SWOP for the Common Good
In the print publication world, we live and die by SWOP. Over the years, we've grown accustomed to the security of knowing that SWOP provides a common goal to which we all aspire. SWOP guides us through print production, from start to finish. And when the job is done, SWOP is our best tool to measure success or failure.
We weren't always this fortunate. Before the first set of specifications was written in 1975, the industry could not come to a consensus about what constituted good proofing and offset printing. But as the good souls behind the SWOP group continued to define and refine the specification, we became comfortable with analog contract proofing—accurate representations of what could and would be achieved on press.
Computer-to-plate soon enough rocked us to our core. It was wild and untamed, and it demanded all-digital workflow of us. Content creators were perhaps the most shaken, suddenly willing to exchange final documents in native formats without so much as a proof!
Perhaps the transition to this new CTP environment that lacked precedent and structure eroded our carefully cultivated quality control practices. Or perhaps the incredible pressure for faster and cheaper (without much worry about better), forced many to forego what may be perceived as luxuries, but is undoubtedly a necessity—process control. SWOP 2001 for the New Millennium to the rescue!
Keeping with tradition, the ninth edition of SWOP focuses in large part on the digital domain and establishes admirable targets for preparing, proofing, exchanging and printing on web offset presses. According to the new guidelines, "Adherence to SWOP in a digital environment will assure the same success that the industry has enjoyed for many years with adherence to SWOP in film-based production."
SWOP 2001 makes bold statements regarding acceptable practices for preparing final digital files for web offset manufacturing: "Files representing print-ready material should be exchanged only as CMYK data using the TIFF/IT-P1 or PDF/X-1 file formats or their future versions. The use of non-standard application or native file formats is not permitted." Quite the controversial requirement, considering we're still waiting for mature tools that enable us to read and write PDF/X-1 files. Its intent is clear: to motivate us to strive for a high standard that will enable more efficient manufacturing and better quality in the future.