By Cassandra Balentine
“Cloud” is a buzzword across all technology fields. It is a broad term that covers a range of functionality. Its basic meaning encompasses software hosted over the Internet, as a service. For the purpose of this article, we plan to look at design software in the cloud. The benefits of cloud-based solutions largely revolve around payment structure and maintenance. Users of cloud-based software avoid large, up-front software investments and intense updates with each new version.
For many, licensing is also easier. Add a user in just a few clicks. There is no longer a need to track dongles for each new seat/user or the necessity of assigning a dedicated computer for each. Many solutions also provide access to key functionality from any Internet browser.
Pricing is a major differentiator. The move to the cloud brings with it subscription models. Rather than an initial, up-front cost, users pay subscription fees. The pro argument is that subscription-based pricing takes away the hit from cap expenditure budgets, and instead breaks it out into more manageable, often monthly, payments.
On the other hand, this means paying a recurring fee for a solution that was once owned and run onsite, for better or worse. This also means that the provider essentially manages assets placed on the cloud—including mailing lists, templates, and images, which can become problematic, should the service be terminated.
Cloud technologies represent the future. While it may be a culture change for both user and provider, adoption continues as more solutions move to the cloud and users become comfortable with the software evolution.
For a wide format designer, cloud-based functionality is becoming a reality as more solutions become available in subscription-based versions. Subscriptions are usually managed over the cloud but accessible by desktop, enabling users to take advantage of cloud functionality, such as creative communities, storage, and collaboration, but also operate similarly to traditional software.
Adobe Systems Incorporated has set the stage for cloud-based design offerings. In 2012 the company announced its Creative Cloud (CC). This June, it showcased its continued commitment to the cloud with the announcement of 14 new versions of CC applications, including essential tools such as Adobe Photoshop CC, Adobe Illustrator CC, Adobe Dreamweaver CC, and Adobe Premiere Pro CC.
The largest Adobe software release since Creative Suite (CS) 6, it also includes four new mobile applications (apps), the immediate availability of creative hardware, updates to Adobe CC services, and new offerings for enterprise, education, and photography customers.
The company claims there are now over 2.3 million Adobe CC subscriptions, exceeding its original projections when it was unveiled two years ago.
The latest edition of Corel Corporation’s design solution, CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X7, is available as a subscription.
In addition to subscription formats, some features of CorelDRAW rely on cloud services to function, such as quick response code verification. Additionally, the solution features Content Exchange, a cloud service integrated to access the content provided by Corel and add the ability to share content between CorelDRAW users.
Gérard Métrailler, senior director, product management – graphics, Corel, explains that today CorelDRAW’s cloud services operate within the desktop/traditional software. “There is no real difference from a user experience; the goal is to make it seamless.”
SA International (SAi) recently announced the availability of its Flexi software via monthly subscription and cloud-based downloads. The print and sign making software, Flexi, offers design, RIP, and print-to-cut workflow, while Flexi Design includes design-only Flexi features, and is ideal for use on design stations. Full versions of the software packages are offered separately and can now be acquired by monthly subscriptions and downloaded from the cloud.
Subscribing to software presents new advantages in terms of cost control, while also ensuring customers always benefit from having the latest updates. Flexi subscribers can leverage a cloud window that links locally installed software to the cloud to enable file storage, image sourcing, and other Web-based services. In addition, an SAi Cloud mobile app enables on-the-move job report viewing.
“Cloud-enabled design applications are still installed on the user’s PC, but offer cloud storage and file sharing over the Web,” explains Dean Derhak, product director, SAi. He says that this means sign shops primarily use cloud-enabled design products to collaborate with others in their business and with customers. “For example, with SAi Flexi design software, shop designers can work remotely and easily send jobs to the office for production or customers for approval.”
Derhak notes that the company’s most popular cloud-based design feature is its ability to offer sign shops a subscription license. “Thanks to cloud software licensing, sign shops can enjoy our full-blown Flexi sign design software for as little as $19.99 a month. This makes a lot of business sense for shops with several designers designing from home or on a laptop.”
Hewlett-Packard (HP) offers cloud-based functionality with its HP WallArt and HP SmartStream Designer for HP Scitex.
HP WallArt is a cloud-based application, which Mar Lezcano, HP WallArt and solutions product manager, worldwide, HP, says is free for HP Latex customers. It allows users to create and customize a range of wall decoration applications, including wallcoverings, wall posters, photo murals, canvas, multi-canvas, and wall decals.
HP WallArt features a design function that allows end customers to create and visualize their own walls. “This represents a clear advantage for print providers or wallpaper manufacturers, and empowers the end customer to be a part of the design process,” explains Lezcano.
Design in the Cloud
Designers make the move to cloud-based solutions for many reasons, including accessibility and functionality. Aaron MacDonald, owner/creative director, A3 Creative Solutions, is a user of Adobe’s CC services.
A3 is a virtual creative design studio focused on conceiving, designing, and building creative experiences for people, companies, brands, and associations. Founded in 2010 by MacDonald, the firm provides tailored designs for business’ creative needs.
MacDonald is an avid Adobe user, and says his experience has gotten even better since Adobe CC. “We decided to try it right when it was introduced. We needed an all-in-one solution to help our company grow, for efficiency, and as a centralized place for file sharing, fonts, cloud storage, and apps.”
He says the move from the traditional version of the software was simple. Before Adobe CC, A3 would receive a box with three programs that made up Adobe CS—InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop. Now, it has access to over 27 Adobe products.
“While outright purchasing the product is great—as we love to own things—we just found it to be a bit expensive to purchase new software each year or every other year. We don’t mind the monthly membership fee, as we factor this into our monthly expenditures budget. It is a nominal amount and now we don’t have to worry about upgrades,” he says.
A3 also benefits from the time savings and ease of use associated with software updates. “We are now immediately notified of any updates. It is simple to update all of the software platforms from one central location. It’s also cool that while running updates, we can look at downloading new software that we had never considered trying,” he adds. “If we change hardware, downloading is easy though Adobe CC.”
MacDonald admits there is not much difference between designing wide format graphics using the cloud and Adobe’s traditional software.
The firm recently produced wide format prints for the FIFA World Cup 2014. It worked with the customer’s suppliers for the graphics, and with Adobe CC it took the graphics, built everything to specification, and sent it to print utilizing Adobe CC for file uploading and downloading.
Through the cloud, the outside print provider easily viewed and downloaded the graphics. All of the full-scale artwork was built using Adobe InDesign CC and Illustrator CC and saved with Desktop Sync.
“The traditional method would take a lot of time, as we more than likely would have to use the printer’s FTP site, which would take longer, and we would have to set up our own FTP site to do it as well. Way too many steps,” says MacDonald.
Prepare for Print
Industrial Sign & Graphics, Inc., a Charlotte, NC-based wide format print service provider, is set on “marking anything that moves.” According to Sean Gay, creative director, Industrial Sign & Graphics, fleet graphics make up a majority of the company’s business.
Prepress is a core element of the process. The print provider offers everything from design services to file preparation. Gay relies on SAi’s Flexi product for most of his work. “We’ve used Flexi from day one,” he asserts. The solution has been on site since he started approximately 15 years ago.
With so much experience on the program, Gay was intrigued when he discovered SAi’s plans to offer a subscription-based version. He heard about it while attending an industry trade event last year, and while SAi wasn’t yet promoting the product, he was persistent in asking about its availability.
Now a year in, the monthly subscription format suits Industrial Sign & Graphics well. “We moved to the cloud because of the price point,” says Gay. Instead of paying for software in one big payment, the print provider utilizes up-to-date software for a fraction of the cost each month.
Gay points out licensing as one benefit to the cloud-based Flexi solution. He says it started with just two seats and is now up to six. “Before the cloud, a full key or dongle for each user was required. With Flexi Subscription, I am able to bring in more staff because it’s easier to add them.”
The transition from traditional to cloud was seamless. “You install it on the desktop and it communicates over the cloud with the license,” he says. The company continues to store files on its internal file server, but it utilizes cloud storage on occasion to collaborate with customers, as it is often easier than email.
Gay estimates that about four of the staff run Flexi for approximately ten hours a day. “We probably design more in Flexi then we should,” he remarks, noting that since you are able to design at 100 percent, he prefers it to scaling down on other design programs.
A typical job starts with creative customer collaboration. Then, the concept is portrayed to the buyer with a mock up. “From there, we figure out exact measurements and prepare it for print,” says Gay. Once the client signs off, it goes into production, where it is either screen or digitally printed.
“I don’t think there is really a difference in workflow since working with the cloud-based Flexi subscriptions,” admits Gay. However, instead of spending thousands of dollars every few years for updated software, one small monthly fee keeps the latest version always running. In addition, if new hardware is implemented, Industrial Sign & Graphics has easy access to the software.
Although cloud-based design apps are in their infancy, the potential for collaboration is a resounding benefit.
“It expands content libraries and allows users to repurpose content and share it with others,” states Métrailler. “The cloud makes for a more collaborative design experience.”
Derhak also sees collaboration as one of the biggest benefits to cloud-based design software. He believes the cloud can help sign shops progress in areas that involve collaboration, especially when remote employees and customers are involved. “For example, the SAi Flexi Design software includes a free companion mobile app. This enables sign shop owners to see what is going on when they are not actually in the office,” he explains. “We are also working on a cloud-based job quoting tool, which makes it much easier to work with customers on new projects.”
Lezcano suggests collaboration as a key differentiating benefit over traditional design programs. “By allowing multiple users to access the same project simultaneously with the software, you no longer need to spend time sending large files back and forth via email.”
She adds that with the help of the cloud, delivery time can be improved, creating a better overall experience for the customer.
See You in the Cloud
Cloud-based software solutions have penetrated a variety of industries. When it comes to designing and prepping files for wide format production, cloud solutions are making headway, but still have a long way to go.
“From what we have observed, using the cloud to design wide format signage and decoration applications is in an early stage and not yet as common as in other segments,” says Lezcano.
“On the other hand, we have seen an increasing number of print providers use Web to print solutions to offer self-service marketing and signage; simple design, proofing, and ordering at the front end through the Web; and controlled cutting, packing, and dispatching at the back end,” continues Lezcano.
A cultural change from a one-time, out-of-the-box offering to a subscription-based solution is a challenge that software providers must face. Once mass adoption begins, functions specifically available in the cloud are sure to be leveraged regularly.
Sep2014, Digital Output