The prepress division is quite a different proposition to what it was two decades ago. For starters, it is more than likely to be exactly that, a division of a commercial printing enterprise, rather than a third-party business contracting with print clients. And the challenges it faces today are more likely to involve software, and process and control issues.
Knife-edge deadlines on shrinking volumes of print have taken the work away from all but the most specialised independent prepress bureaus. And prepress has transformed itself from a dark space, where creativity locked horns with smoke-and-mirrors technology, to a green-button department, where the equipment is tried, trusted and fast – files in and, in the blink of an eye, files out to plate setters and presses, or to digital presses, all locked and loaded for time efficient print runs, finishing and deliveries.
Yet in that intense space between files in and out, there is still a lot that can go awry. There are a myriad file formats, and files often arrive with errors. There is colour management – how high-end it needs to be and at what cost. How does prepress plug into Job Definition Format (JDF) and other downstream workflow automation?
And how can printers optimise web-to-print (W2P) into their systems and ensure files that come through W2P are usable, or at least made usable in a cost efficient way? At the happy end of the spectrum, W2P can be a truly integrated workflow, allowing a printer’s customer to upload files that can be rapidly and efficiently assimilated into a hassle-free workstream. But at the problem end, W2P can be merely a rudimentary gimmick for your customers, enabling them to upload their files, but creating a mess – hours of double handling, file corrections and fuss. Chances are those prepress hours will be absorbed as on-cost to keep the customer satisfied. But is that the best way to operate your prepress?
Heidelberg ANZ managing director Richard Timson says printers can choose between a product such as Heidelberg’s Prinect Web-to-Print Manager or the possibility to connect to third-party W2P solutions that are capable of writing compatible xml files which generate production jobs in Prinect.
Timson says that when combined with Prinect functionalities smart automation and ganging, printers can produce jobs generated by their W2P solution with highest efficiency. In a completely integrated solution with Prinect Integration Manager, Web-to- Print Manager, and Business Manager, the business processes can be followed from job entry until final product, no matter if jobs arrive via the internet or in a conventional way.
Despite the demand to cater for different file formats declining over the years (a few Postscript or TIFF-files are still to be taken in but the vast majority of jobs are delivered as PDF), the complexity of the PDF files themselves has increased, says Timson. “Transparencies inside the files need to be handled correctly – and as many files come from people outside the print industry and need to be made fit for printing. Prinect offers a complete set of features to not only take in all widely used formats but to also preflight, correct, colour-manage and trap automatically according to the printers’ requirements to achieve perfect quality – including proofing solutions matched to the printing results that can be made available for the print buyer to remotely approve.”
Timson reflects that the JDF buzz which tantalised the prepress sector in the previous decade (remember drupa 2004 being described as the JDF drupa) has subsided, but only because JDF now sits below the waterline, having become integrated into branded commercial systems.
He says, “Since its introduction, it forms the base of the Heidelberg Prinect Workflow, which uses it internally to control all tasks at the print shop. Also JDF connectivity to several MIS vendors has proved to work over the last few years.”
Currie’s national prepress manager Andrew Dunn has been in the industry for some 30 years and has worked in prepress in many parts of the world. “I have seen many changes in that time, and the main difference for a 2015 version of a prepress solution is the ease of integration and affordability of the products.”
He says Currie’s Founder ElecRoc, an integrated JDF/PDF prepress workflow solution, is easy-to-use and scalable, integrating the latest core technologies from Founder Electronics. “ElecRoc provides all the functionality required for job management, integrated JDF/ PDF creation, preflight, trap, imposition, PDF colour management, 3D preview, EcoInk (ink saving), Hi-Fi print, PDF compare, output load balancing, zone screen, CIP3 ink control, advanced screen, colour/screen proofing, and output device support.”
Integration is the key – and along with it comes affordability, says Dunn in describing the Currie prepress line-up, which spans the process from PDF file to finished print job. Products include remote file submission (Pentnet), PDF/JDF workflow solutions (Founder, Compose and Harlequin), CTP system (Cron), plates (Agfa), and densitometers and software (Techkon).
Company Southern Colour Victoria
At Southern Colour Victoria, an array of contemporary prepress innovations has forged a comprehensive loop that makes it straightforward for all stakeholders to input and be kept up-to-date on the print job, in a time-efficient, productive way.
Allan Gardiner, a director of the company, says its Heidelberg H105 SupraSetter six-head external drum plate setter is eight years old and while there have been advances in CTP devices in that period, particularly in repeatability, it is the software and Heidelberg Prinect 2015 workflow now connected to it that drives efficiencies in prepress.
MetaShooter, Prinect’s CTP interface, connects the device to the Prinect production system. Prinect business manager at Heidelberg’s MIS, communicates to the production system using JDF-based exchanges and this is bi-directional.
“For example, we have introduced Plate On Demand. In our pressroom, we have Heidelberg XL106 presses with Prinect Press Centre as their front end. We run 24/7 and if, say, a printer late in the evening has worn a plate, or a plate has been damaged and a new one is needed, a plate can be requested from the press console, which talks directly to the CTP system,” explains Gardiner.
“It knows the version of the job because it has logged on through presets that have been determined in the workflow. It knows exactly what plate to pull from the queue on MetaShooter and serves it back to the CTP system. By the time the printer on the press has requested the plate, it has already been queued up and imaged as they walk into the CTP room to get it off the stacker.” The press also automatically feeds events such as plate changes, blanket wash, cylinder wash and production speed information back to the MIS through JMF messaging.
“And when a plate is being imaged in CTP, the MIS knows about it through an automated JMF message, which helps for back-costing and stock inventory control. And from the pressroom, plate requests are logged against the job and rework events can be back-costed”, he says: “It’s little things like that which all add up.”
In terms of preflighting (although not a new concept), Prinect integrates out of the box with the Enfocus Pitstop preflighting engine “We can load custom action lists built in Pitstop and load them into Prinect input queues.
We have our own custom-built preflighting policies, but it also comes with standard ones you can just load.” And various lists of customer-specific preflighting rules can be loaded, along with required actions, such as ‘stop-job’, ‘flag-as-warning’ or ‘automatic repair’ for operations like setting white overprint text to knockout, font substitution or fixing trim-box geometry in a PDF file – to name a few.
An extension of this is the ability to preflight based on a set of rules or criteria against a certain customer, for example. Incoming jobs in the production system are created automatically by the MIS (Prinect Business Manager) upon acceptance of a quotation via JDF integration Production workflows. They can be selected with specific preflighting, trapping, proofing, colour management, automatic varnish creation, process calibration and event notifications.
“We do educate customers so the files we receive require very little attention, wherever possible, but you do need to have preflighting in your workflow,” says Gardiner.
Southern Colour has written its own W2P portal, utilising the Web Service API in Prinect. Gardiner says, “The Prinect software and our associated device integration are heavily based on JDF but there is a lot more to integration than just JDF. We use interfaces to connect different systems. Vendors are realising they need to keep their systems open so that customers like us can interface other systems to theirs. It’s about having open databases and providing web service APIs to their customers.” In other words, it enables integration in accounting, warehousing, logistics and even CRM systems; not just production based transactions, which is the area handled by JDF.
Gardiner says the adoption of W2P systems and downstream workflow automation has made a significant difference to productivity, enabling Southern Colour Victoria to maintain a lean, highly skilled staff at its Keysborough print facility in south eastern Melbourne.
And its customers also obtain a much clearer picture, in areas like estimated and actual spend, from which of their cost centres, and by product. “One of our large customers has about 900 users on one of our inventory management systems and they place orders for manufacture. But they also have a very large user base that draws from that material.
“They want to see who is accessing the material and it gives them a good idea of the types of products they should be producing,” he says, noting that even the non-printed online content produced digitally by Southern Colour for DM campaigns can be analysed – by linking it to Google Analytics, so customers can study demographics and other marketing parameters.
Offering online solutions
Position General Manager
Company Eastern Press, Melbourne
At Eastern Press in Mulgrave, south eastern Melbourne, the prepress department plays an integral role in the company’s comprehensive offerings in the fields of print management — in distribution, storage, mail house services, promotional and PPE, and pick-and-pack services. There is online ordering, with a Storefront system integrated into its MIS, all of it linking back into a Kodak Prinergy workflow, which feeds the pressroom. There sit a Speedmaster XL75 and coater, bought in late 2012, and an SM52 Anicolor, the first sold in the southern hemisphere, as well as an HP Indigo 3550 for short-run jobs and VDP, among other output devices.
Ancillary services in the management field are a great way to strengthen a customer relationship, according to Eastern’s managing director Frank Hilliard and general manager Cormac Deffely.
It was Deffely’s IT background that initially drew the attention of Eastern Press, a 32-year-old commercial print enterprise now with 33 staff. Since his arrival, he has laid the prepress foundations for the company’s VDP digital printing, as well as charting Eastern’s online-solutions strategy, which involves W2P. The company has now switched to a W2P system from US developer PTI Marketing Solutions, recently acquired by Ricoh, and whose channel partners, aside from Ricoh, include Canon, HP, Kodak, Xeikon and Xerox. Eastern has adopted PTI’s MarcomCentral, an online solution for providing marketing asset-management technology.
“We have been active in W2P for a number of years now and this avenue is responsible for a reasonable percentage of our revenue,” says Deffely. “However, due to termination of support for our current online system we have recently had to go through the process of identifying a replacement system. We looked at the available options extensively and the further we probed, the more one particular system stood out, MarcomCentral from PTI.
“It is feature-rich and highly configurable. It will provide us with the tools that will enable us to deliver real value to our clients through integrated marketing solutions in the online space,” he says. “Ricoh’s recent acquisition of PTI gave us the confidence we needed to purchase MarcomCentral. We have a solid working partnership with Ricoh and look forward to the opportunity to work with their dedicated team again on another exciting project.”
Eastern Press has invested significant time in integrating its current W2P software into its MIS, as well as in direct connectivity to its digital devices. Reflects Deffely: “While we have had wins along the way, we feel the more sophisticated integration options available through MarcomCentral will provide for a new level of workflow automation for Eastern Press.”
Upgrading Eastern’s prepress systems is already showing dividends. “We are starting to see the benefits of workflow automation in a number of areas but can also see the opportunities that exist were we to fully utilise the systems and infrastructure at our disposal,” says Deffely. “This is one of the challenges for a business our size, to put effort into further development of systems while keeping a busy production facility operating to maximum efficiency day-to-day. We feel that systems integration, automation and intelligent use of data, that is, removing manual touch points from your workflow, are certainly key requirements of achieving success in the print game today.”
Key upgrades in your prepress division
- Invest in a speedier CTP plate setter
- Eliminate time-wasting file errors by using preflighting software
- Adopt the latest colour management software and processes
- Set up a web-to-print system – your customers and prepress staff will thank you, and so will your bottom line
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