By Howie Fenton
The printing industry has been fascinated with the concept of remote proofing for years. The advantages are clear but hurdles have limited the growth of this technology. Recently however, new technologies have become available which address these hurdles, add new solutions and make remote proofing more accessible. Over the last few years there has been a great deal written about remote proofing, but the truth is that it is a rarely used technology – as it exists today.
Remote proofing is when a service provider sends a digital file to a customer or a designer who views it at their site. For the last five years the vision has been to telecommunicate a file to a remote site where it is printed on a digital proofing device (toner, dye sublimation, inkjet, etc).
In today’s competitive climate were jobs are often awarded to the printer who can turn a job around faster the benefits of remote proofing are powerful – faster turnaround of proofs. Remote proofing helps overcome many of the on-going issues involving proofing- how fast can they see it and do we have time for one more proof.
Minimally it can cut one day off the schedule previously used for overnight shipping of the proof. In other cases it can eliminate more days if the proof has to be shipped to multiple locations or if it had to be corrected (marked up) and returned to the service provider.
The excitement about remote proofing began in 1997 when experts and manufactures of remote proofing equipment started to promote the benefits. This resulted in seminars at trade shows and articles written in trade magazines discussing the potential benefits. This resulted in some interests in a few pioneers. Between 1997 and 2000 these early adopters implemented the technology with Kodak Approvals, Iris Inkjets, Imation Rainbows, Fuji Pictrols, Kodak DCP 9000s, Polariod Dryjets, and Epson Stylus inkjets.
As the early adopters starting working and talking about the benefits the marketing departments of manufacturing companies and resellers went into high gear and more articles appeared the in trade magazines.
With the access we have today to trade magazines on line – it is not difficult to gauge the excitement by counting the number of articles. Going to each of the trade magazine sites you can use their search engines in the editorial section and search for phrases such as “remote proofing” or soft proofing.
Graphics Art Monthly: 49
American Printer: 30
Printing Impressions: 53
Canadian Printer: 26
Electronic Publishing: 85
Editor & Publisher: 25
These articles would talk about the successful implementations by the early adopters of the technology. These early stories talked about the encouraging new partnerships remote proofing fostered: one was between Continental Web Press with cataloger W.W. Grainger the other by printing giant R.R. Donnelley and TV Guide magazine.
Continental Web took a three-pronged approach. They could place either a large-format Hewlett-Packard inkjet printer in a customer site for imposition proofs, a Kodak Polychrome DCP 9000 dye sublimation color proofer that produce continuous-tone color proofs. The first two options were acceptable to some publications, especially for editorial material.
Or, for critical color approval, they would send files from its Midwest prepress departments via WAM!NET to a new Continental Web office in midtown Manhattan, where a Kodak Approval direct digital proofing system can produce contract-quality halftone proofs. From that location, the proofs can be hand- carried to a customer site anywhere in the metro New York area.
In the mid 90’s R. R. Donnelley mastered digital hardcopy proofing using the Kodak Approval halftone digital proofing system. In the late 90’s Donnelley began experimenting with remote soft proofing with TV Guide magazine.
Before soft proofing, Donnelley would prepare image page proofs on its Approval and send them from Donnelley's Lancaster PA prepress via courier to IV Guide's art director in New York City. The art director would revise the proofs and send them back. Next, Donnelley operators in Lancaster then would make the changes, output a set of new Approval proofs, and send the revised proofs back to New York.
"On a weekly magazine, going through three proofing cycles takes a lot of time, so TV Guide officials said eliminating some of these proofs would be a great benefit," explained Tom Houser, former senior technical specialist at Donnelley's facility in Lancaster, Pa.
There was another reason for the move to soft proofing, says TV Guide's Jim Tubay: "We wanted to reduce the 170-mile distance between our editorial department in New York City and our prepress provider in Lancaster." Tubay is the national print quality manager at TV Guide Company headquarters in Radnor.
In the soft proofing workflow, Donnelley operators transmit soft proofs to the magazine's art director, and both parties can simultaneously review the page files and annotate any desired corrections to the soft proofs with precise accuracy in minutes.
GATF Proofing Study
The appearance of these articles and the seminars that offered information about the technology made it appear that remote proofing was a widely used technology. But for those of us who are consultants and spend every week in printing companies it was clear that usage of remote proofing was rare.
As a result we (GATF) in our last digital proofing research project included questions about remote proofing. Of the 109 respondents 10% (11/109) said they were using remote hardcopy proofing. Of those 11 respondents 64% (7/11) said they used remote hardcopy proofing for 5% of all proofs. The others said that they use it for 10%, 20%, 25%, and 45% of their proofs.
This means that while there have been over 250 stories written that discuss remote proofing, only about 1 out 10 printers use remote hardcopy proofing and most use it for a small portion of their total proofs (5%).
After reading these success stories and the research showing the small adoption rate the obvious question is why? With these clear advantages there must be some significant hurdles to inhibit the adoption of this technology. The reason why remote hard copy proofing is not more widely adopted is because it is technically challenging and can be expensive - if color is critical.
Therefore the answer is based on what we traditionally used remote proofing to accomplish and the strategies used. Traditionally we use all proofs for color proofing, checking imposed signatures purposes, or for trapping accuracy. But as we will discuss later, an alternative is using remote proofing on the monitor as a content proof, checking to make sure that everything that should be there is, and it is in the right place.
There Things For Success
There are three needs required for remote proofing to become a mainstream success: high speed telecommunication, an acceptable communication tool and easy to use technology to improve color matching.
Before you can install remote-proofing, you need a high-speed line (ISDN or faster) connection. This can come from your Internet access, a private networkor a commercial network such as WamNet
To facilitate the acceptance of remote proofing, some of the digital proofing manufacturer’s are teaming up with telecommunication service providers in the graphic arts industry (i.e. Wam!Net). These initiatives include co-marketing arrangements and joint market education programs to cross-training on each others' products. Therefore if you are interested in remote hard copy proofing, you should ask the manufacturer if they have a telecommunication strategy
The acceptance of a form of communication of the proof is the second feature required for success. The most likely tool is annotation which allows designers and clients to collaborate on jobs by pasting sticky notes on proofs. Annotations can communicate corrections and keep a record of the communication and collaborative process.
"For remote proofing to take off, the use of the proof as the vehicle to communicate information will have to change," says Richard Black, group manager for product development of the Graphic Systems Division of Fuji Photo Film USA, Itasca, Ill. According to Black, “Up to now, print production has relied on a series of adjustments, with physical proofs historically serving as the vehicle for communicating instructions for corrections or changes. But with remote proofing, all written comments and annotations will have to be done electronically, which is a pretty big change from how things are done today."
Many remote proofing providers predict that the annotation feature will be one feature that propels remote proofing from the small usage today to more mainstream success. "I think it will eventually become more the norm than the exception," says Andy Lewis, vice president of marketing and sales at Group Logic, which sells Imagexpo, a remote soft proofing product that provides annotation and interactive conferencing tools.
Imagexpo allows multiple people in different locations to review jobs in progress. Before working together on a project with someone at another location, the software dials into a computer at the remote site. When connected the different parties can scroll or zoom around the document, and use built-in text and drawing tools to annotate the proof on screen.
There are other service providers banking on the success of remote soft proofing such as: RealTimeImage, Proof-it-Online, and ClearLogic's Netproof. One online proofing system that uses a web-based interface is Proof-it-Online. It is compatible with Internet Explorer, Netscape's Navigator, and even AOL 4.0+ browsers on both the PC and Mac. The software supports more than 50 file formats, including the very important PDF format.
RealTimeImage offers RealTimeProof, a web-based system that has similar annotation features as Imagexpo, except RealTimeProof uses a technology known as Pixels-On-Demand, which delivers image data to a web browser optimized for slower connection speeds. This delivery of data "as-needed" allows better on screen viewing over dial-up, 56K modem connections. Three of the e-commerce solution providers, Noosh, Wam!Net and Vio, are working with RealTime Image
ClearLogic's Netproof, a relative newcomer to soft-proofing, recently signed an agreement to partner with DAX, a company that focuses on high-speed telecommunications. Currently NetProof is sold as a stand-alone product, but soon DAX will develop its own version which will be marketed under the brand name DAXproof. DAX switched from RealTimeImage to NetProof because of a more attractive financial model.
The third important feature for remote proofing, especially color critical remote proofing is "guaranteeing that the devices at both the sender and receiver sites act predictably and consistently," says Jonathan Agget, product marketing manager for the DryJet digital proofing device offered by Polaroid Graphics Imaging, Waltham, Mass.
This was true even in the early success stories. For example, one of the things discovered by Donnelley was the importance of color management. According to Iain Trevor Pike, product manager of prepress and publishing technologies for X-Rite, Inc., Grandville, Mich. "Soft proofing is tough, if not impossible to do without color management." X-Rite is a provider of color measurement hardware and software.
Pike adds, "You need color management tools because a computer monitor has no idea or indication as to what you are going to do with this file once you are done with it. It doesn't know if you are going to put it on a newspaper press, publication press, or sheetfed press. Color management tools tell the computer monitor what you are going to do with the file so that it can simulate the final outcome on screen."
The soft proofing system that Donnelley and TV Guide developed includes three key components: Radius's Pressview monitors, which are matched to the Kodak Approval proofer; Apple's ColorSync color management software; and Group Logic's Image Expo software.
"Image Expo is a software package that allows users to put together a complete remote soft proofing workflow with their customer," says Andy Lewis, director of marketing and sales of Group Logic, Arlington, Va. "It allows users to view color accurate files, using Apple's ColorSync, on screen from a range of different file formats, both bitmap or vector formats, and then electronically mark them up.
In fact many of the manufacturers offer color management software with proofers. For example, Agfa bundles ColorTune or ColorTune Pro color-management software when they sell their Sherpa. Imation offers calibration software for their digital color solutions for large-format printers, color copiers, color laser printers, and color inkjet printers. CreoScitex bundles ProfileWizard color proofing and color management tools along with each Iris Graphics inkjet printer.
The costs for had copy remote proofing include the high speed line ($1000 / year) the consumables and the proofer itself ($15,000) are paid by the printer. If the device is inexpensive ($500 - $3000) or the files are compressed too much (JPEG medium) then the ability to match is compromised.
The costs to implement color management depend on your specific implementation. The building block of color management is ColorSync. ColorSync is an extension of Apple Computer’s Macintosh operating system If you own Macintosh computers then ColorSync is free, if you don’t you need to add the cost of a computer (i.e. $5000). Users who want to use ColorSync, also need two things - color management software which creates the color look up tables or profiles and an instrument that reads color such as a spectrophotometer.
If you are simply using scanner and printer targets, measuring the results, and creating files that make adjustments (i.e. profiles) based on those measurements, your total implementation costs could be less then $5,000 and may not require that you buy the measurement equipment or profiling software. You could send the printed samples or resulting files to someone else to analyze.
If you buy the equipment, your costs will be higher. CMS software ranges from $100-$800, measuring devices range from $500-$1,500, training may cost $500-$3,000, and the week to work on the creation of profiles another $200-$1,000.
In the last 5 years there has been a tremendous interest in remote proofing. This is obvious by the number of articles that have appeared. Although the benefits are very attractive there are also issues with the traditional vision of remote proofing which was telecommunicating a high resolution file to the customer site where it was printed on a digital proofer. The issues are the cost and demand on the customer for calibration and maintenance.
However, as evidenced by the GATF research the issues are not overwhelming. There are approximately 10% of the printing companies using it most (64%) for a very small portion of their total proofs (5%).
There are three things needed for remote proofing to become mainstream: broadband connectivity, a form of communication such as annotation and a strategy to improve the color accuracy, especially for color critical communication. The most promising strategy for remote proofing is remote soft proofing. This offers the benefits such as faster turnaround without many of issues (i.e. cost).
There are many ways in which companies can offer remote proofing today. They range from the inexpensive option of attaching a PDF to an email to the more expensive option of remote hard copy proofing or using collaborative e-commerce solutions.
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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