By Howie Fenton
Last article we discussed the issues slowing the acceptance of digital proofs and the poor approval of digital proofs by internally and externally customers. Also discussed was the fact that high quality digital proofs can more accurately predict specific press conditions, can also be used as a value added sales strategy and to reduce bottlenecks. In this article we will discuss new uses for digital proofers and outline the various proofing options.
As we discussed in the last article the most popular use and definition of proofing includes: proofs that made from film and proofs that are made for internal and external customers for quality control purposes. Customers are generally focusing on is size, position, color, and quality. However, this definition is changing.
For example, when implementing computer to plate technology a proofing device that my GATF colleague Hal Hinderliter and I recommend are large format inkjets to create digital bluelines. This device is well suited to check impositions and create dummies. However, this device does not fit into the definition described above.
In addition, by combining high speed phone lines such as ISDN or DSL lines and less expensive digital proofing technology such as dye sublimation to create remote proofs at your customers site also falls outside the traditional definition of printing.
Although a little known fact, remote proofing this is not a new concept. I remember over a decade ago working with Jersey Printing who had laser printers sitting in the offices of New York Magazine that were attached to the Atex typesetting system at Jersey Printing. Although black and white it was a example of remote proofing.
Today however, remote proofing can be done in color and brings about several new questions regarding responsibility, quality, and procedures. Who buys and maintains the necessary equipment, consumables and high speed phone line? How accurate is the color and how clear is the type? And how does the client mark-up changes and sent it back?
Who buys and maintains the equipment is typically based on how much money the client speeds. Typically, the maintenance is the responsibility of the client, since it is in their site. There is no good way to mark up the changes and send it back. Some people have tried inexpensive teleconferencing with mixed results while most just mark it up and sent it back with a ground transport system such as Fed Ex.
Although over simplified digital proofs can be categorized into three broad product descriptions: DDCP or digital proofs with dots; continuous tone such as inkjet and dye sub; and monitor or soft proofing. Each product has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.
DDCPs have high quality but are expensive and small. Inkjets produce good color, but poor quality line art/text. Dye subs are better with color, but worse with linework. In direct contrast, thermal wax proofs have good linework, but produce bad colors.
Monitors present a whole new set of problems. They are difficult to calibrate and maintain. Gamut’s exceed that of the printers’. There is no consistency between monitors. Even monitors of the same make have too many variables to be consistent. Lastly, I feel monitors are just big and awkward, and I am anxiously awaiting the flat panel.
Manufacturers are making changes in equipment at the very low-end of the market. Inkjets now have a wider range of applications. There are very inexpensive inkjet proofers that are growing in popularity. If used with coated stock for $.10 per page or a glossy for $1 per page, these inkjets offer great quality. I would not be surprised to one day find that having an inexpensive inkjet printer in the home is as popular as having a color monitor.
The low cost of inkjet technology also makes buying two-up proofing devices affordable to service providers. There are roughly 643,000 of these B-sized, color ink, proofers in use today. Market research predictions are that number will leap to two million by the year 2001.
Inkjet proofers are selling in three categories mostly dependent on size. A small letter-size inkjet runs between $400 - $1000. A medium-size 11x17-in. to a 17x22-in. inkjet sells between $1000-$2000. And a large 40-60-in. costs between $17,000-$29,000.
Large format inkjets are also used by many printing companies to proof impositions before going direct-to-plate, as well as to offer new poster-size output capabilities, but these proofers deserve a category of their own.
One of the newest riddles connected with computer-to-plate technology is “How does the service provider confirm that the imposition of the digital files are correct?” Large format inkjet proofers are one possible solution available today. In fact there is even one device that is pin registered, allowing for two-sided proofs—great for creating a dummy!
As seen earlier with inkjets, large format inkjet proofers for imposition are again manufactured and selling in three categories mostly dependent on size. A small 40-in. proofer runs between $17,000-$19,000. A medium 50-in. proofer is selling between $21,000-$24,000. And a large 60-in. proofer costs between $27,000-$29,000.
Although market research predicts that thermal wax transfer technology will wane in popularity from 125,000 units to 93,000 in 2001, many companies will still remain using thermal wax transfer.
Despite the bleak prediction, a few manufactures are making some interesting innovations that will most likely weather the trend of decreased usage. These new features will reduce dithering artifacts. For instance the Tally Printers Spectra-Star T8050 has introduced a variable-dot technology to print in 64 shades/color. Micro Dry, a proprietary technology developed by Alps Electronic, uses resin-based inks instead of wax.
In general price ranges wildly for thermal wax proofers. Small A-sized proofers can cost anywhere between $750-$7,500. Medium B-sized proofers range from $5,000-$13,800.
Within the last few years Fuji has introduced some products that offer unique price performance capabilities. They claim that the Pictograph offers excellent color matching capability at $40,000 or the cost of a high quality inkjet. There other device, the FirstLook, now called Pictrol, uses a thin layer thermal transfer process. In other words, its a dye-sub printer except instead of dyes, it uses pigments from Fuji Color Art. It has a 300 dpi and maximum size of 12.2x19.6-in.
Lastly, the First Proof - Digital Color Art is a dye sub with pigments to transfer dots. It was the first thermal wax proofer to offer 400 dpi and is now the first to offer 600 dpi. Maximum size is 8.6x11.8-in. It supports TIFF, DCS, EPS Scitex CT and TIFF/IT. Selling for $25,000 for a two-page, and $15,000 for a one-page, only 500 of these proofers have been sold to date.
High quality color matching is still an ongoing issue in computer-to-plate process. The devices in the DDCP category are designed for that purpose. Currently the Kodak Approval is the best selling DDCP. Laser exposes sheets of film with dyes, transferring the image to the receiver blanket and then laminating it to the paper. The Approval is selling for about $150,000, or approximately $18 per page. It is equipped with 1800 dpi dye diffusion thermal transfer.
Another choice is the Screen TrueRite TC-P1080. A six-up device, it is sold mostly with Taiga, costing $325,000. Although it has the same donor material as the Approval, it has a faster engine like the Creo.
The Optronics Interlliproof is an imagesetter and proofer in one. It uses the same RIP, marking engine, and screening as the Approval, and is best compatible with Konica Knonsensus Color Proofing paper. Its cost is $200,000.
In January, we (GATF) presented results from Digital Proofing Study Part IV during the Tech Alert conference. The test was designed to allow manufacturers the opportunity to “match” a specific and industry-capable press sheet from GATF, while adhering to GRACol guidelines.
The project compared the characteristics, capabilities, and requirements for digital proofing systems introduced or upgraded in the last 12 months. Screen ruling, dot shape, RIP time, imaging time, processing used, processing time, and total production time are compared for 17 models of digital proofers.
Without endorsing any products, one needs only to scan the table of statistics to come to the conclusion the Polaroid PolaProof faired well. With its 2540 dpi and 400 lpi, it is impressively very sharp. It also has an infrared laser ablation 22x 28.5-in. and vaporizes ink from donor sheets on actual stock. As pointed out by participants at the show the advantages include format size, resolution, and cost.
Other products worth noting are the Imation Matchprint Laser Proof which works in conjunction with the two- or four-up Presstek thermal platesetter and the Creo Trendsetter Spectrum which has a halftone option.
The Big Picture
When examining digital proofing technology it is easy to get lost and not see the forest from the trees. While in the thick of the forest, some service providers become engrossed with individual trees, or individual attributes of a proofing technology such as the time it takes, how well it matches, the format size, or the consumable cost.
The forest in this case is the customer’s comfort level. It is easy to forget that the customer greatly effects the success of a new proofing methods, sometimes as much as the underlying technology of the method. From this point of view, one can see that is it of vital importance to manage the customer’s expectations. I strongly believe that the industry has lost sight of this importance in the wake of digital technologies.
As we mentioned last month, managing customers’ expectations is becoming increasing important in all aspects of the digital workflow. Besides in proofing, another area where service providers frequently lose sight of the forest is preflighting. I see companies everyday in which preflight is neglected until the last minute. This usually results in dissatisfied customers because they’re contacted too late. But that's another article.
Clearly one of the hottest subjects today is digital proofing. Digital proofing can speed turnaround, cost less, increases the chance of achieving on-time delivery, and can contribute to customers’ satisfaction.
Not only can it be used internally but externally as well. However, with all this excitement about new uses for digital proofing such as remote proofing, lets not forget that digital proofs can be used internally to reduce rework, decrease turnaround and increase profitability.
Last but not least, although not a technology issue, per se, another issue responsible for determining the success of digital proofing are your customers’ expectations. As we have discussed throughout these two articles, managing internal and external customer expectations is becoming a new, world class benchmark for service providers. And when done well - managing customers expectations will become another strategy used to separate the successful from the unsuccessful companies.
Howard (Howie) Fenton is a senior technical consultant responsible for digital technologies for the NAPL (National Association for Printing Leadership). A well known consultant he consults with printing and publishing companies and conducts management and training seminars worldwide. For more information write HowieAtPre@aol.com.
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