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Peer 2 Peer NETworking

Dec 1, 2006 12:00 AM


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Prepress

Bend, OR, (population 70,000) sits in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, with outstanding skiing, golfing, fishing, hiking, biking and kayaking opportunities. Visitors to this city in central Oregon will find themselves between the desert and the forest.

But three years ago, Cory Smith found himself between a rock and a hard place. Smith is the prepress manager for Ryder Election Services, a 100-year-old commercial printer. In 2003, Smith was asked to research workflow options. “I didn’t find any central information resource online,” he says. “That sparked my interest in creating prepressforums.com.”

Using phpBB, an Open Source bulletin board package, Smith launched his site in March 2003 to create “a place for people working in the prepress industry to get together and share ideas, help troubleshoot files and talk about technology.”

Smith used several different tactics to spread the word about prepressforums.com. “I went on a couple of different forums and made some announcements,” he says. “I also spent quite a bit of money running Google ad words. But the majority of [traffic came from] word of mouth, other users posting links and stuff like that.”

Know your workflow
The site currently has about 4,000 members, mostly from North America, but with a smattering of European and Pacific Rim participants. Membership is free; optional supporting memberships are available for a $10 donation. Banner ads are offered at modest rates.

“This is definitely a hobby, something that I enjoy doing [outside of work],” says Smith. “At this point, it doesn’t cost me much to run, but it doesn’t generate much income, either.”

New product developments, such as processless plates and page layout software, tend to provoke the most debate. Popular forums include General Prepress; Color Management/Proofing; Computer to Plate; Tips/Tricks/Knowledgebase; and Rants/Raves/News. An applications forum hosts discussions on popular desktop publishing programs. A Prepress Application & Workflow area currently includes threads on Agfa, Artwork Systems, Callas, Dynagram, EFI, Enfocus, Esko, Global Graphics/Harlequin, Heidelberg, Kodak, Rampage, Screen and Xitron products.

Some forum participants’ signature blocks offer a quick overview of their departments’ prepress highlights. A Canadian printer, for example, lists the following:

  • Brisque 5
  • Trendsetter
  • Kodak XP
  • Iris 43 Wide
  • Linux, OSX, XP-2000
“The signatures were something I originally had suggested to members,” says Smith. “It’s nice to see what other systems people are running, and who knows, you might find someone running exactly the same setup as you do.”

Finding a similar prepress operation can be a godsend when wrestling with a difficult file. “When I’ve had a problem getting a job to RIP or trap, I’ll [upload] the files and somebody else with a Rampage workflow can run it and tell me what they did,” says Smith. “That’s been a great help for everyone.”

While the majority of forum participants are prepress employees, a handful of consultants and vendors occasionally offer their comments, a development that Smith welcomes. “Having more vendor participation would be great,” he says. “They can provide great product information while dispelling any myths or secondhand stories.”

Steve Musselman, senior manager of corporate accounts for Agfa Graphics’ NAFTA division, (Ridgefield Park, NJ), concurs. An Agfa customer who participates in the forum asked Musselman to help clarify some details about Agfa’s :Amigo thermal plate. “There had been some [misleading] dialog about the plates, and our customer felt that it would be good if we could set the record straight. In a mature market, [such as] CTP, it’s no longer the bleeding edge technology that forms opinion and adoption, but rather, opinions of others on how [the product] has worked.

Although my role has recently changed from marketing to corporate sales, it’s still good to keep a finger on the industry’s pulse, especially at the operator level where opinions are held and shared.”

Because many prepressforums.com participants choose to remain anonymous, having vendors weigh in can help “keep the chat above-board and objective,” says Musselman.

Keeping it real
Prepressforums.com, like practically any other online discussion group, sometimes gets a bit off topic. And a few participants seem to enjoy stirring the pot. But Smith says a private message to the offending party and gentle reminder to the group at large soon puts things back on track: “The site is going in the right direction. It’s a community, a place to hang out and talk.”



A T-shirt too close to home…
Good humor prevails at prepressforums.com. One participant shared a link to a T-shirt at www.macmerc.com. According to MacMerc’s product description, “If you ask clients how they built their job and they answer, ‘I did it in Adobe,’ you know there are gonna be some problems. Not because there is anything wrong with Adobe’s software, but if the client can’t differentiate between Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, his or her production skills might not be quite up to snuff.” See www.macmerc.com.



What’s next for prepress?
Cory Smith, founder of prepressforums.com, grew up in the printing business. “My father owned a print shop, so I’ve always been around it,” he says. Smith has been with Ryder Election Services for eight years. “When I got started 12 years ago in prepress, it was the imagesetter [era], in my case, a Scitex Dolev.”

As prepress technology continues to evolve, Smith says many departments are downsizing. “You might have one person feeding half a dozen presses now,” he says. “But there’s still a need for a skilled person. PDFs and InDesign have made things so much easier, but you still have people generating stuff in Word and Publisher. You still have designers sending files that need to be fixed.”

Today’s prepress employees have to be on their toes to keep up with the industry’s main applications. “Adobe has really decreased the cycle times [for program upgrades], so it’s increasingly difficult to stay on top of that stuff,” says Smith. As automation edges out old-school employees, what will become of the prepress department? With Smith’s help, we posted this question on prepressforums.com. Some selected responses follow.



Prepress will endure
“We’ll still be here. None of us would survive in the real world. “Also, most customers who have been at this a while still don’t have it figured out, I don’t see that changing in the future. I can’t see the Game Boy generation actually taking this over. Remember when PDF was going to be the death of printed materials? We were all supposed to be out of work a long time ago.”—PMK

Premedia is on the rise
“Web-based order automation and product customization [are what’s next]. Premedia says it all, sometimes the media is paper, sometimes the screen. [Prepress also will handle] document changes and updates. Services like digital asset management will be important, too.”—RCM

The lines are blurring
“Prepress will be [done] at the press in the future. It’s starting to happen now with iGens and some other digital presses. A few shops in my area are looking for prepress people to operate their iGENs.”—JK

Workflow rules
“Press operators will mind the machine, but the tough work will be done in workflow. Maybe there will be just the one file format, but designers the world over still will get it wrong and someone will have to put things right.

“While it’s getting more and more compressed, prepress will be there as long as there are presses of sorts. Digital asset management will become more important to customers and printers alike.”—BM

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em
“We could move into the design world. I can see it now: city-name fonts, spot drop shadows over CMYK photos, not enough image to allow for bleed. I’ll save the prepress department time by creating my own RGB PDFs in Publisher without embedding the font information. I’ll then insist I don’t know how to get the font onto a CD. Life will be grand!”—OB

It’s the quality control department
“Prepress is becoming quality control. What is funny is that prepress has always been the only reliable quality control, but now we actually have time to do it. The advent of PDF workflows made it possible to reduce staffing and increase the responsibilities of the remaining staff.”—TBJ

Do you want prepress with that?
“I forsee a lot of work coming my way as our company gets into digital presses and variable data. And offset is not going away any time soon.

“But then again, I work in a small place with only two computer guys and one platemaker, proofer, etc. guy. If I were in a big place with a lot of people, I’d be getting nervous. If we remain creative, and are open to the new technologies and learn them well, we’ll be able to stay one step ahead of flipping burgers.”—PSD



Prepress & press get closer
Mark Tonkovich, Heidelberg (Atlanta) product manager, CTP and proofing, agrees with one prepressforums.com comment that, in some instances, prepress will move closer to the press. Responding to our online query, Tonkovich cites the example of the Speedmaster 52 with Anicolor inking system, which debuted at Graph Expo.

Anicolor features a keyless inking system and anilox technology which help maintain a consistent ink film. An engraved anilox roller transfers ink from the chamber onto the plate form roller. From there, the ink is transferred onto a predampened, standard offset plate.

“It’s designed to work with a color-managed workflow/CTP system,” writes Tonkovich. “A four-color makeready on the on the press takes about seven minutes and the press is up to color extremely fast: 10 to 20 sheets. The color is very consistent and stable, [a good fit with] a color-managed digital prepress front end. At Graph Expo, we were using the new MetaDimension 52i workflow to the Suprasetter A52 CTP imaging chem-free plates. We can hang plates from our Prosetter on it, too.”

“At the Graph Expo demo, the first 30 sheets of the job were pulled,” explains Tonkovich. “We then went backward to the seventh sheet. It was almost fully up to color and was there by the 20th. Some in the audience said they could sell the seventh sheet.”

In addition to drastically reducing startup waste, makeready times reportedly can be reduced by as much as 40 percent, because the keyless system eliminates the need for ink zone setting.

The Anicolor system doesn’t require any changes to existing platemakers and can be used with commercially available printing plates and inks. Currently, Anicolor is an option for the Speedmaster 52.

“The key is standardization,” concludes Tonkovich, “in prepress with color management and a consistent workflow; on press, with stable inking.”



Don’t miss printplanet.com
Prepressforums.com is not the first online discussion group targeting the graphic arts. Those bragging rights belong to PrintPlanet.com, home of the CTP pressroom and related forums. Dave Mainwaring launched PrintPlanet in 1995 just as CTP was starting to take off and it’s still going strong. PrintPlanet is an e-mail-based system, while prepressforums.com uses a bulletin board style. Both are well worth investigating.


Katherine O’Brien is the editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at KOB@americanprinter.com.