Can quick printers expect business as usual in the prepress department in the coming years? As the print industry tries to find its footing after being hammered by the economy the past two years, now would be a good time to take a look at trends in that department and how they will affect your printing company’s future.
The recession has unveiled a couple of cruel facts. The business community no longer sees printing as its primary tool to communicate and collection information. Internet services, email, mobile marketing, and other media are now used to push information out to various audiences. Printing used for collecting information is shrinking because that is now done with computers. Originals that once had to be printed and stored are now kept on computers and printed on personal printers, a few at a time. The way businesses communicate is changing, so the printing industry is going to have to change to survive.
Printers will have to evolve and offer new services to capture new customers. There isn’t going to be as much printing, but customers are still going to have to get their message out to their customers in some form.
The New Prepress Person
The trend in hiring prepress employees is for printers to move away from finding someone with design skills and concentrate on a different skill set. A prepress person must be a technician. Creating the original for a customer is only a small portion of the tasks a prepress employee must do each day. The prepress person’s primary job is to just get the customer’s file to print properly on the various output devices.
For digital presses, the prepress person will check and prepare the file using standard production tools. Much of the file manipulation is done on the device’s RIP. The standard file format for output is PDF. The file then sits on the RIP until the digital operator releases the job. The digital operator sends the job to the digital printer, which outputs the job based on the way it was set up by the prepress person.
The output process is similar for offset printing and going direct-to-plate. A number of software tools let the prepress person make corrections to the file and many tasks can be automated. The ready-to-output files reside on the RIP until the press operator makes the plate.
Another trend is for the prepress person to set up standards and procedures for an automated PDF workflow in which a CSR can accept a customer’s file and place it directly into production. It bypasses the prepress department completely because the prepress person has already established the parameters for the file. The prepress person then spends time maintaining the automated system and handling jobs that fall outside of the standard procedures.
New hires in the prepress department have more database management and Web skills than design talent. Most prepress people need a strong working knowledge of Excel and HTML if they are going to help owners take advantage of the new services. Variable data printing, direct mail marketing, and email marketing require database skills. The design might be wonderful, but if the printed piece goes to the wrong person, its value is lost.
Who is going to do design work for the printer? Freelance designers and outside vendors can now provide low cost, high quality design work. Companies such as Affinity Express (www.affinityexpress.com) can give printers access to quick turnaround typesetting and design services over the Internet. There are a number of websites that are dedicated to linking printers with professional designers. Printers no longer need a full time designer on staff to get fast service.
PDF files aren’t new, but printers are getting more of them from their customers. Customer created files still make up the majority of originals printed by quick printers. Since customers are seeing more PDF files on the Web, they have begun to learn that PDFs are the easiest way to submit a file.