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Desktop prepress: opening new territories.

Desktop Prepress Opening New Territories

The reports you've heard from the desktop frontier are true--about scanning photos and drawings, incorporating these images into page layouts, using the computer to assign color to design elements and, instead of printing camera-ready pages, actually producing entire color-separated pages of film from which a printer will create plates for printing.

Think of it. No stripping costs. More steps eliminated from the production process. Less turnaround time. Complete control from editing to layout to improving the contrast or the color of photos--to printing out entire pages along with their photos already color-separated.

In truth, however, while desktop pioneers are pushing the boundaries of the publishing business ever outward, the prepress frontier remains sparsely populated.

A recent survey of IABC members turned up vast numbers of publications managers who have turned to desktop publishing to gain control and curb costs of their printed materials. Yet despite success stories familiar in the folklore of desktop pioneers, few have fully explored the range of prepress possibilities.

Cautious Exploration

From the simplest in-house newsletters to four-color monthly magazines, most desktop publishers are using a blend of high-tech and conventional prepress methods.

For example, Mark Fotheringham, director of communication for the Utah Medical Association, uses a Hewlett-Packard Scanjet Plus (256-gray-scale) scanner to scan black-and-white photos for his 12-page monthly magazine, produced with Ventura Publisher. However, he doesn't generate film because so much of his advertising arrives as camera-ready that he finds it more practical to assemble the magazine on boards for his printer.

At Liberty Life Insurance Company in Greenville, S.C., Terry Price oversees publication of all employee communications. Alert to the cost savings being attributed to desktop publishing in late 1986, Price and her colleagues evaluated the technology and found it lacking at that time. In early 1988, however, the advances in page layout programs lured them in.

The company's venture coincided with the introduction of high-quality Linotronic imagesetters at local printers --resulting in a partnership that has affected "tremendous savings," Price says. Today, Price's department creates its printed materials on the computer and sends its files directly to one of those printers, who prints film from the Linotronic and then makes plates for printing.

Citing dissatisfaction with the quality of scanned photos--both black-and-white and color--Price has declined to place photos electronically in their layouts. Instead, halftones and separations are created traditionally and then stripped into the film pages generated by the Linotronic.

"We do scan in artwork," she says, "but we only scan photos for position."

Price's attitude toward photographic reproduction is one shared by most publication managers. The technology just isn't there yet, they say.

Tracking New Territories

However, with the introduction of more sophisticated scanning devices and the advent of Adobe's Photoshop (high-quality scanning and photo manipulation software), that may soon be changing.

Kelly Guncheon, managing editor of California Physician, a 34,000-circulation four-color monthly magazine directed to members of the California Medical Association, also produces a high-tech hybrid. His magazine is a blend of film and of camera-ready positive pages generated on the Linotronic. And, he notes, this decision is one based more on his printing contract than on the technology: Guncheon's printer charges for film and basic stripping regardless of whether camera-ready pages or actual film is delivered. And the printer doesn't charge for making traditional halftones. Consequently, Guncheon opts for traditional prepress methods except when it comes to complex color pages. When the contract comes up for renewal, Guncheon plans to negotiate for more flexibility, he says.

Meanwhile, Guncheon sees himself as being in the experimental stages of electronic prepress. He monitors the quality of color photo separations by using desktop separation technology sparingly. "I don't scan larger photos, but I do the smaller pictures in our travel section. I like to use several photos, color screens and color elements in that section, and (desktop prepress) offers the route to do so relatively inexpensively."

Rather than investing in scanners and software and trying to take on the role of a color engraver, Guncheon turns to an outside specialist in desktop prepress--Digital Prepress International, based in San Francisco, Calif. Digital PrePress employs a mid-range desktop scanner, the CIS 4520, to scan photos and Adobe's Photoshop to refine the images. The photos are then integrated into Quark Xpress layouts, which are output to film. Even using an outside vendor like this, Guncheon estimates savings of US $100 per computer-separated page versus a page created by conventional methods.

As for quality, the relatively small color photos in California Physician's travel section easily pass muster. Comparing them to other color photographs in the magazine, however, you can readily see why Guncheon employs traditional methods to separate large images that accompany major features. The Mac-generated photos simply aren't as crisp--yet. Where the Mac separations shine, however, is in high-quality color illustrations created on the computer and integrated into the page layout. The colors there are vibrant, the detail superb.

Crossing the Quality Gap

At the high end of the publishing game, ad agencies, national magazines and even metropolitan daily newspapers are traversing the color photo quality gap by exploiting links between desktop computers and high-end prepress systems like Scitex, Crosfield and Hell.

Macworld magazine recently profiled a Levi's promotion created by Foote, Cone and Belding that fairly well sums up the process. Designers created the double-sided piece in Aldus PageMaker, employing low-resolution scans for positioning, then saved the page as a PostScript file. The file was then converted via Scitex's VIP PostScript interpreter into Scitex format. The low-resolution position scans were replaced by high-quality Scitex scans on a Scitex Assembler station (where trapping was also accomplished) and, finally, the entire pages were output to film on a Scitex Raystar. Though certainly not as inexpensive as a desktop-only solution, the process resulted in a high-quality product as well as reduced stripping costs and preparation time.

Scitex also offers a bridge to high quality through Visionary, a desktop software package for the Macintosh based on Quark Xpress. With this package and a minimum of a Mac IIcx with 80 megabytes of memory and eight megabytes of RAM, the desktop designer with a modem can call a prepress house and send files that will emerge as film via the Scitex system. As with the VIP system, Scitex scans replace low-quality position scans for the final product. While still a more expensive solution than desktop scans, a publication's bottom line is enhanced nearly as much as the quality of the final image--stripping and assembly charges, not to mention courier and delivery costs, are completely eliminated. And, of probably equal importance, preparation time is reduced by as much as 35 percent to 50 percent.


Remember the scouts who led those wagon trains in your favorite westerns? You'd do well to identify a few of your own as you venture into the wild territories of color prepress. If you're involved in desktop publishing, you already know how the technology has redefined not only your job but those of your colleagues, as well. You've had to develop an entire new vocabulary--and probably an entire new set of skills, as well. Just as designers and editors have had to learn typesetting and production techniques, so too must they next adopt the skills of the prepress technician.

The lovely color photos you are accustomed to seeing reproduced are as much a result of a craftsman's "eye" (honed by possibly 20 years of experience) as they are of technology. This caveat applies to service bureaus, as well. It's one thing to drive the wagon --it's another to recognize the trail markers along the way.

In fact, to successfully chart new territories, you're going to need teamwork as never before, and your most valued comrades will be your service bureau and your printer. Sign 'em up well in advance of your journey and make sure they stay with you from start to finish.

Before you assemble your team, though, do some thorough research. First, ask to see color pieces produced from film generated by your service bureau. And, as the October 1990 issue of Macworld points out, someone at the service bureau should have had a prior life in the printing business. The magazine also suggests running a calibration test by sending the shop a "gray ramp" with values from 0 to 99 or asking to see a recent calibration test run by the shop. The shop should also use a densitometer to compare the imagesetter output against expected values.

Are your eyes glazing over? Are you ready to turn back for familiar lands? Well, once you're satisfied with the qualifications of the folks running your service bureau, it's not a bad idea to simply let them make the separations for you. And putting them in direct touch with your printer will ensure the successful completion of your journey.

The printer can tell the service bureau operator about such technical specifics as the press' propensity for dot gain, and tolerances for dot density and film clarity. (Now you see why having someone with printing industry experience at the service bureau is so important.) The first level of communication between your two traveling partners accomplished, you should also have test film run for the printer, who can recommend further adjustments if necessary.

Experts predict that desktop color prepress will become a familiar territory within the next couple of years. Creating a team of fellow explorers rather than jobbing out the parts of your project to miscellaneous vendors should go a long way toward making your journey into the brave new world a successful one.


Complete with an in-house Linotronic 300 imagesetter, The Gap, Inc., headquartered in San Francisco, is one of the trailblazers of desktop prepress. Employee magazines, store communications, bus shelter ads and even high-quality advertisements are rolling out of The Gap's Lino as separated film. But even for such a hearty pioneer, the prepress frontier presents obstacles simply not worth scaling at this point.

Surprisingly, quality isn't really the issue. At least that's what Chris Yaryan, graphics network manager, maintains.

"What (Adobe's) Photoshop can accomplish," he says, "is really astonishing."

Yaryan goes on to explain that with Photoshop, the experienced desktop operator can produce halftones and separations that are virtually indistinguishable from those produced conventionally. The problem, he says, is the astounding amount of computer memory required to store, handle, and even to print out scanned images. Furthermore, he adds, originals larger than 5x7 inches tax the limits of the scanner and its software.

The situation outlined by Kevin Redman, editorial communication artist for The Gap, illustrates the problem. Redman is responsible for the production of a 20-page, high-quality monthly newsletter distributed throughout the corporate community. Like most of the printed materials The Gap produces these days, the two-color newsletter prints out directly to film, completely separated. All except photos. At this stage, the printer takes over--creating conventional halfstones and stripping them into the film provided by Redman.

"Any time you put a scanned photo in a layout," says Redman, "it slows the Linotronic down tremendously. And I'm not the only one using it. You have people standing around waiting to print something out. At this time, it's more time-and cost-effective to let the printer do (the halfstones)."

And then there's the storage problem.

To store only scanned art and occasional scanned photos, Redman and Yaryan have turned to removable-cassette hard drives. Dealing with the massive storage requirements of halfstones and color separations is beyond even this approach for now, they say.

However, both are sold on desktop prepress. The Linotronic 300, they say, will easily pay for itself in a year.

Betsy Brill is the owner of Creative Connections, a full-service writing, editing and desktop design business in San Francisco, Calif.
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:desktop publishing
Author:Brill, Betsy
Publication:Communication World
Date:Nov 1, 1990
Previous Article:The great data round-up.
Next Article:Desktop video and multimedia.

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