Digital Original: Automation is Within Your Reach

One of the newest and hottest topics being discussed by printers and prepress professionals is automation. Some experts believe the future of quick and small commercial printing will be driven by a company’s ability to automate and drive up the sales per employee figures. Many shops currently produce $100,000 a year per employee in sales. With automation, some experts predict the average sales per employee could reach $300,000 to $400,000.

Printers are already seeing what automation can do. Certain tasks, particularly those done in prepress, can be automated once a printer decides to standardize his workflow. For instance, there are systems available that will download digital files directly from the Internet, preflight and correct the files, and then impose the file with little or no operator intervention. Production standards become critical as work passes from one work area to another.

Starting Point

Before automation can be achieved, printers need to become familiar with the standards being used by the industry and being used by vendors to develop the workflow software and equipment. Printers need to learn about GRACoL and G7 standards.

These are basic standards that assure the printing meets the requirements of the customer and the print quality is consistent. If you are thinking about automation make sure you bookmark www.gracol.org, www.swop.org, and www.iso.org on the Internet. You will also need to be familiar with the PDF and JDF standards set by the Ghent Workflow Group at www.gwg.org.

All of this training may seem overwhelming, but more sites are popping up on the Internet to help consolidate the knowledge needed to succeed. Prepressure.com covers design techniques, PDF, PostScript, fonts, JDF, and numerous other prepress topics that have to do with printed communication.

One of the recent topics addressed on the site was the use of fonts in the new Microsoft Windows 7. The site pointed out how the thumbnails in the Fonts folder can help prepress operators by showing three characters from the font’s alphabet on the icon. This visual clue makes it easier to identify fonts. Stacked icons indicate that different font styles are available. Such a group of fonts is called a “collection.” The use of collections reduces the clutter in the font folder.

Windows 7 can also hide certain fonts automatically when they are not needed. Fonts that are hidden are not available to applications, although they are still installed in the operation system. One way in which this mechanism is used is for hiding fonts deemed useless, based on the regional settings. For example, if you indicate that Windows 7 should use Western regional settings, Japanese fonts will be hidden. This font hiding mechanism frees up memory and simplifies font selection.

The site also reviews the proper procedures for managing fonts in the new Max OS X.6 Snow Leopard.

File Security

Yet no matter how a printer produces the work, he is going to end up with a digital file. The digital files will become important assets as work is repeated and files are used or repurposed over and over.

Recently, I have run across printers who have lost all of their financial and prepress files because of some sort of hardware failure. They call me, looking for ways to recover their files without having to rebuild their digital library. There is nothing as bad a getting the message that a drive is unreadable or corrupted.

One easy way to back up computer files is to download the files to an offsite source. You will want to check out JungleDisk. The online backup service is inexpensive, especially when compared to the task of having to rebuild files. Find out more at www.jungledisk.com. Another source is Carbonite.com. This automated backup service now supports Macs. Visit www.carbonite.com to find more information.

Offsite, online backup can be low cost insurance that protects one of your most important assets: your digital files. It is well worth the small investment.

I want to add one final note about backups. Many printers find themselves in trouble when a computer crashes and they can’t get to the application files on the old drive. In addition to files, a printer should have a backup of the “Install” files used to load an application. The files should be kept offsite along with copies of the serial numbers and activation codes.

You’ll also want to make and save backups of any updates you download from a vendor’s site. Most times you are given the option to “Run” or “Save As.” Do a “Save As” to your hard drive and then backup the Install files for safe keeping. You might even want to either take your application Install disks off site or burn an additional copy to make sure you have them if any major catastrophe happens.

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