy grail that had been hoped for.
    But standards committees such as the Ghent PDF Workgroup
    ( and new Acrobat features are
    helping, and 2006 could be a year when designers begin getting
    the PDF training that will help make our lives easier.


    Print providers can help themselves by providing their own
    training to customers, and promoting products such as Enfocus
    Instant PDF and PDF Create ( and Apago
    PDF Enhancer ( It will also pay to continue
    training your own staff”?this is no time to be stuck with old
    technology or untrained technicians.

    What doesn't kill us”?
    As negative as all of this may sound, files and design will
    improve after customers get over the novelty of transparency
    and receive proper training. Improvement will also come
    once the “business-software” file creators get hit with enough
    rework charges to realize they should be using software that's
    actually designed for print (or at least learn how to make their
    files more print friendly).

    The year 2006 is going to be a shake-out period, and it won't
    all be pleasant. But most of us will survive, and those who do
    will be better for the experience.

    Stephen Beals ([email protected]), in prepress production
    for more than 30 years, is the digital prepress manager
    with Finger Lakes Press in Auburn, NY.



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