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Penton Media is well on its way to earning a merit badge for CTP proficiency, partly because its initial efforts exemplify a basic Boy Scouts tenet: Be prepared. The company, in addition to producing Web sites and trade shows, publishes more than 50 business-to-business publications serving numerous, diverse industries, including design and engineering; electronics, food, retail, government; Internet and broadband; leisure and hospitality; management, manufacturing and mechanical systems.
Most of the publisher's titles are produced at its Cleveland headquarters. Penton began converting those publications to CTP production last November.
"Eight titles were completely digital by early December," reports David Healy, director of digital production technology for Penton. "And we're moving several more over each month." Healy predicts that the vast majority of all Penton publications will be CTP-enabled by year's end. "We're working at an aggressive pace," he admits. "We're already ahead of schedule."
Penton's long-standing partnership with its primary printer, R.R. Donnelley & Sons, certainly facilitates the transition, according to Healy. Printer and publisher had been laying the foundation for the move for about a year, paving the way for immediate action once Donnelley installed its first CreoScitex Trendsetter. "We had a mutual understanding and a commitment from Donnelley that our publications would go in that direction," Healy recalls.
The publisher already had a centralized in-house prepress department for conventional production. "By going CTP, we became more efficient," Healy assesses. "Because we eliminated a lot of manual processes associated with film-based production and proofing, we were able to reduce our prepress staff and take in more magazines."
Making work flow
Penton chose to implement a single-page, raster-based CTP workflow with Donnelley using the Rampage RIPing solution. "A raster-based workflow allows you to generate a proof from the same electronic file that will be used to make the plate," Healy explains. "It's similar to the traditional film-based workflow, in that I'm assured that what's on the proof is what's going to be on the press."
The Rampage RIP takes an application file and converts it to RSI data, which Healy describes as "purified digital film." Functions such as trapping, OPI and preflighting occur in the RIP. The Rampage solution is designed to sample a RIPed RSI file to a lower resolution suitable for proofing output. No re-RIPing is necessary, thus eliminating potential problems such as text reflow.
The publisher employs an in-house Epson Stylus 5000 and Polaroid DryJet II. "If you consider the cost of consumables, output speed and color accuracy, these are good proofing options for us," Healy declares. Penton works with an outside color management consultant, arranged through PrimeSource and Donnelley, to calibrate monitors, proofers and presses.
Penton will either send files to Donnelley in the RSI format, or convert files to DCS 2.0 or TIFF/IT-P1, if the manufacturing destination isn't using the same RIP. Files are saved and delivered on Jaz disks along with proofs.
"We do have a T-1 connection, but sending Jaz disks is more cost-effective and efficient for us right now," Healy notes.
After receiving the files, Donnelley imposes them as single pages, ensuring that if changes are needed, single page files can be re-RIPed, rather than signatures.
Donnelley generates proofs for internal quality control, but only notifies Penton if there's a problem. "If something was wrong, they would call," he says. "I realize that some people wouldn't be comfortable [without seeing film-based proofs], but I'm completely confident. People have to understand that proofing from the same file [ensures] file integrity." The printer plates the jobs on the Trendsetter, using Kodak Polychrome Graphics' thermal plates, and goes to press.
Digital ad answers
Before diving into the transition, Penton also outlined a digital ad workflow. Healy created a dedicated in-house digital advertising group. He and his team researched standards, ascertained ad acceptance criteria and prioritized education. "Organizations like the [Digital Distribution of Advertising for Pub-lications Association] helped tremendously," he notes.
Internal production staff, advertising support staff, technical support employees and customer service departments were trained, then the ad production team began educating advertisers and sales. For customers, the publisher developed the Penton Digital Ad Web Site, which outlines Penton's digital ad standards, how to send ads and Penton's view and direction on CTP. It is a browser-based site that uses hot folders to connect customers transparently to the Penton FTP site for uploading files. Further automation enhancements will include data integrity preflight and e-mail verification of customers' ads, Healy relates. Penton accepts digital ads as PostScript, PDF or PDF/X-1 files.
"I think PDF/X-1 is great, but there are only a few applications to generate it right now," Healy claims. "If you make a high-end PDF properly with checks in place, that works just as well. … We'll also accept TIFF/IT ads if it's an option, but we'd prefer not to due to the [typically large] size of the file," he continues. "However, we do not accept native application files. Having no reliability defeats the purpose of the program. Rather, we steer our advertisers toward the other formats and educate them to create proper files." Advertisers supply SWOP-compliant proofs with their digital files. Healy estimates that 30 to 50 percent of ads are submitted digitally across all titles, mostly as PostScript or PDF files. Ads are preflighted using Adobe InProduc-tion and Rampage for PDF files. Penton also developed its own internal AppleScript for PostScript-to-PDF ad conversion.
Some titles are already digital, including the first two to go CTP: Hydraulics & Pneumatics and PT Design. "We ran those 100 percent digital, with no copydotting of ads," Healy reveals. The third publication to go all digital was the bimonthly title, Industry Week, one of Penton's flagship publications. In January, the publisher implemented Extensis Portfolio Server 5.0 for its ad management system. Previously, Penton stored ads in folders, CD-ROMs or hard drives, using its own naming conventions. The Portfolio server software provides centralized management of all digital ads, and permits easy access to authorized users. A sophisticated search engine and the ability to catalog ads by individual magazine titles are major benefits, Healy remarks.
"But the biggest advantage is that it's Web based," he reports. "A magazine's production person can go through the Web and grab ads using a shopping-cart function. Before, they had to request that ads be put on the server." Now, when ads are submitted, they are routed automatically through Portfolio and made available through Portfolio's Port-web Web interface. Users can search and download ads directly from Web browsers. This summer, Healy plans to upgrade the solution by adding an SQL Connect module to allow easier integration with other databases and to facilitate insert orders.
In retrospect, Healy stands by Penton's look-before-leaping attitude toward CTP: "It was important that we had a workflow structure along with digital ad standards, both accredited and closed-environment, in place before getting into CTP," he maintains. "Now, ongoing training, both internally and externally, is critical. … Another key to our success has been the new single-page raster workflow," he continues. "It is the most cost-effective, streamlined process for CTP. We're making computer-to-plate-ready files internally, which get RIPed once and can be output [for multiple purposes]. Sure, we could give a printer application files and let them do the prep work, but that would add to their schedule and cost more."
Healy continues to refine the process. "We still have to modify the workflow to allow for exceptions or special services to ads," he notes. "We want our CTP department to be focused on production, not doing creative work. Overall, the workflow has been much more efficient on the front end," Healy declares. "We're four to five days faster per title, especially because we don't have to wait for proofs.
CTP urban myths
"A lot of people say there are no cost savings with CTP, but they're wrong," he remarks. "With CTP, the printer is getting more jobs on press, the publisher eliminates film and stripping costs. Everybody saves time, and time is money."
Plus, Healy emphasizes, Penton's internal productions are learning to work in a structured digital workflow that can be tapped down the road for revenue outside the print arena. "That's where I see the greatest benefit," he concludes.