High Performing Digital Front Ends Required for Today’s Crop of Inkjet Presses

As more high-speed inkjet presses come on the market, offering buyers a plethora of choices, the digital front end is becoming more important in the press purchasing process, as well as in production once the press has been installed.

The front end directly impacts how successfully a job is brought on board, pre-flighted, printed, finished, and delivered, said Pat McGrew, inkjet evangelist, inkjet high-speed production solutions, HP. The goal is to ensure that every investment made supports the larger investment in the inkjet web press.

“Press vendors often integrate a collection of technologies from various suppliers to build a DFE; the feature set and quality of the output depend as much on their selection of those technologies as it does on how well they integrate them all together—and on the press itself,” added Martin Bailey, chief technology officer, Global Graphics.

Most production inkjet systems are high-end production machines, where the speed/performance of RIP technology is key to keeping the engines productive without clutching. The front-end solution must be robust and reliable to support production level expectations of a 24/7 heavy load use, as well as efficiently run data-driven applications, such as variable data and imaging.

Key features are fantastic throughput to minimize bottlenecks, enterprise visibility, interconnectivity, and event notification, said Ed Jansen, vice president professional services, Canon Solutions America. “The solution must also support the shift towards dynamic communications and multichannel output and leverage the latest advances in data formats.”

Speed and performance dovetail with automation, an extremely important feature within a full production system, Jason Kammes, business development manager-workflow solutions, Fujifilm North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division. Jobs need to come in and out as quickly as possible with little involvement or “touches” from production staff in order to increase profit with workloads that involve much shorter runs.

A critical consideration is color management software built for inkjet environments and pre-flight software that can understand customer ICC profiles. DFEs must handle color management suitably for the press to match brand colors and maximize use of the press gamut, while producing naturalistic photographic images.

“Aqueous inkjet presses often have a very low maximum total area coverage compared with what might be considered normal in traditional graphic arts, which can put a strain on some color engines,” said Bailey.

Question vendors about current links and APIs into MIS and other job management tools, and don’t forget to ask about the long-term upgrade strategy as new standards come online, said McGrew. “Even more than the press itself, the front end is what enables print service providers to say ‘yes’ to complex jobs and prepare them perfectly for the press to produce.”

Additional “must-have” features also include single-path process without multi-step conversion to minimize conversion errors and the ability to support multiple PDLs natively, said Joe Rouhana, general manager, production workflow & solutions, graphic communications, Xerox.

Similar to a traditional print model, high-speed inkjet presses are expected to run at or close to rated speed regardless of the jobs that are submitted. “As presses get faster and faster, they are simply capable of producing more waste at higher speed unless the DFE is reliable and predictable,” said Bailey.


Vendor Offerings

Looking at the combined tasks of color management, layout/imposition, and data preparation for the target engine, Canon has made substantial improvements in each area, said Jansen. “The color management for PDF and AFP has been extended, adding additional features for rules-based color management automation. The key in this area is to optimize the output format for the target device in an automated manner to rapidly prepare large volumes of data for high-speed print,” Jansen noted. “The layout/imposition support has been extended to fully support the JDF fold catalog, including an automated JDF imposition mechanism based upon the JDF standard naming convention.”

Global Graphics’ Harlequin RIP technology, which is OEM’d to other companies, including inkjet press vendors, focuses on the issues that drive its customers’ sales and their customers’ satisfaction, including speed, quality, color, and cost, added Bailey.

“With its fast processing speed, the Harlequin RIP reduces the risk of poorly constructed jobs slowing down production and exceeds industry requirements in keeping presses running at full speed,” Bailey said. Harlequin supports all PDF features relevant for printing; balancing compliance with the PDF standard and compatibility with key viewing and approval products. It offers full support for live PDF transparency, as well as PDF/X and PDF/VT.

“With the increase in personalized data that we are seeing, Harlequin offers a feature that speeds up the processing of variable data in PDF and PDF/VT files, called Harlequin VariData,” said Bailey. Harlequin ColorPro gives color process control for the greatest possible color fidelity, faithful matching of brand colors with Pantone look-up tables, as well as full ICC support.

HP recently launched full integration between the SmartStream Elite Print Server and SmartStream Production Center. “This combination delivers the unprecedented ability to automate and control production from prepress through shipping for HP and non-HP devices,” said McGrew. “Customer service and sales can now know where each job is in the production process. Supervisors can manage manual and automated work centers, predict when jobs will be late, and reprioritize on-the-fly to meet tight deadlines. Executives will also know the profitability of each job.”

Operators to vice presidents can automate reprinting of damaged portions, manage production of multiple job components, and provide instant visibility down to the job from any networked device. Operators can also automatically accept and process jobs from multiple sources including MIS, web-to-print (W2P), marketing automation, ad hoc processes and more.

To ensure its machines stay at top speeds while printing variable data, a key application of production inkjets, Fujifilm has adapted Adobe’s Mercury RIP, said Kammes. The technology takes full advantage of the enhancing features designed to optimize high-speed print production on the J Press digital inkjet press series.

Fujifilm customers are also requesting that their inkjet systems include MIS, W2P, workflow, remote solution, etc., integrated within each other to automate the process from start to finish, said Kammes.

Its latest release of XMF v5.5 has undergone a number of internal technology upgrades to accommodate the more complex demands of high-speed digital printing, as well as to optimize more traditional CTP plate production.

XMF Workflow supports both the most innovative (PDF/VT) and well-established (PPML) variable data formats. In addition, a new database has been implemented within XMF to sustain the high data processing volumes associated with variable data printing and to maximize productivity, explained Kammes.

CIP4 certification for XMF v5.5 provides connectivity to many different MIS systems. A new JDF tool interprets and converts incoming MIS instructions into JDF-compatible ones.

XMF v5.5 offers improved proofing capabilities through the automated distribution of 3D proofs. The 3D proofing module, already embedded in previous versions of XMF workflow, gives printers the ability to create a ‘virtual printed product’ to provide their customers with an accurate representation of the final print job. Within XMF v5.5, this is now processed automatically, saving time, and increasing efficiency, said Kammes.

Finally, XMF Workflow v5.5 features further improvements to support XMF ColorPath, the cloud-based color management system that is designed to help printers calibrate and maintain compliance to printing standards.

Xerox also offers a number of solutions, depending on the application. For books, FreeFlow Core automates the assembly of the book pages, preflight, imposition, color management, and submission to the devices using standards like JDF/JMF.

For direct mail, XMPie technology creates marketing campaigns to target customers. FreeFlow VIPP technology for transactional variable-data printing is recognized for being the fastest variable composition at RIP time, said Rouhana. For transpromo applications, Xerox offers the IntegratedPLUS GMC solution for managing end-to-end workflow and for a true automated document factory.