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All The News That's Fit To Plate.

We jazz up our printing

If, like the editors at CTR, you've noticed a subtle (and maybe not so subtle) improvement in the look of our pages, the improvement is due to an upgrade in the art department's proofing technologies. Even if you haven't seen any tremendous changes, you will.

This magazine has always explored the latest technologies and reported on many of the technologies that have shown the promise of allowing us to do things faster or better; to handle data faster and store it more efficiently; and, in general, to do things in a way that wasn't possible previously.

WestWorld Productions Inc., the publisher of Computer Technology Review, Storage Inc., and Storage Management Solutions, was one of a group of publishers utilizing "computer-to-plate" technology. This technology is film free, saving approximately 25% on the prepress end. According to Alicia Esken, production director at WestWorld, five years ago, only about 3% of magazines were produced using computer-to-plate. Today, the number is closer to 80%.

The production process involves many steps. Editorial copy has to be received or written and edited. Headlines, bylines, and text callouts must be created. Text has to be put into specific type sizes and styles. Art also has to be inserted onto the pages and text flowed around the art. Ads are received in many formats and must also be integrated into the magazine design.

Page numbers and indices must be added and countless other steps are required before the magazine is ready for print. During multiple stages of the production process, hard copy output is necessary. This involves printing an actual size copy of each page and submitting it to a review and approval process to make sure that there are no errors in the text; that the design works; that the figures are properly placed and correctly labeled, etc. Full color, full-sized proofs of each page are printed out, reviewed, and returned to the art and production department. Typically, after two or three cycles, a page is ready to print. This process is pretty much the same for most publishers, whether they use computer-to-plate or older conventional methods for magazine design.

With computer-to-plate, WestWorld records the digital files for the magazine onto CD-R and sends the disc to our printer in Wisconsin. Accompanying the CD-R is a set of proof pages that the printer can use to make sure that the magazine that is being printed matches the sample pages.

Esken had been looking for a color printer to replace the one that had been used by WestWorld for the past few years. She wanted a printer that was fast, inexpensive to operate, printed tabloid-sized pages, and most importantly, one that was "spot-on" accurate in its color reproduction. Her first and only choice was the Tektronix 780 Graphics Plus printer, a l200dpi color laser printer.

The 780 Graphics Plus that we reviewed included 192MB of RAM, PostScript 3 and both a 10Base-T/100BaseT Ethernet input and a parallel interface. Additionally, the printer was upgraded with two hard drives, which are used to store page and image files, and includes press calibration profile software. The Phaser Match ICC software enables the printer to produce color output that virtually matches the appearance of the actual printed pages of CTR and its sibling publications.

During the nearly two months that the printer was in use, 1,120 pages were printed, according to a counter that automatically prints the number of pages printed, plus the amount of consumables remaining at the time the printer is turned on.

Although 1,120 pages had been printed at the time, totals used for this review were generated and, although the magazines printed by WestWorld exceeded the 5% coverage that was used by Tektronix (recently acquired by Xerox) to estimate toner cartridge life, only the black cartridge had fallen slightly below 2/3 capacity with a reported 63% life left. The cyan toner had 86% remaining, while the magenta had 81%, and the yellow had a remaining 68% of toner.

The list price for the color toners is $179 and the black toner cartridge is priced at $99. Other consumables included the fuser roll with an estimated life of 20,000 images and a price of $69 and the color imaging unit with an estimated life of 12,500 images and a cost of $199. The total cost of use for the 1,120 copies, based on the retail prices for all of the consumables and the reported usage figures, was $190.42. The average per page cost was 17 cents, based on supply usage.

By comparison, Esken noted that supplies for the previous color printer cost "about $400 a month." In addition, based on current usage, the company may be able to go nearly six months before having to replace the toner and considerably longer before the imaging unit and fuser roll will require replacement. The printer that was being used previously required frequent replacement of consumables. Based solely on consumables, the Phaser 780 Graphics Plus is expected to save the company about $3,600 compared to the cost of the printer previously being used.

"One of the features of the 780 Graphics Plus is that a scanner can be hooked to the printer, utilizing it as a color copier," Esken said. This option was not implemented during testing of the printer, although Esken would like to attach a good quality scanner to the printer (a list of scanners that can be integrated with the printer is available on the Tektronix website).

When a scanner is attached to the printer at WestWorld, "for short term printing and replacing color copies that we now have made outside, it could save us about $6,000 to $9,000 a year, paying for itself in less than a year," Esken noted.

Esken noted that, following the completion of the review, the company plans to purchase the printer for use in regular production, Of the three factors, quality, price, and performance, price takes a distant third in the evaluation of this printer. Clearly, cost savings are meaningless unless the printer delivered high quality images. Based on the quality of the images alone, the printer may have been a good choice, even if it took as long to print a page as the printer it will be replacing. Fortunately, the printer did extremely well on both accounts.

According to Esken, "When you hold a copy of CTR in your hands, what you're seeing is less than 2%-3% different from" the proofs printed by the Tektronix 780 plus. "Phaser Match ICC software helps us to calibrate our color to (match) the printer's color. Our proofs look like what comes off the presses."

"Because we can see what a color actually is, we don't have any critical color mistakes (at the press)," Esken said. Without an accurate prediction of the press output, mistakes can happen when "screening something behind type," Esken noted. The accuracy of proofs created by the Phaser 780 Graphics Plus enables WestWorld "to be more graphic because you really see what you're getting."

During regular use, the printer required no maintenance or servicing and there was no downtime. The service department was not contacted during this review.

Another major strength is the printer's speed. "A full color, tabloid-sized page can be output in about one minute," Esken said. The printer "probably saves us 30%-60% of our time over the old printer," Esken continued. "When we ship the magazine on a Friday, we used to start printing in the morning and kept printing until 5:30 [p.m.] when FedEx picked up the package. Now, we can start printing at 3:30 p.m. or 4 p.m. and be done and gone by 5:30 p.m. I'm saving days (using the 780 Graphics Plus)," Esken said.

The emergence of color laser printer technology over the past decade makes the technology one of interest to many organizations. While other printer technologies currently dominate the low-end color printer market, the color laser printer will continue to earn its place in many corporate workgroups and on the corporate desktop. The Phaser 780 Graphics Plus is a strong example of the excellence that can be achieved by a high-end color output device.

Phaser 780 Graphics Plus Suggested List Price is $7,545 (without Ethernet card, hard drive and Phaser Match software. Estimated Street Price is $6800.
COPYRIGHT 2000 West World Productions, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Brownstein, Mark
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:May 1, 2000
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