CTP in Practice at Talcott Communications
Company: Talcott Communications, Chicago
Production Director: Dave Seng
Publications: Monthly four-color tabloid Giftware News (160 to 300 pages) and two four-color, standard-size monthlies, Chef and Fancy Food (~64 pages)
Equipment: Apple Macintosh work-stations; Agfa Duoscan and Arcus II flatbed scanners (95 percent of editorial scans are done in-house); Nikon slide scanner, two Netware file servers
Data transfer: Via Jaz disks
Computer-to-plate (CTP) is the darling of graphic arts technologies, and by now most publishers are familiar with CTP's potential to shorten production time and output first-generation quality. However, as the experiences of Talcott Communications will attest, CTP is neither a panacea for production problems, nor is it an all-or-nothing proposition.
In November of 1996, Talcott Communications began utilizing a Gerber Systems Crescent 42 digital platesetter for two or three 16-page Giftware News forms each month. The move was prompted by Giftware News' unusually tight production schedule. Typically Talcott only had seven working days to design, correct and ship disks for film output for anywhere from 10 to 20 forms.
"We used CTP for two or three forms that I knew would be the most design-intensive," Seng recalls. "We found it was a superb means of smoothing out our production workflow. We were no longer working 12-hour-plus days."
Talcott also used the Gerber CTP system for easy output of special trade show sections with good success.
Talcott's initially positive experience with CTP led to a decision to adopt a 100-percent CTP workflow for Chef as a full-issue test last May. At the same time, Talcott sent 50 percent of a 232-page Giftware News issue to the Gerber machine. Unfortunately, CTP didn't improve cycle time as expected, but not because of any fault in the Gerber system. Rather the printer's bindery could not keep pace with CTP's advances.
"We were very satisfied with the quality, but the magazine 'choked' the system," Seng explains. "That much work requires massive storage; Giftware News is 56 percent ads and the editorial is graphically very intense."
Talcott's experiences provide a cautionary example to publishers interested in CTP.
"CTP is wonderful," Seng states.
"But if a printer doesn't have press and bindery equipment backing it up, it won't work. You can't look at CTP individually and think, 'this will solve all of our problems.' "
In addition to supplier glitches, Seng discovered two other unexpected CTP issues.
Talcott made the decision to place all of its own low-res FPO ads.
"This creates a workflow quandary: Who gets the added work of placing several hundred low-res files?" explains Seng. "Traditionally, the ad traffic staff has been responsible for managing ad placement by means of a cut-and-paste system." That, Seng says, gave the ad traffickers precise control over ad placement. Now, the Talcott designers must place the low-res files and then move them electronically if the ad placement changes. The time required to place the images, says Seng, negates the time gained through CTP.
"My goal," Seng says, "is to train our ad traffic staff in QuarkXPress to avoid these problems."
"Otherwise, you're flying blind," Seng notes. Also, the publisher had to establish a moratorium on digitally transmitted ads for forms that were CTP-bound. Font issues became so complex that digital ads had to be output to film by Talcott's prepress bureau, where the available font list was much larger than the printer's.
Such were the problems with CTP and its auxiliary issues that Talcott has reverted to using CTP only for design-intensive forms and no longer considers CTP a priority when evaluating printers.
"CTP is only third or fourth on our list of questions for potential printing suppliers," Seng declares. "Conventional systems' cycle times are more important right now."
"In a few years I hope to do everything CTP again," he continues. "Now we have a sample of the problems and pitfalls of CTP, and I think we can move forward in a more methodical way."
Chrystal O'Hanlon is a freelance writer based in Denver. Her previous experience includes two years as assistant managing editor for Printing Impressions magazine.