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Getting it to the printer; the desktop publishing revolution continues.

A revolution is happening in the printing industry, and the message to printers is clear: become part of the revolution, or your customers may be captured by someone else.

Getting a piece ready to be printed used to be a very labor-intensive process, involving several people doing a small piece of the preparation. The language these people used to describe the steps in the process had been around for many years, substantially unchanged since the advent of film-based offset printing in the 1940s.

Randy Roberts of Lincoln Printing in Fort Wayne describes how printing has been done the last half century: "Traditionally, a job was produced by setting type, done by a typewriter. Then the project was pasted up into camera-ready art by an artist, then color-separated and/or shot with a graphic-arts camera by a color house. Then, after a proof and customer approval, plates were made by a plate maker or color house. Then, finally the job arrived at the printer for final production and finishing."

With the dawning of computer technology, the language of printing has changed dramatically, and more changes are on the horizon. As an example, just look at the steps that Indianapolis printer Shepard Poorman reports it took to produce a recent newsletter:

"Stories were written using Microsoft Word 4.0A on a Macintosh IIcx system. All copy was then imported into PageMaker 4.2 for layout and design using all Adobe fonts. The color illustrations were produced in Aldus FreeHand 3.1. Photographs were separated traditionally on a DS-SG-757 Color Scanner and output as randoms for color proofing. Black-and-white department illustrations were drawn in pencil, scanned on a HP Scanjet Plus Flatbed Scanner as diffused TIFF images, and imported into the PageMaker document as camera-ready art. The PageMaker document was then separated and output on a Linotronic 330 and stripped together traditionally with the FreeHand illustrations and the scanned photographs to form a composite set of negatives."

The entry of computer technology into the print shop has totally changed how printers print. "The impact of desktop computing has changed forever the graphic-arts community," says Douglas Wissing, president of Western Sun Printing Co. in Bloomington.

Mike Fox of Shepard Poorman lists four specific technologies that have come together to change the printing world.

"One, the cost of microcomputer technology has been falling, relative to the graphics-processing capabilities of the system," he says. "Two, new breakthroughs in laser technology have drastically reduced the price of high-resolution printers and imagesetters capable of printing text in traditional and new typefaces."

Thirdly, special computer languages have been developed to produce and manipulate type and graphics for page composition, he says. "Four, software developers realized that the above factors meant they could create software applications to merge text and graphics directly on the screen."

"The fastest changes taking place today in graphic arts," Roberts says, "are in the pre-press area," which encompasses typesetting, color separation, stripping and plate making. Nearly every printer now has at least two pieces of electronic pre-press equipment: a color scanner and an imagesetter.

Color scanners do digitally what film does: capture and store any kind of image: photo, drawing, typewritten copy. Networked with a PC and appropriate software, the images can then be manipulated to fit any artwork, ready to be placed on film for plate making.

Imagesetters let printers produce on film exactly what was on the screen of the PC, with resolution as good or better than the best graphic-arts cameras. Jeff Bowe of Benham Press in Indianapolis, president of the Printing Industry of Indiana trade association, adds that "newer imagesetters can produce film up to 30 inches by 40 inches, allowing one sheet of film per plate. This will effectively eliminate table-top stripping as we know it."

Paul Bippus Jr., vice president of Colorwheel Printing Corp. in Indianapolis, agrees. With the new disk-to-film technology, shooting negatives from artboards will become an obsolete process. "Because customers often have the computer software," he says, "they could take care of the pre-press themselves and then take the disk to the printer."

Another new innovation is digital color proofing, making full-color proofs to see how a piece will look when it's printed. Traditional color proofing is a time-consuming, expensive process, wherein an image is transferred from film onto four different color layers, then bonded together to create the color image. If the process revealed problems with the color, the printer would have to make the necessary changes, then do the whole proof process over again.

A digital proofer, which is something like a highly enhanced color copier or printer, takes the image from a PC or color scanner and prints it, with the result closely resembling a proof made the old way. The new process is quick, and making changes is easy. The cost of one of these digital proofers is somewhere between $100,000 and $250,000, but the investment made by the pre-press company can translate into savings by the customer.

"A client can look at the job and not go through the expense of film," says Cindy VanSchoyck, vice president of sales at Litho Arts in Mishawaka. Up to 50 percent of the cost can be saved by going with a digital color proof rather than a color proof made from film.

On higher-quality jobs, a customer may still choose to have the color proof made from film after all the corrections have been made digitally. Such a match print is not always necessary, VanSchoyck adds, but is still advisable.

Digital plate making is considered the most cutting edge in electronic prepress technology. Skipping the imagesetter altogether, an image is placed directly on special printing plates. No film is involved in the process at all.

The technology still has some drawbacks that must be resolved. "The biggest drawback," says Carl Dosmann of Dec-O-Graphics in Elkhart, "is most of the customers want to see color proofs through match prints." Though digital proofing has proven to be accurate, he says, "people haven't accepted that entirely."

James Hillman of Mossberg and Co. in South Bend saw the latest direct-to-plate equipment at a recent convention. "It's all right for certain applications, but we couldn't do most of our work on today's equipment," he says. "We've decided to let this technology mature." Wissing of Western Sun adds that producing plates for color printing is still somewhat of a problem for these machines.

Mossberg may be right to wait a year or two before diving into direct digital plate makers. The average cost of this equipment is around $200,000 to $250,000, and it might be a bit high for a machine that could become outdated quickly.

Shepard Poorman sums up the impact of desktop publishing in its newsletter, Proof Sheet. "Gone are the days of having to rely entirely on a designer, typesetter and printer to turn ideas into products. Now you can create your own desktop destiny."

The core of desktop imaging is a personal computer (Macintosh seems to be the preferred choice) specially designed with a larger-than-normal monitor for use with graphics. In many cases the computer will include not only a standard microprocessor chip but special video microprocessors ("cards" in computerese) to enhance its graphics capabilities. For heavy graphics use, it may be necessary to add an extra hard drive or two because visual images take up more disk space than just about any other kind of digital information.

The PC is geared to run a variety of graphics software. Read a description of a printer's desktop graphics capabilities and you'll likely see Aldus PageMaker (for art layouts), Adobe Photoshop (for photo viewing and manipulating), Aldus FreeHand (for color illustrating), and others.

The beauty of these systems is summarized by the acronym WYSIWYG (What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get). A designer can put together a printed piece, add type, size photos, choose colors and put a drawing or two into the computer design, and the output from the press will closely resemble the input at the PC.

"Today customers can sit in their own office and set their own type, lay it out in pages, and bring us their computer disks," says Lincoln Printing's Roberts. Desktop publishing allows users more control over the process necessary to create a printed piece. They can choose how much of the piece to do themselves, how much to farm out to designers or typesetters, and how much to let the printer do.

Ad Craft Printers in Merrillville has surveyed its customers to determine the extent of their desktop capabilities. This allows the printer to know what to expect from a customer's desktop publishing system, and what form the materials it produces will take. It also allows Ad Craft to tailor its own desktop system to better meet the needs of customers.

Because the creation of a printed piece is increasingly in the customer's hands, printers are taking on added roles as consultants. They are advising on the best type of hardware and software for a customer's needs and what's compatible with the printer's systems. Also, printers may train a customer's operators, so the customer's system can be used to its fullest.

Benham Press in Indianapolis tells customers, "Our technicians are willing and able to work with the technology you're using now and introduce you to possibilities you probably only dreamed about. If you want to look over their shoulders, be our guest. If you prefer, we can arrange on-site training that can help to maximize your in-house capabilities."

Even as all of these changes are still being digested, more revolutions are on the way. There are two major innovations now being introduced to the printing industry that many expect to take the digital print shop to a whole different plane. One technology is at the very beginning of the printing process, one at the very end.

For the past few years, clients have been able to scan, store, view and print photos using desktop systems. These digital images were used mostly for positioning or sizing photos. Only with the absolute best equipment and software could an image be produced digitally that would rival one done on film.

Along comes Kodak's Photo CD System, which takes film images and stores them in digital form on a compact disc. Home users can buy a player, plug it into their TV or PC monitor and view all of their photos now saved in perfect condition forever. Desktop publishers can incorporate the digital Photo CD images into their layouts.

Ric Cradick of Firehouse Colorlab in Indianapolis believes Photo CD will be the next technology to hit the graphic arts in a big way. "We feel that Photo CD is a technological advancement that will revolutionize the photographic industry, providing unprecedented on-line access to high-quality color and black-and-white images," he says. "It effectively combines the quality of film used with conventional tools, like the standard 35mm camera, and the convenience of electronics."

According to John Scully, CEO of Macintosh manufacturer Apple Computer, "Photo CD will have a major impact on the computer industry as it turns the promise of desktop color photo imaging from a wish to a reality."

Mossberg's Hillman says his company has tested Photo CD technology. Printing from an 8-by-12 inch, 175-line plate, Hillman says, "The quality was excellent. The system that will be introduced later this year for professional use claims to have four times the resolution of the home system."

The other coming revolution is called direct-to-press. Heidelberg, a leader in printing-press technology, has introduced the world's first multicolor direct-imaging press. There's no film. No imagesetting. Plate making essentially is done on the press.

The company contends the new press will be more cost-effective than color copiers on runs of 500 or more, and will yield a much higher quality product. And because it uses a press, it offers the possibility of printing in more than four colors, on more than two sides, and with a wide variety of paper stock.

Thus, the creation of printed products is on the way to being done entirely by computer-based systems, from photography and photo processing though composition, color separation, plate making and even direct-to-press technology. The only thing humans may touch in the print shop of the near future are buttons and keyboards.

In the end, the final word about the electronic imaging revolution will come from customers. Do the printed materials from digital systems help users communicate not only more quickly, but also more effectively? Stay tuned for the answer.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Miller, Chuck
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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