Automation: The New "Buzz" Word

The impact of the recent recession is still on the minds of printers as they walk the show floor of GRAPH EXPO in search of the latest prepress technology. Economic pressures have elevated production efficiencies to the top of everyone’s “to do” list and vendors are geared to help printers make the most of the prepress technology available.

Printers can see the latest prepress output devices at the show. Computer-to-plate is becoming the standard in even smaller print shops and many printers are concerned about the environment. New green technology for prepress will get a close look as chemical free solutions continue to grow.

Many manufacturers boast faster throughput with new RIPs built to handle PDF workflows. Workflows that automatically correct files, color correct and impose mean that more work can be done in prepress with fewer workers. The ease of use of most new workflow systems and more industry standards mean that training is easier and printers can see a faster return on their investment.

Automation helps to cut the number of steps in the prepress process. As PDF workflows become more common, software developers are creating products that can take the guess work out of file management. The printer can now use one set of workflow procedures to control both offset and digital work. Printers are now able to integrate a workflow that can be applied to almost any printing devices.


Customize features

Automation isn’t limited to proprietary workflow packages. A number of software vendors are displaying applications that can be used to create a “home grown” solution or interface with existing workflows. Companies such as Dalim Software, Enfocus and Quite Software offer products that deal with specific prepress workflow solutions, but can either be handled individually or as part of an automated system. Printers can now pick and choose from the features they want in a workflow and customize it to their production environment.

One way to eliminate the number of touches during the production process is to automate order entry. This is being done with web-based products that use the Internet as a customer portal to give customers greater control over their job. The Web-to-print solution allows customers to reorder jobs from their document library or create a new job from preapproved templates. The 24/7 access means the printer can serve customers without worrying about geographic barriers.

Workflow management solutions available from EFI, Xerox, Kodak, Agfa, HP, Oce, and others offer turnkey solutions that can interface with a Web-based customer portal. The order entry system can allow an order to flow directly into a workflow system that simplifies file handing by correcting files and preparing them for output. As the number of vendors offering this type of system grows, the services become more economical for even the smallest printers.

The push for printers to reinvent themselves as Market Service Providers (MSPs) continues. A number of vendors are showcasing their MSP online services that make the transition from being a printer to marketing company much easier.


Practical solutions

Companies such as PageFlex, MindFire, Printable, interlinkONE, GMC, EasyPurl and others continue to make adding complicated software solutions practical. In addition to now standard online ordering systems for template type of work, printers are now able to provide sophisticated marketing applications where users can measure results.

The software companies are offering printers cross media programs including personal URLs (PURL) programs. Several have integrated QR (quick response) codes into their offerings so printers can take advantage of the new mobile marketing technology. Printers can now provide additional services including search engine marketing, social media management, customer landing pages, manage and measure email campaigns as well help customers generate sales leads.

Almost all of the major digital press manufacturers are featuring their variable data printing (VDP) capabilities. Printers now have the option to complete the VDP projects in-house or integrate the project with an online solution to merge form data, database files, and images online. No matter how simple or complex, printers now have the ability to sell personalization services and one-to-one messaging that can be delivered either online or on paper.

Even with the rise of Web-to-print services, a number of printers will be investigating using an Internet presence for the first time. Turnkey Web solutions such as and are also on display. Even as Web commerce grows, a number of commercial printers still don’t have a Web presence. The special websites for printing companies can provide printers with an e-commerce solution. Most software site vendors offer customer portals, automatic PDF file creation tools, online design capabilities, and online ordering. Even the smallest printer can project a large presence with the right combination of online services.

Prepress is becoming more important in most printing companies especially as many prepress functions now integrate into Web-based services. Prepress has moved closer to the customers through Web-based order entry. It has moved closer to production because of automation. It has become the bridge that ties all the printing functions together, including sales and customer service. Print owners need to evaluate how they communicate with their customers and what services their customers need to exchange information with their customers. Printing communication is changing and is being integrated with other media. This year’s GRAPH EXPO shows you how the future can be handled today.

John Giles is a consultant with CPrint International and a regular columnist for Quick Printing magazine.