Online Exclusive

Prepress Tools Pump Productivity


Way back when, prepress was a simple affair—if not in practice at least in the understanding of what needed to get done. There was one media platform—print—and the prepress department produced the plates and generated hard-copy proofs, and everyone knew what they had to do, and it more or less got done.

Today, prepress still involves platemaking and making proofs, but it could also mean a host of other things—digital asset management, for instance. Prepress is sometimes referred to as pre-media, because graphic professionals can no longer assume that the final product is print.

No matter what the final product or platform, some requirements hold steady: prepress requires tools and technology that generate maximum productivity and consistent quality, while reducing errors and assuring minimal waste.

“As the market becomes more competitive and the push is for lower prices, the firms that will survive are those who understand that additional investment in technologies are important to their success,” says Bill Owens, Xitron’s marketing director for the Software & Interface Group. “Technology can help boost productivity thus reducing costs and increasing profits.”

“Replacing outdated standalone RIPs with an affordable workflow that can reduce common errors and increase productivity is the first step to modernizing the prepress department,” reports Owens. Xitron’s Navigator Workflow Server is a low-cost, modular system that allows printers to start with a basic system and add features and capabilities as needs expand. Navigator Workflow solutions drive any of the several hundred output devices supported by Xitron, including traditional and inkjet CtP, direct imaging presses, production printers, inkjet proofers, and even older film imagers.

Fewer Touchpoints Key

The less manual intervention in the prepress process, the less chance that errors can impact quality of work and inefficiencies in the pressroom,” states Larry Moore, Director Software Services, Esko North America. “One of the most effective ways to affect a profitable impact is by implementing rules-based automation.”

Adds Moore, “Automation removes errors by allowing operators to preset repetitive tasks and build automated decisions within the workflow. When operator interaction is required to ensure quality, comprehensive checkpoints in workflows can be built. In addition, interfaces between order administrative systems (MIS or ERP) and prepress production further reduce manual interaction.”

Esko’s Automation Engine uses database driven job management to drive any sized prepress production operation. Customer information and job details can be extracted from the database; even metadata like ink coverage and barcode specifications can be added.

Automation Engine offers seamless integration with any existing infrastructure, explains Moore, accepting a variety of desktop publishing formats, supporting RIPs or file servers, and all industry standards such as PDF, XML, XMP, SQL queries and JDF/JMF communication.

AE’s optional viewer module lets operators and customer service representatives check separations, trim and media sizes, compare differences between design files and production files, or check if all corrections have been applied.

Maximize Productivity

Enfocus Switch automation uses built-in intelligence to optimize and make connections between both existing and new systems, says Elli Cloots, Director of Product Management, Enfocus. The Switch Core engine streamlines the repetitive, often manual tasks associated with receiving and sorting files. It can receive files in any way, from one or more FTP servers, email attachments, or via hot folders. It then sorts files into appropriate folders and/or transmits them to the appropriate destination, so that each is ready for processing or archiving.

Customers can also customize Switch to automatically send status or action-needed notification alerts to anyone, such as customer service representatives or clients.

 “As companies begin to understand Switch’s capabilities, they can use a variety of free, posted Switch flows; or easily customize their own new automation flows; no what type of file needs to be processed, or what software needs to be integrated,” says Cloots. Switch modules include those for configurators and databases; in these cases enabling automation and integration of third-party applications in the graphic arts industry, as well as MIS, DAM, and Web-to-Print.

Across Multiple Platforms

For graphic services professionals able to move beyond print, and tap into their customers’ need to manage content across multiple platforms, the challenge is assuring delivery to the right platform, at the right time, to the right stakeholders.

Managing these projects consists of more than just approving workflows. Dalim Software’s ES 3 combines pre-media and prepress workflow tasks—like color accurate soft proofing—with the business logic of project planning, including milestones and sophisticated approval processes, explains Graham Blanks, COO. Users can plan, execute and control any aspect of media production. Partners are automatically involved at appropriate production stages, including reviews and approvals, helping eliminate errors.

HP and its partners offer a portfolio of production workflow tools and solutions across multiple platforms, reports Harel Ifhar, HP Worldwide Marketing Director, Scitex Industrial Presses. HP SmartStream Workflow Portfolio provides a complete set of workflow tools to help customers improve efficiency and generate maximum productivity from job creation to fulfillment.

HP’s partner workflow solutions include HP SmartStream Designer, for versioned campaigns and variable data printing across a range of wide-format applications; HP Hiflex Web-to-print Solution, which directly links print buyers to the production floor, making it easy to customize marketing print campaigns according to the client’s brand identity and local marketing strategies; Esko ArtiosCAD and Studio software applications that improve the design of 2D and 3D graphics files to increase prepress productivity; GMG ColorServer Suite for Scitex Presses, which optimizes color results for consistent, high-quality color prints; Esko i-cut Suite, an end-to-end workflow solution that removes pain points from the large-format printing process; Caldera GrandRIP+, a suite of production-oriented print and print-to cut workflow solutions for color management, imaging, and driving; and ONYX’s ProductionHouse HP Edition version RIP, for simplifying everyday printing tasks and providing greater control over the entire workflow.

In the proofing arena, there has been a trend towards using GRACol as the default in the prepress department, says Dawn Nye, Product Marketing Manager, Production Print, Konica Minolta. Delivering the proof on the same digital presses that will run the final print job is becoming more and more common, as is using color matching standards as determined by such means as GRACol.  Using a controlled system and color matching tools can save a tremendous amount of time for the prepress department, as well as ensure consistent quality and drastically reduced waste.

Plates On or Offline

Presstek’s path to prepress efficiency spans out from two starting points: chemistry-free, CTP solutions for print shops using conventional offset presses, and digital offset (DI) presses that eliminate the need for offline plate production.

Both scenarios share a similar vision: ““Presstek is dedicated to making offset printing as easy, efficient and cost-effective as possible,” reports Brian Wolfenden, Presstek director of marketing communications. “We believe less is better: Less time required to do more work, less chemistry, less waste, less environmental impact….”

Presstek CTP solutions remove the variability, excessive cost and hazardous chemicals associated with chemistry-based platemaking processes, says Wolfenden. “With our Compass or Dimension Series families of highly automated CTP solutions, we bring push-button simplicity to platemaking, consistently delivering high quality plates that ensure more productivity in both prepress and the pressroom,” he says.

Presstek’s DI presses image chemistry-free plates on press in precise register, going from digital file to sellable color in as little as six minutes says Wolfenden. The line of highly automated digital offset presses, which use waterless printing technology, include the Presstek 34DI and 52DI, which have a small environmental and physical footprint, and the 75DI, which carries that same small environmental footprint to a 4- to 10-color tower press.

Driving Pressroom Efficiency

One of prepress’ prime tasks is improving pressroom efficiency.

Xitron’s KeySetter communicates ink coverage data received from prepress directly to the press console for reduced makeready and waste. With direct console connection and closed loop capabilities, KeySetter can reduce makeready an average of 30-50% on new jobs and up to 90% on repeat jobs, says Owens. It’s available as a direct connection to press consoles from leading manufacturers, including Heidelberg, Komori, KBA, manroland, and Shinohara.

“Ink optimization is not only about ink volume reduction, though an important economic benefit,” reports Marc Welch, GMG Director of Strategic Accounts. “Thousands of GMG InkOptimizer installations worldwide have shown that good ink optimization prints closer to specifications, with greater production stability. Many GMG InkOptimizer customers report that their first objective was to ensure consistent print results, and cost savings from reduced ink were a bonus.”

With GMG InkOptimizer color composition is standardized: the CMY color component is reduced and the black component increased. Unlike ICC solutions, the black channel is preserved, maintaining color accuracy and detail, says Welch. Concurrently, the visual color impression remains unchanged, leading to ink savings of up to 20 percent and making it much easier to set the press correctly to color.

“The stabilized gray balance achieves more consistent color behavior in neutral areas and tertiary colors, such as browns and olives,” says Welch. “Contrast and image definition in the shadows are also improved. Smaller color variations during printing lead to more stable printing, and higher quality. Repeat jobs are reproduced more easily.”

The lower level of ink reduces the risk of offsetting, the drying time is shorter, and less powder is needed in sheetfed offset. It takes less time to get the right colors on the press, the overall production time is reduced, and paper waste is avoided.

And Finishing, Too...

Investments in prepress workflow technology are realized all the way through to finishing.

The Océ Streamlined Workflow digital system includes a range of Océ ProCutdigital cutting tables to automate finishing operations, and specialized software for preparing and interpreting the cutting instructions in a seamless workflow. “Not only does it reduce labor and materials costs during finishing, enabling customers to gain productivity and increase profit margins, it also lets customers offer a wider range of applications to their clients,” says Randy Paar, Display Graphics Marketing Manager, Océ North America.

The ProCut component is composed of two modules with an intuitive user interface. A prepress module, which accepts EPS and PDF files from design software such as Adobe Illustrator, enables quick and easy preparation of cutting marks and selection of finishing tools such as a kiss-cutting knife, router, creasing tool, etc. A nesting module nests on true shape for optimal use of the media in the printing and finishing stages.

“Cutting is always 100 percent accurate, and the system compensates for any material distortion that may occur during printing,” says Paar.

New business opportunities include manufacturing premium-priced contour-cut jobs and production kiss-cutting jobs for mass-produced decals. Structural projects, such as self-standing displays or packaging prototypes, are other possible applications for opening up new markets.