When It Absolutely Has to Be There Over Lunch
"EVERYBODY wants time, but time is a pretty elusive thing to hold on to," observes Lee Stocking, business development manager for remote proofing at Imation, Oakdale, MN, "especially when the FedEx truck left at five o'clock and you still have five pages to complete."
Imation is one of a few companies helping printers, vendors and publishers realize the benefits of time management that are afforded through remote proofing. Overnight delivery services such as FedEx save the industry days and have changed the pace of business. But, despite FedEx's recent addition of Sunday delivery, many companies find that 'till 10 a.m. is too long to wait.
At Phoenix Color, Hagerstown, MD, customers ask for faster turn-around and higher quality, but at lower cost, reports Frank Ervin, vice president of training and technology. But for their demands to be met, he says, publishers need to help. "They have to shave off two days in the production cycle—the time for an overnight courier service to get the job to them and back." And remote proofing is how many publishers are replacing that courier service.
Remote proofing generally involves the digital transmission of files back and forth from one location to another for review and correction. At the destination site, those files may be "soft-proofed" on a computer monitor or output on a proofing device.
"Remote proofing is not a product; it's a process," explains Stocking. And that process, he notes, requires a modification in production behavior and mindset. Print production partners that have successfully implemented remote proofing solutions have re-engineered their workflows to take full advantage of proofing options beyond ground- or air-mail delivery of disks, page proofs and bluelines.
"There is no cookie-cutter solution," remarks Ervin, warning that each remote proofing option can be implemented in a number of different ways. "Every publisher has a unique workflow that needs to be understood before they buy an off-the-shelf remote proofing solution."
Digitally fleet feet
"Communibonics" is the name Stocking gives the alphabet soup of digital file and telecommunications terminology. Beyond sorting out all the buzzwords and acronyms, today's production professionals need to understand the technologies involved and potential applications.
What are some of the consequences of being uninformed? "You can buy a lot of bandwidth and not use it," Ervin says. "That's a waste of resources." Ervin maintains that the secret to avoiding such a waste is to educate yourself: confront Communibonics head-on, and become savvy enough to discern whether a connectivity solution is appropriate for your workflow.
Installing a system to digitally transmit files among publisher, prepress and printer is the first major hurdle to establishing a complete digital workflow; remote proofing is added later, explains Chuck Gehman, manager of technology for Digital Art Exchange (DAX), Boston. "Most people work their way towards remote proofing once they and their clients are comfortable with and have mastered the connectivity basics." Connectivity solution suppliers also include managed-network pro WAM!NET, Minneapolis, which recently acquired 4-Sight, a specialist in ISDN dial-up solutions.
Establishing proofing parameters
Once your means for file transmission system is in place and you are ready to proof on site, the decisions continue. Should we use soft or hard-copy proofing? Do we want to see black-and-white or color proofs? Your solution will likely be some combination, with components used at different stages in the production process.
Soft proofing is "a realtime solution for anyone who has a fast turnaround and is trying to hold open ad sales to the last moment," explains Edward Hartman, vice president, division manager for PerryJudd's in Strasburg, VA. Using a Creo Virtual Proofing System (VPS), the printer allows publishers a last-minute look at the RIPed files on screen before plates are imaged.
WebProof—an Internet solution offered by North Park Digital, a prepress provider in Pennsauken, NJ—provides on-screen comment boxes which suit designers needing client approval, says Bernard Haas, North Park's president.
"My workflow is 100 percent faster with WebProof—I don't have to leave the office at all," reports Albert Ganss, graphic designer for Fierce Graphics, Philadelphia.
This type of system provides a quick method of communication between a publisher and a prepress house. Haas explains that North Park will post the file on WebProof, the client can view it, type comments, and North Park will adjust accordingly—in a matter of hours.
If your workflow requires color proofing, then an on-screen solution may not be sufficient for you. Hard-copy color proofs generated on a digital proofing device can provide better color match than the monitor. However, all partners need to ensure their devices are calibrated properly for accurate and consistent results.
Hartman warns that the integrity of the files is not assured when making hard-copy proofs. "It involves two RIPs, one for the publisher's output device and one for the plating device; so there is a possibility that some things in the file could change," he notes.
To reduce difficulties with color match and file structure, Ervin advises the publisher, printer and prepress house to work together to ensure the compatibility of their processes.
Of course, every publisher isn't going to be ready immediately to harness digital telecommunications for remote proofing.
Look Ma, no lines!
"Our whole workflow is digital," says David Cohen, director of business development for Cape Cod Life in Pocasset, MA. "We just don't do it over the lines." Cohen represents the many publishers who have kept up with industry technology but whose workload doesn't warrant the use of telecommunications. "We just don't have enough to justify the cost (of digital page transmission)," he remarks. So, the magazine uses an overnight carrier to send files between publication and printer.
Digitizing the workflow has allowed Cohen to quicken internal production. The regional magazine produces 80 to 85 percent of its advertising content in house, so keeping the rest of the book in a digital file made sense to Cohen. He took nine months to analyze his workflow before deciding that a Polaroid DryJet digital color proofing device best met his production needs. Because his production department worked with their printer to calibrate the DryJet, "the printer is satisfied that ... our proofs are acceptable as press guidance," Cohen explains.
Before installing the DryJet, the cycle for ad production was four times longer. A Cape Cod Life sales representative delivered an ad order to the production department for file assemblage. Sending the file out to generate a proof took one day to ship and a couple of days for turnaround, so the sales rep could return to the customer four or five business days later. Under the new system, the sales rep brings the work to production in the morning and can deliver the finished product by day's end.
Just as a driver would not race on a totally unknown course, publishers should not engage in remote proofing without understanding all of its implications. "Remote proofing is a fairly expensive proposition that requires a lot of logistics," remarks Gehman. "However, once implemented, most customers find remote proofing of immeasurable value to their production cycle."
So Stocking asks of any production professional who is still undecided of the value of digital remote proofing,: "What is a day worth?"
System configuration options do exist that will help keep the expense to a relative minimum. "For all intents and purposes, remote proofing could be black-and-white lasers; it doesn't have to be color," Hartman points out.
Before you buy, try…
If a remote proofing solution may improve your digital workflow, but you are unsure which solution to investigate, consider conducting a little more research. Ervin recommends that, before pricing hardware, "look at your production requirements and figure out how a faster turnaround and the ability to view a printed proof at your fingertips would give you a competitive advantage." Perhaps most important is to communicate your plans with your printer to assure that the system you choose is compatible.
To provide publishers the tools by which to communicate their needs, Phoenix Color offers a catalog of courses designed to bring the publisher's production team up to snuff on the latest technology and software. However, like with any new workflow solution, the transition may not be entirely smooth.
"Be patient," Cohen recommends. "Talk to someone who has gone through the transition and can help you model your environment."
As a potentially viable alternative to waiting for an overnight delivery, digital remote proofing is giving publishers one more day of ad sales, one more look before plating, one more chance to improve the quality of their ink on paper. The system is not yet perfect for everyone; however, remarks Ervin, "the tools are going to become simpler, they are going to get more affordable and remote proofing is going to be as pervasive as anything we've seen in printing in the last few decades."