Prepress continues to be one of the most important functions in a quick printer’s workflow. Almost every job produced in a print shop must be touched by prepress staff in some way. Keeping up with the latest trends and technology can mean the difference from being profitable or losing money.
Printing companies are now offering technology-based printing services that augment customers’ print requirements. A major trend in many print shops is to evolve the prepress department into a multifunction unit that can help disseminate information using new technology tools in addition to print. The prepress staff must now learn new communication tools to compliment a customer’s ongoing marketing plan.
Printers are either hiring a generalist for prepress or retraining their current staff to coordinate work as it moves through the department. These employees become project managers for work being done by outside vendors.
Finding a single person who can support and produce everything a print shop needs to offer is almost impossible, so it is critical for the prepress staff to be able communicate the company’s needs to outside vendors. The prepress person will be an expert in some portion of their job, but they must be able to direct others, usually remotely, on what other services are needed. Those services include typesetting and design work, managing databases, creating artwork, supporting Web creation and advanced Web services, creating content, and more.
Trends Facing Printing Companies
Automation: Printers are trying to remove the number of touches as a job moves through the workflow. A number of software applications automate tasks, particularly in preflighting and correcting digital files. Almost all output vendors offer some sort of proprietary workflow system based on a PDF workflow along with hot folder solutions. Low-cost programs such as Adobe Acrobat, Markzware Flightcheck, Enfocus Pitstop, Quite Imposing, and others can add automatic steps that save hours of time. A program such as Enfocus Switch can link together automation programs you already own to build a custom automatic workflow.
The front end investment of time and money can quickly pay for itself over the long run as the production efficiencies give the printer a competitive advantage.
Web-based Services: Print is only one part of the new business communication model and printers must integrate print with the new vehicles. The latest trend is to offer some sort of Web support. Printers can create entire websites for companies or provide specialized services such as landing pages or QR codes. Printers are educating customers to the advantages of using both to better reach their audience.
Understanding Web services makes it easier to sell more print services that integrate the customer’s messages to its audience. Printers are printing more collateral to support information that is on the Web and printing more pieces to help drive prospects to the customer’s website. A printer who understands what the customer is trying to accomplish with their website can use printing to help meet that goal.
Web-to-Print Supply Chains: Buying printing in a large organization can be difficult, so printers are adding easy-to-use, secure portals where customers can reorder work or order from preapproved templates. Print buying approvals can be automated to help customers lower their administrative costs. Almost all of the website services for printing companies have some sort of portal ordering system and there are a number of third party solutions. A new W2P Finder site at www.web2printexperts.com/W2PFinder/ will help printers find the right Web-to-print solution for their needs. Web-to-print services tend to lock customers into a particular printer and make it hard for competitors to take the work.
Design and Content Creation: At one time, most quick printers would just replicate or copy whatever their customer needed to reproduce. Today, customers need more help designing projects and coming up with content for the print, Web, and social media communication vehicles.
Printers are being forced to provide more high-end design and original content creation work. Online services such as Odesk.com, Elance.com, and Guru.com make it easy to find people with graphic design, writing, and marketing skills. Affinity Express will do design and typesetting and provide the printer with a print-ready file. The outside resource will also provide the printer with finished files that can be reused and edited. Since the message usually will appear in print, on the Web, and on other vehicles, printers will write and manage the content for all the venues.
Personalization (VDP): Printers are just starting to use the variable data printing capabilities of their digital printers because customers now understand the value and the process. The latest generation of customers can provide databases for the personalization. Online service companies such as Digital Formatting Services offer variable data printing and mailing support, and local mailing companies are expanding their services to include backroom data support for mail and VDP projects. These companies will process the data and provide the printer with a print-ready file for output. Personalization tends to deliver a higher return on investment.
Design for Tablet and Smartphone: All you have to do is to look at the new features in Adobe’s Creative Cloud package to realize that design and layout of information for tablets and smartphones will be part of your prepress functions. Just as there has been a migration of some print to the Web, there is a new trend of moving more information to tablets and smartphones. As with the Web, the information on tablets will be supported by print collateral, so the need for material to be repurposed for tablets and smartphones means more work for prepress. The new Creative Cloud includes applications that make moving designs from paper to the Web much easier.
Social Media Management: Printers are now managing the distribution of the customers’ messages through social media. With social media marketing tools from Hootsuite, Buffer, SproudSocial, TweetDeck, SpreadFast, and others, managing a social media campaign that integrates with the marketing efforts through print, direct mail, and online is easier than ever. Since the printer is creating much of the new content for the customer, it is logical that the printer should also be the one posting the information to social media platforms on a scheduled basis.
The mix of print, technology, the Web, social media, and mobile technology is creating a new communication model that will become the blueprint for the print shop of the future as printers help customers take their message beyond print on paper. The successful printer will provide the tools, staff, and expertise that can help customers disseminate their message on whatever new platform is required. The challenge for the printer will be having a knowledgeable staff that can show customers how to use the new tools and integrate their message into a single, cohesive campaign.
John Giles is a consultant and technology director for CPrint International. He is the author of “12 Secrets for Digital Success” and “The DTP PriceList”. He can be reached at 954-224-1942 or firstname.lastname@example.org.