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Mar 1, 2007 12:00 AM

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Web 2 Print

How is your company using the Internet to do business? Many commercial printers are familiar with “storefronts,” template-based online tools for creating business cards, flyers and letterheads. Other solutions, which we’ll call “W2P” in this article, are tied to digital printing. Increasingly, they offer personalized URLs and other features for customizing as well as measuring a campaign’s effectiveness.

W2P also encompasses tools for streamlining file exchanges, proofing cycles and other printer/client communication during the production process. Unlike other W2P products, most of the names behind these “production portals” are leading suppliers of prepress workflows. Prior to launching their Web solutions, these vendors gained years of experience with CTP devices, soft-proofing systems and, in some cases, printing presses.

While most production portals don’t offer online ordering or other storefront functions, all of them offer services printers are eager to add, such as soft proofing, PDF creation, approval capabilities and process/job tracking.

All of the following solutions have a direct link to the manufacturer’s particular production or workflow system (Kodak InSite ties to Kodak Prinergy, for example). In many cases, however, this is not a strict requirement, and the solution can be used as a general Web-based production portal even if the printer hosting the W2P portal does not use the manufacturer’s specific prepress/print production system.

Agfa Corp. (Ridgefield Park, NJ)
We’ve been hearing about Agfa’s :Delano project management system since 2002, when it was announced as a joint development with Quebecor World. But this doesn’t mean a printer has to be Quebecor-sized to use it. “:Delano was originally developed for the very large, multisite mega printer,” explains Deborah Hutcheson, senior marketing manager of digital solutions for Agfa Corp. “Over the years it has been adapted to also meet the needs of the midsize to large, single-site or multisite printer or publisher.”

:Delano extends the production workflow to every person and process in the printing or publishing supply chain. Hutcheson says :Delano essentially is the primary link between a company’s production workflow and business processes. Acting as the central control center to automate jobs through a plant, the system ties together disparate workflows. “Over 20 percent of the print production man hours can be automated via :Delano by addressing job entry, job tracking and proofing,” claims Hutcheson.

:Delano’s Web interface provides real-time job status information 24/7. Anyone with the appropriate permissions can see exactly where a given job sits in the production cycle. In the late 1990s, many dot-com systems touted this benefit but found few takers among commercial printers, many of whom were reluctant to share such a high level of information with their clients. Apparently, times have changed, because Agfa and other production portal vendors cite clients’ access to information as a key benefit.

Unlike most storefront packages’ content-only proofing, :Delano offers color-managed, contract-quality soft proofing. :Delano even supports Web-based viewing of the final screened production files, letting prepress staffers as well as zealous designers zoom in to see actual halftone dots and check overprints, traps and more. The collaborative soft proofing function allows multiple users in the approval chain to view and comment on a project.

Artwork Systems (Encino, CA)
Artwork Systems offers an entire family of prepress workflow solutions, such as Nexus and Odystar for package, label and commercial printers. Artwork’s parent company also owns Enfocus. WebWay is a collaborative online environment that links seamlessly with Artwork System’s own prepress workflow products as well as any hot-folder system.

With thousands of clients worldwide, Artwork Systems offers multilingual products. Regardless of language or country, Artwork Systems says all users will share a common experience: ease of use.

Once the WebWay server is hosted in the production facility, “End users can visit the site through a Web browser, and an applet is installed on the client’s system automatically,” says Stan Lemmens, Artwork Systems marketing manager. “The system [doesn’t require] any user-initiated download or configuration process.”

Because WebWay is browser and platform “agnostic,” users can view files from any standard Web browser. A database tracks user’s activities, providing a full audit trail. WebWay supports soft proofing of actual production files, as well as annotation, markup and job approval. Users can stream high-resolution PDFs, Artwork’s proprietary ArtPro or 1-bit TIFF data files. Prepress pros, print buyers and designers can zoom in to examine images, dot structure, overprints and other details. Artwork developed WebWay from scratch so it has direct control of enhancements and updates—users aren’t at the mercy of a third-party developer.

WebWay offers tight integration with Enfocus Software’s Certified PDF technology. On the print production side, prepress operators can determine at a glance if a client’s uploaded PDF file has been certified against a particular profile—there’s no need to actually open the file.

EFI (Foster City, CA)
EFI Digital StoreFront is an e-commerce tool rather than a pure production portal. Jennifer Matt, EFI’s Web-to-print director, cites flexibility as a key advantage. “This is just an [extensible] e-commerce platform,” she says. “If you’re an in-plant printer, and the only thing you want to do is fill ad hoc orders, you can configure Digital StoreFront to do that. If you’re a commercial offset printer and you want to offer catalog-based ordering, static nonprint items or even VDP, and wait to get into ad hoc ordering until you’re ready, you can.”

While virtually any printing company can use Digital StoreFront, it is especially suited to shops with toner-based equipment—the software can be integrated with EFI Fiery, Balance and MicroPress workflow solutions and digital formats such as PPML, Xerox VIPP and Digimaster PostScript. Files are, however, optimized for faster output on EFI-driven engines.

Variable-data printing options can be a big part of EFI Digital StoreFront implementation with the addition of the Digital StoreFront Template Driven Documents module, which lets the print provider create a catalog of template-driven documents that are automatically published to the Digital StoreFront Web site. EFI’s PrinterSite Suite consists of PrinterSite Exchange, PrinterSite Fulfillment and PrinterSite Internal. All three can be integrated tightly with EFI’s print management (MIS) products.

PrinterSite Exchange, as the name suggests, facilitates getting files to and from users. It’s the front-end component of the suite, allowing for deployment of storefront-style Web sites, simple job tickets, pricing, soft proofing and delivery of jobs as PDF files created through the PrintMessenger PDF generating drivers. The solution offers direct integration to EFI’s Hagen, Logic and PSI systems for users of those MIS systems.

PrinterSite Fulfillment also offers a storefront-style interface, allowing users to order, track and maintain finished good inventories. It can be integrated with USADATA mailing lists for use in personalized direct mail campaigns.

PrinterSite Internal is a tool for sales and internal customer service employees, for managing quotes and orders as well as reviewing job status and invoices.

Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA)
Heidelberg offers end-to-end production within a printing facility. Its Prinance MIS and JDF-driven Prinect Integration System can tie together Heidelberg prepress equipment, offset presses and finishing equipment. Heidelberg’s Remote Access system extends this connectivity to the end user’s desktop through a standard Web browser with a client-customizable interface.

An authorized print buyer or designer can initiate a job through Remote Access or add files to a job already at the print shop. Pages are uploaded and appropriate parties within the shop—CSRs, sales and production—are notified instantly. The sent pages are preflighted automatically and the results sent to the client—no more waiting for a CSR to call with the bad news. Once the files pass the preflight check, an additional notification occurs when they are processed. A print buyer gets an approval request, and he or she can proof and approve or reject the file via a Web browser. An approval triggers the workflow to continue to automatic imposition and sheet proof generation, and clients can be notified when these tasks are completed.

Print shops that share work between physically remote plants can use Remote Access to review and approve sheet layouts, and imposition-savvy customers can do the same. At the printer’s discretion, end users can see detailed production information, such as upload histories, job progress, job status, layout and sheet states, pending approvals, approval history and even job progress.

Claus Gumz, Heidelberg’s database solutions product manager, says Remote Access enables printers to extend their service because clients can check on their projects at any time—they aren’t restricted to calling or e-mailing during business hours.

Gumz adds that streamlining all production related activities between the print buyer and printer via one central Web portal improves communications, resulting in clearer lines of responsibility and, thus, fewer errors.

Kodak (Rochester, NY)
Kodak is highly vested in Web-based services and technology with an entire complement of Web-enabled solutions grouped under the banner of Portal Products, in addition to the recent development of the MarketMover network, an online print community linking print buyers and sellers. Kodak EyeMedia Software is a digital asset management solution and TeamWorks Software manages content creation and approval—both enabling printers to offer customers online tools for creative content development and managing assets for reuse. Kodak NexTreme is a Web-based order management tool for the digital printing facility, allowing for automated fulfillment of static, short-run, and simple-versioned print jobs.

Additional portal products include soft proofing solutions Matchprint Virtual, PressProof and Smart Review. These options can tie into Kodak InSite, the Web-based portal into Kodak’s Prinergy prepress production system. InSite, introduced back in 1999 and now at version 4.5, is one of the first working Web-based products linking the end-user directly into a prepress workflow system. InSite offers an ever-growing list of options, including online job creation and file submission, contract-quality soft proofing through the integrated Matchprint Virtual system, review and approval, collaboration tools, and increased workflow visibility through history and audit trails. Kodak Prepare software offers content creators a print-production-specific means to create viable PDF files from their desktop layout application. It links directly into InSite with no need to jump to a browser to initiate a job upload. In May, Kodak plans to roll out “Store Front,” tying Web-based ordering to the InSite production portal.

When asked if production portal products like InSite will be harder to sell in a market now flooded with W2P solutions, Chris Ries, product manager, Kodak Web to Print Enterprise Solutions, says he believes quite the opposite is true. “InSite sales have continued to accelerate over the past few years, and there clearly is demand for both file submission/approval tools as well as Web to print tools.”

Pat Lord, product manager, Kodak Portal Products, adds, “If anything, W2P solutions help InSite because they have contributed to the acceptance of Web-based workflows as an essential business practice for print providers. Our latest W2P solution allows printers to blend InSite workflow with W2P functionality, creating a fully integrated and unified solution.” This new solution, Store Front, will offer e-commerce-style functionality to the InSite product, something now offered only through Kodak’s MarketMover Network, an ASP web-to-print solution powered by Four51.

Ries stresses the importance of integration in Kodak’s Web-based solutions. Referring to StoreFront, Ries cites as critical the fact: “It is built on top of our existing Unified Workflow portfolio, which makes it a layer on an already formidable collection of tools that work together.”

Rampage Systems (Waltham, MA)
Rampage Systems’ Rampage Remote proofing and collaboration tools offer seamless integration with its Rampage production workflow. Peter Gorgone, Rampage Systems marketing director, says third-party solutions aren’t as tightly integrated with the production workflow, “Therefore, [they] are not as efficient. Without integration, remote solutions can result in more work for personnel, rather than less.”

In its current iteration, Rampage primarily is a remote proofing system with direct links to production. Rampage Systems offers an aggressive pricing model for the product and requires relatively modest infrastructure requirements, including simply a standalone router, separate firewall and a T1 line. Users can check pagination or individual pages. An online approval can trigger automated imposition. Simultaneous review by disparate users, annotations, and an audit trail of approvals are all part of the current system. The upcoming version will include job submission and tie-ins with the print provider’s own Web site.

Screen USA (Rolling Meadows, IL)
The folks at Screen define Riteportal SE as a production portal to be used for e-business (as distinguished from an e-commerce storefront), an apt definition for most production portal solutions. While Riteportal SE integrates tightly with Screen’s Trueflownet business and production system, it can work independently of any specific prepress workflow solution.

RitePortal SE provides online job ticketing, status tracking and order approval capabilities. The system incorporates printer driver-based PDF creation and incorporates Enfocus Certified PDF technology to help ensure submitted files are prepress-ready. Files are encrypted on upload to the production server. Three customizable Web-based workflows provide ease of use: Click and Go, Add to Cart, or Store and Hold. Clients can take advantage of online catalogs, useful for collaborative approvals or job reorder. JDF integration is a big part of the system, allowing for links to various MIS solutions.

Screen is offering RitePortal SE as a direct purchase. Printers can add to the modular system as their Web-based needs grow. One such module now available allows for online dynamic document creation, to serve the variable data market.

Xerox (Rochester, NY)
The nature of most digital print projects—short run, quick-turn, customized jobs—make them excellent candidates for Web tools. Xerox’s FreeFlow workflow software suite enables an interactive, real-time collaborative workflow. Design, file delivery, job management, prepress/proofing and production can be automated, even in mixed environments.

“Customers’ pervasive use of the Web, personally and professionally, sets high expectations for printers,” says Rick Schadle, Xerox vice president of marketing, commercial print and prepress segments. “Web-enabled links that connect corporate end-users into production workflows demand even tighter production cycles.”

Powered by Press-Sense, FreeFlow Web Services lets printers serve customers around the clock with instant estimates, secure online payment options, file submission support, PDFs for soft proofing and more. Jobs submitted via Web Services can be integrated with FreeFlow Process Manager for increased workflow efficiency.

Get set and go
The bottom line: Don’t wait to get started with W2P. EFI’s Jennifer Matt says some printers’ obsessive approach—mapping out potential obstacles for every possible client scenario—often delays an actual launch by several months. “Get one or two customers whose products you know, and get them up and running as soon as possible,” she suggests. “Get jobs flowing from their desktop through your whole system, and you’ll learn more doing that for two weeks than you will in configuration paralysis. Get the plumbing in first—don’t worry about all the fixtures—and before you know it, you’ll have a ton of customers on it!”

Why we say ‘W2P’
Label converter Belmark, Inc. (DePere, WI), has trademarked the phrase “WEB-TO-PRINT.” The company, which also has registered the phrase “web-to-web,” has sent cease-and-desist letters to some pundits who have used “web-to-print” in public forums.

Wikipedia describes Web-to-print as “ubiquitous, as businesses have picked upon the ‘Web2Print’ phrase to name software designed specifically to manage the Web-to-print process.” A Google search for “Web-to-print” yields 313,000 citations involving hundreds of companies. As for us, we’re using “W2P” which, thus far, hasn’t triggered any protests.

Hurry up and Web up
If you’re not offering a Web-enabled interface, you might be falling behind your peers. Forty-six percent of respondents to a recent PIA/GATF study of 400 graphic arts firms indicated they already have a Web-to-print interface of some kind. And, the 48 percent that currently lack a W2P interface aren’t twiddling their thumbs—more than half plan to add these capabilities in less than year.

Julie Shaffer is director of the Printing Industries of America/Graphic Arts Technical Foundation’s (PIA/GATF) Digital Printing Council (DPC) and heads up the Center for Digital Printing Excellence at PIA/GATF headquarters in Sewickley, PA. E-mail her at