Flipping the Digital Switch

With the quadrennial Print 09 trade show less than two months away (Sept. 11-16), industry vendors have begun revealing what they will exhibit in Chicago. Print workflow technology has evolved substantially since the last big Print event in 2005, which means this summer is the best time in four years for commercial printers to shop for integrated workflow software and systems—especially shops that are considering adding a digital press, as well as those who’ve already gone digital but seek more production efficiencies with their offset pressrooms.

A record 86 percent of creative pros now either buy or recommend on-demand digital printing, up from just 52 percent on the eve of Print 05, according to the Annual Print Survey in GD: USA’s June issue. Globally, the production workflow software market is expected to grow to $12.6 billion by 2012, says InfoTrends’ research. (It was $7.4 billion in 2006.)

With double-digit annual growth comes a lot of product innovation. Touting color management and cross-media production, dozens of related software vendors will be among the more than 600 exhibitors assembling at McCormick Place to fill some 600,000 net square feet of floor space. These developers will show off their products and conduct demonstrations galore—Print 09 is the largest congregation of software demos in North America, all under one roof. Many of these exhibitors will overlap with the Job Definition Format (JDF) programs, including a Print Automation Pavilion, sponsored by the CIP4 organization. CIP4 also is planning “JDF Works Print Shop Live” that will mirror the automated production lines set up in the EFI and Heidelberg booths at Graph Expo last year.

For print firms driving a mix of both offset and digital jobs, creating files that achieve consistent output on all machines is an ongoing challenge. Today’s digital press color workflow technology now is mature enough to make the transition relatively painless, however. The color management used for conventional offset print is essentially the same for digital printers.

That’s what sheetfed and web shop Dome Printing, Sacramento, Calif., has learned. The firm expanded in March with a 40,000 sq-ft digital printing, mailing and fulfillment center called Dome Direct.

Like many printing companies, Dome was reactively pushed into mailing and fulfillment by customers who wanted these services. The firm stopped offering mailing in the early 1990s after a 10-year stint, then resurrected the service in 2005. It installed an HP Indigo 5500 digital color press in late 2007, and a monochrome Kodak DigiMaster in early 2008 that runs variable-data letters on preprinted four-color shells. Today, Dome mails about six million pieces each month and has become a preferred facility with the U.S. Postal Service.

Three brothers, Tim, Andy and Bob Poole, are partners in the business, which is in its 40th year and has become Northern California’s largest privately held printing company with some $30 million in annual sales. The firm added two Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 105 presses to its 95,000-square-foot print plant in 2006. Since going digital 18 months ago, Dome’s sales reps have brought in offset work they wouldn’t have even known about before—let alone quoted on—because the company is now on print buyers’ radar as a “digital printer.” It’s a marketing advantage, the Pooles say.

New Stuff to Watch For

At Print 09, Agfa Graphics (Booth 2600) will show its :Apogee Suite 6.0, the newest version of its workflow software solution, which made its North American debut in June at the IPA Technical Conference.

“Printers today want a streamlined workflow that enables them to present one face to the customer and has the ability and flexibility to drive multiple output devices in offset presses, digital presses and wide-format printers,” said Deborah Hutcheson, senior marketing manager, Commercial/Wide Format, Agfa Graphics, North America. “A printer’s prepress workflow must provide efficiencies, increased productivity and quality enhancements, and all of this is a result of effective JDF integration.”

One of the new components in v.6.0 is an enhanced :Apogee Digital Print Link that allows users to drive and control digital presses, including the 70-ppm Canon imagePRESS digital color family.

Two years ago, Canon (Booth 2612) began collaborating with Heidelberg (Booth 1200) to create a seamless, hybrid offset/digital workflow that links its imagePRESS C7000VP to Prinect Digital Print Manager, a part of Heidelberg’s Prinect workflow management system. Prinect allows for the integration of print systems—whether offset or digital presses—into a unified workflow, optimizing printing processes and systems capabilities. Based on open industry standards using JDF and PDF, the connectivity allows production data to flow between the imagePRESS and Prinect system, giving users the ability to view and better control jobs, manage production costs and optimize system usage.

Fujifilm (Booth 6919) will highlight a new approach to integrated print production. Its Workflow XMF solution can bring a higher level of control to complex print operations producing work for multiple output devices. The end-to-end JDF workflow, which became commercially available this past May, features increased integration capabilities.

“Today, it’s quite common for companies to have a variety of presses, both offset and digital, with widely varying capabilities that require them to utilize a variety of imposition schemes and, in many cases, multiple workflow solutions,” noted Bryan Hughes, Fujifilm product manager for workflow products. Workflow XMF “is capable of providing a single point of production that can easily produce jobs for both offset and digital, or a combination of both, within the same job,” he said, and “… has the added ability to automate many of the processes and will save valuable time and enable printers to meet increasingly tight deadlines.”

Utilizing the latest advancements to create an open and scalable workflow, XMF is a complete JDF engine that incorporates the most recent Adobe PDF Print Engine technology and is capable of achieving huge increases in RIP speed and output performance. Its “pure PDF” technology means that original PDF content is preserved throughout the workflow, with instructions for processes such as imposition stored as JDF data in an associated job bag. This clean implementation requires no internal conversions or file flattening to carry out job processing.

Workflow XMF also incorporates a fully integrated, unlimited-user Fujifilm imposition engine, allowing users to avoid the bottleneck imposed by solutions that rely on external applications. With XMF, users can create and edit impositions live from within the workflow with dynamic templates, easily changing parameters as required. There are fewer templates to manage, saving time and reducing the chance of error. It’s also capable of importing JDF templates from popular imposition and planning applications, such as Metrix, for direct use.

Fuji says its workflow solution is suitable for printers with minimal press equipment as well as for larger printers requiring additional RIPs and processing speed.

A Decade of Prinergy

Kodak (Booth 6907) will highlight its Unified Workflow, including digital-offset tools touting the benefits of a single, cohesive solution that integrates the many aspects of business and production, color and data. The firm also will show updates to its popular Prinergy digital workflow software that unifies digital and conventional printing.

Boasting new features, the Prinergy Workflow System marks its 10th anniversary serving the commercial print market. A fully integrated, digital, highly automated unified workflow management solution, it features modular, scaleable configurations and options that best match customer business needs and growth objectives.

The new Prinergy Digital Workflow helps print service providers drive automation throughout digital workflows with universal digital press connectivity, intelligent job management and scheduling tools—increasing efficiency and supporting their transformation to marketing service providers.

Also on hand at Print 09 will be the newest version of Kodak ColorFlow Software, which ensures a reliable color match from original electronic files all the way through the production process to the final output on either digital or conventional presses. The new software ensures that critical color control elements—curves, profiles and spot recipes—are used together correctly, reducing costs across the board.

The new versions of Prinergy Workflow (v.5.1) and Prinergy Powerpack Workflow both include ColorFlow, and deliver optimal integration, productivity and automation for mixed conventional and digital production environments. The Press Management Option gives printers better control within a blended environment by allowing them to control all presses from a single console.

A half-hour from Indianapolis, Quality Printing Co., Anderson, Ind., installed a Prinergy Connect Workflow this April, allowing the firm’s 44 employees to spend less time on job planning and prepress production.

The $9.5-million sheetfed shop features two six-color Heidelberg presses with coaters: a 40-inch Speedmaster 102 and a 29-inch SM 74. Two years ago, it added short-run, variable-data capabilities via a reconditioned KPG DirectPress 5634 direct-imaging (DI) device from Kodak Polychrome Graphics, the former joint venture with Sun Chemical. There also are Canon and Xerox high-speed digital copiers within the 35,000-square-foot facility.

The new Prinergy workflow has “completely streamlined our production process, increasing productivity and efficiency—all while maintaining the highest levels of print quality across the board,” said Steve Harney, president of the 39-year-old company.

From printing to direct mail, fulfillment and large-format graphics, Quality Printing now is maximizing automation. In addition, Quality enhances efficiency with the Kodak InSite Prepress Portal System. As a Web interface into Prinergy, InSite streamlines job submission, status tracking and remote content proofing/approval.

Smarter Flows

The Hewlett-Packard (Booth 1229) SmartStream Production Plus Print Server, powered by Creo, also offers a unified, hybrid offset/digital production workflow. It integrates effectively with Prinergy and other components of Kodak’s Unified Workflow, as well as Brisque and Agfa :ApogeeX. The HP SmartStream Solutions Portfolio is an open environment that offers customers productivity, flexibility and the choice to expand into additional market segments, including general commercial printing, direct marketing, publication printing, photo specialty, labels and packaging, and commercial and industrial large-format printing.

Xerox (Booths 1100 and 1117) continues to streamline print productivity with digital-offset workflow enhancements. Its FreeFlow open-architecture software integrates with four systems—Fujifilm’s Workflow XMF, Heidelberg’s Prinect, Kodak and Creo’s Prinergy and Screen’s Trueflow—to facilitate digital print as a complement to offset. These integrations enable print providers to leverage their existing offset workflow to serve as a single, familiar point of control for both digital and computer-to-plate offset work. Hybrid applications are enabled with accurate color matching and image quality.

The aforementioned Fuji and Heidelberg systems both are based on PDF print files and JDF platform-independent job tickets, which provide instructions for producing jobs. Xerox and Heidelberg have been developing workflow integrations of Prinect and FreeFlow for five years. This was enhanced in 2008 to enable two-way communication of real-time job status and accounting information via the JMF (Job Messaging Format) standard.

The JMF-based capabilities are enabled by Prinect Prepress Manager 4.0 (formerly known as Prinect Printready System), which provides automated prepress functions, such as file conversion to PDF, page imposition and color management. Xerox’s FreeFlow portfolio provides JMF service through several components, providing flexibility and extended capabilities for a more lights-out operation. At Drupa, Xerox ran hybrid applications using a Speedmaster SM 52-4+L offset press and several Xerox digital presses.

Sir Speedy of Charlotte, N.C., has used the FreeFlow-Prinect integration since 2007 to manage work for an iGen3 110 Digital Production Press with FreeFlow DocuSP, and two Heidelberg offset presses. “Now we have one path to our presses and one place to track our jobs,” said president Patrick Jayne. “That’s a huge productivity boost.”

In addition to providing more services in a “one-stop shop” where customers can use the same PDF files for both digital and offset production, Xerox says FreeFlow can increase profitability by helping printers to create digital print applications, such as personalized marketing pieces, using a familiar workflow process that requires minimal training.

With Fuji at Drupa, Xerox demonstrated how digital complements offset by producing a brochure using an integrated workflow and combination of technology.

Starting with the same file, offset plates were created on the Fujifilm Luxel T-6300CTS, a B-size thermal platesetter—the first step for longer print runs. Shorter runs requiring faster turnarounds printed on a DocuColor 5000 Digital Press driven by the FreeFlow Print Server.

True Solutions

Screen USA (Booth 6100) will unveil the upgraded Trueflow SE computer-to-plate workflow system at the show. Since its launch in 2000, Trueflow has evolved from an intelligent RIP application to a universal workflow for businesses that maintain a hybrid offset/digital workflow. Last year at Graph Expo and Drupa, Trueflow SE 6.0 offered the latest in JDF-compliant PDF handling via the Adobe PDF Print Engine. In 2009, v.7.0 features Equisosnet, adding print-on-demand and transpromo capabilities.

Océ North America (Booth 1863) will show the latest Prisma software, which configures hybrid digital and offset workflows to drive different printing systems via a common platform and process—even across multiple sites. Workflows can be directed from a single workstation. And with Prisma output management, the choice of printing method does not have to be made until the end of the process chain, instead of at the beginning, so users gain flexibility for scheduling, resource utilization and load balancing.

Last year at Drupa, Océ showcased Prisma’s versatility. From a “software island” of 12 workstations, the firm demonstrated every process in modern print production workflow: document creation, scan and makeready using its Document Designer and DocSetter software; and Web-to-print and soft-proofing solutions using PRISMAweb and TrueProof. Midsize print shops can be powered by PRISMAaccess and PRISMAprepare software, while medium- and high-volume production printing is aided by PRISMAspool and PRISMAproduction.

Based near Chicago, contributing editor Mark Vruno is a business writer who has reported on the commercial print industry for more than 20 years. Most recently, he was executive editor of Graphic Arts Monthly magazine. Email him at markvmail@comcast.net.