Liability & Accountability- The Unaltered State
What's all this talk about liability? People seem to think that just because technology has changed, the lines of responsibility have merged, crossed, faded or completely disappeared. They haven't; they remain just as clear now as they were in the analog world.
It is true that production functions have been altered by digital influences. Publishers are doing prepress. Prepress shops are printing, and printers are processing ads. It's a crazy, mixed-up world. Still, that doesn't change the fact that whoever prepares a page—whether it's produced from film or digitally, whether it's created in-house or oustourced—the file creator must be held responsible for ensuring that it is accurately prepared. The recipient of a digital file bears the burden of ensuring that what it has received meets established specifications and that's it's error free.
Admittedly, digital technologies are relatively new, and ensuring an error-free workflow is not as easy as it was with film. After all, equipment within the workflow still speaks various languages. A native application or PostScript file may be interpreted one way by the RIP used to create the file but translated differently by the RIP used to create the proof. If this is the case, extra precautions need to be taken during production to ensure that inconsistencies are identified and remedied.
When all is said and done, responsibility lies in the hands of the file creator to ensure its accuracy. Just as film was checked before it left the agency or prep house, a file should be preflighted before it is forwarded to a publisher.
When the file reaches the publisher, additional precautionary measures should be in place, as well. Preflighting software will indicate whether or not the file was prepared correctly and to the publisher's specs. Color bars on the proof will ensure adherence to SWOP standards. A black-and-white laser proof will reveal if the proof that you received from the advertiser was, in fact, generated directly from the file. It's unadvisable for publishers to forego any of these processes, unless, of course, you actually like makegoods. These measures limit your liability.
If the preflight fails, return to sender. If there is no supplied proof, advise the advertiser that they will be proceeding at their own risk. If a proof is supplied but does not correspond with the source file, advise the sendee that you must print what is in the file.
If you had received film that did not match your mechanical specifications or perhaps was scratched, you would have sent it back to the agency or the prep house. If you received film but no proof, you would have told the advertiser that although you'd make every effort to match the proof, you could not guarantee output. If you received a proof that was pulled from a master file and not from the film you've received, you would have printed what was in the file and hoped that it matched the proof.
Advice from someone who knows
Industry standards were formulated to maintain control of the web offset printing process. In the days of film, we lived by SWOP. Guess what? We should continue to live by SWOP.
In the end, accountability falls upon numerous shoulders. Agencies must choose their vendors with care, seeking only providers that can demonstrate a seamless workflow and high quality. Publishers must take the initiative to forego accuracy assumptions and implement preflighting. And printers should partner with their clients to make certain that files received won't cause problems during platesetting.
So, what's new with regard to accountability? Nothing, really. Yes, there is lots of talk about liability, because digital technologies are intangible and abstract. My advice to you is to continue to work in the same manner as you always have: Employ the same tools, industry guidelines, measurements, logic and reasoning that you've relied on in the past.
-Linda Manes Goodwin
Linda Manes Goodwin, a digital workflow consultant, is an evangelist for CTP and specializes in optimizing digital workflow for print production.