'Power On' for Resources Galore

Broadband Internet pipes are chock-full of web tools and online e-business solutions for all phases of your printing business. Power on your desktop computer, laptop or 4G smartphone and there are online tools available today for virtually everything print, from online quoting and colour management to remote proofing systems and media storage. This, of course, is the good and bad of the Internet, which can be a tremendous resource -- but there also is a lot of junk out there. So, how does a print firm owner or manager separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff? Your friendly Printing News editor can help to vet and harvest some high-quality online content.   When it comes to navigating websites, where to start? Not really a search engine like Google, Bing, MSN or Yahoo, Alltop.com is an example of an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed aggregator with a page on the topic of printing: http://printing.alltop.com. There are myriad vendor sites, from Avanti web-to-print software to digital printing advice from Xerox, as well as supplier organizations such as NPES, the Association for Suppliers of Printing, Publishing and Converting Technologies (www.npes.org). For the designer in you or on your staff, Pantone offers mobile access to its color libraries via myPantone for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch. And for digital press owners, the PODi Digital Printing Initiative (www.podi.org) is a hybrid supplier resource, supported by paying print firm members who share their business problems and challenges –- sort of like a corporate support group.   For instant and small commercial print firms, there also are membership options, such as Certified Printers International (www.cprint.org), as well as online trade media resources like our sister brand, Quick Printing magazine (www.quickprinting.com). Larger printers in North America often address their web browsers to the product news and blogs of Printing News (www.printingnews.com), of course, and its pages, groups and feeds on social media outlets such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. FYI, the Cygnus Graphics Media group is set to launch its new web portal any day now: MyPrintResource.com. Research groups have valuable resources, too. InfoTrends’ Ultimate Guides, an interactive buyers guide for the graphic communications industry, features a friendly interface (http://ultimateguide.infotrends.com).   Other online alternatives   "List-serve" types of online communities offer more objective content than the vendor sites, but you have to “take them with a grain of salt sometimes,†says Julie Shaffer, VP of digital technologies at Printing Industries of America who spearheads the association’s Digital Printing Council. While helpful, these opinion-based sites sometimes post unregulated comments of the ‘so-and-so sucks’ variety, once deemed public-relations nightmares but now accepted as part of the viral wired/wireless culture. Negative reviews may be justified or they may come from the keyboards of venting customers, disgruntled former employees and/or sabotaging competitors who usually gloat and bully behind the convenient veil of anonymity online. (Oh, and did we mention that the Internet seldom goes away? For example, the by-now infamous xeroxsucks web log, the self-proclaimed “sad tale of a tired and angry Xerox customer,†is still “live†online -- even though there hasn’t been a fresh post since 2006.) Despite the ‘B.S.’ potential, our WWW reality is that businesses and consumers have come to trust these website commentaries more so than marketing, according to Internet studies conducted by Pew Research Center.   Among the more respected, established communities, there’s www.printtoolz.com, a spinoff of the now defunct Graphic Arts Monthly online brand. Printtoolz is run by Stephen Beals, a former prepress operator. Prepress people also can pick up useful tips at independents www.prepressure.com, which Laurens Leurs has been running since 1997, and the forums at www.b4print.com. More how to, troubleshooting advice (and some fun, too) can be found at www.qualityinprint.blogspot.com, which is overseen by former Kodak exec Gordon “Gordo†Pritchard. As the World Wide Web knows no bounds, there’s even a PDF user community based in Australia (www.planetpdf.com), as Shaffer points out. User forums can be good, too, she says, but not all are closely moderated. Adobe’s is, for instance, but Quark’s online forum is not.   In addition to white papers, the Digital Printing Council’s revamped website, which went live in mid-February, features case studies (with video interviews and facility tours), quick surveys, economic and vertical market studies and tips on designing for digital: www.digitalprintingcouncil.org. PIA’s main website (www.printing.org), meanwhile, offers some content to non-members, as does the National Association for Printing Leadership (www.napl.org). PIA also has more than 20 regional affiliates with their own websites, blogs and other resources, Shaffer says.   She adds that some of the more sophisticated industry suppliers have taken their online presence to the next level, offering e-commerce, rating systems and even live online discourse (chat and instant messaging) with customer service and technical personnel.