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Productivity: Who Cares About Formats?

Aug 1, 1997 12:00 AM

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A common misconception in evaluating prepress systems is overestimating the value of the hardware and underestimating the value of data. Computer hardware typically is written off in two to four years. Accelerating this effect is Moore's law, which roughly states the computers become twice as powerful every 18 months.

Data, on the other hand, is the most important and most durable asset of any prepress operation. Like film archives of the past, digital data represents the work of many years. This is why extreme care must be paid to the definition of the format in which this data will be stored.

An efficient data format for a prepress system must be compact, both at the job level and at the system level. At the job level, data should be stored in its "natural" way without unnecessary data explosion. Why store linework data as pixel files? Storing vector or spline outlines with color "indexes" results in much less data. Continuous-tone images always should be compressed, but using lossless methods to allow for multiple edits. Text should be stored as "text", not as linework. The "natural" storage format always is the one most suitable for editing.

Alternatively, data economy at the system level means that every graphic object is stored on the system only once. There should be no need for the duplication of large image files used in different jobs.

Graphic data should be editable "all-the-way," even though some limits may be imposed on the editability of parts of a job for operational reasons. Uneditable data is dead data and can only be reused in exactly the same way as originally intended.

Editable data is live data and can be reused, re-purposed, continuously adapted if needed. If a job is properly designed, and if the data format supports such operation, producing a catalog could be considered editing rather than creating a new job. This results from the ability to reuse as much data as possible.

Every prepress application, including popular desktop applications, stores jobs in its own proprietary format. At output, the job is "converted" to PostScript for imaging or input into another application. The capability to convert a system's native data format to and from various standards (either de facto or vendor-specific) is critical. The value of data is leveraged by the number of other formats to which it can be converted.

But converting native data to or from another format requires more than writing a conversion program. The native data format must be capable of representing the specific graphic constructs of the other format. This is why the native data format of a productive prepress system should be rich enough to encompass a wide range of conversion capabilities.

It is clear that the native data format can be considered the muscle of a prepress system. Hardware and the network are the physical backbone. They are equally important.