Easy-to-use design software solutions and plug-ins make all the difference when handling complex files and graphics, such as point of purchase (POP) displays, signs, vehicle wraps, and building wraps. Design software helps large format printers with important tasks such as enlarging images, managing color, creating three dimensional (3D) components, and performing complex crops and contour cuts.
A number of upgrades and enhanced features are available from design software and plug-in vendors with the ultimate goal of simplifying the process for print service providers (PSPs). Comprehensive solutions and automated features improve workflow and produce greater return on investment.
A Wide Range of Features
Vendors announce new features, products, and enhancements geared towards wide format.
New features in Adobe Systems Incorporated Illustrator CS6 include the Adobe Mercury Performance System, a modern user interface, pattern creation, and Image Trace. Illustrator CS6 native 64-bit support for Mac and Windows is ideal for handling complex artwork. This includes opening, saving, and exporting the large files these formats represent, and previewing elaborate designs. Before CS6, Illustrator could only access three GB of RAM, no matter how much memory was installed on the system. Now Illustrator accesses the entire RAM on a system, minimizing out of memory errors when handling large, complex files.
The new pattern feature in Illustrator CS6 makes the creation and editing of seamlessly tiled vector patterns simple, and supports different types of repeating patterns. In addition, a new tracing engine lets wide format customers convert raster images with clean lines, accurate fitting, and reliable results without using complex controls. Image Trace allows for an unlimited number of colors versus the 256 color maximum offered by the Live Trace feature in earlier versions.
CADlink Technology Corporation’s SignLab Version 9.1 includes vector and bitmap design tools as well as production features that assemble files and prepare them for wide format production. The back end component of SignLab incorporates built-in RIP software with Visual Production Manager, which is essentially a workflow management interface that sends print jobs via multiple pre-set queues, as well as to multiple printers simultaneously. SignLab also supports over 200 cutters to enable seamless support of print-and-cut workflows.
Many features of Corel Corporation’s CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X6 make it ideal for wide and grand format. With its ability to support page sizes of up to 150x150 feet and a powerful color management engine, this vector application includes many tools that inherently work well with large outputs. The introduction of 64 bit increases performance for printing large files. Multi-core process of exports allows the user to continue with work as the export takes place. Layout/typography enhancements also benefit wide format, but not specifically.
Several third party tools and plug-ins are available to add onto CorelDRAW Graphics Suite, which are specially designed for wide and grand format. PowerTRACE, the bitmap to vector tracing engine, is especially useful in this space. CorelDRAW also allows users to reset resolution in raster objects that are designed for large output, where higher resolutions are not necessary. This allows users to keep file sizes down.
Esko’s ArtiosCAD software includes an extensive library of standard, resizable templates so designers do not have to start from scratch designing new displays. Structural and graphic design integration with production files eliminate costly mistakes downstream. Additionally, ArtiosCAD and Studio are fully integrated with any automated workflow or software application. Files from ArtiosCAD can be imported directly to Adobe Illustrator for graphic design.
3D design and export provides rapid prototypes and high-resolution client presentations. It also offers profitable opportunities for customers looking to design and print POP displays. Esko Studio provides a unique set of tools. A series of Adobe Illustrator plug-ins means that designers can work within familiar design software to create visuals ranging from PDF files with 3D content to movies.
There is no need to cut, fold, and glue printouts, because designers see the 3D display on the screen. After importing the structural design from ArtiosCAD or other software into Adobe Illustrator, users add graphics directly into the virtual 3D view of the display so artwork is completed faster and more accurately.
Quark Software Inc.’s QuarkXPress, now in version 9, is connecting print with digital. In its latest update the solution offers the ability to create applications (apps) with App Studio. These can then be published and controlled on Apple iPad devices. Users can now convert print pages into formats on tablets, straight from a Quark template. Other new features include Conditional Styles, Bullets and Numbering, Callouts, ShapeMaker, ImageGrid, Linkster, Story Editor, and Cloner.
SA International, Inc.’s (SAi) FlexiFAMILY 10 is a one-stop software solution for sign shops, with industry-specific design tools, an easy-to-use interface, and thousands of drivers to run cutters, printers, and hybrids.
Flexi offers a design interface full of powerful, industry-specific tools like vectorization, which turns low resolution artwork into vector art; masking, which clips objects, vectors, or bitmaps to the shape of a vector object; underbase/finisher layer, which adds a primer coat to brighten dark designs; and auto serialization, which automatically creates serialized text.
Most recently, Flexi 10 introduced the new smooth shadow feature, which gives text a soft, glowing shadow using transparencies. Once a vinyl cut job is ready for production, Flexi offers true shape nesting to fit shapes and text together in the most cost-effective way possible, as well as tiling to output a job no matter the size.
Serif Ltd.’s DrawPlus X5 is a versatile graphics studio for digital art, illustration, and painting. Powered by Accelerated Graphics Technology, DrawPlus works well for large documents with all vector artwork created easily and scalable without loss in quality. Additionally, DrawPlus supports end-to-end CMYK documents and allows designers to check artwork on each color plate before output. With a range of compatible formats including EPS import, plus CAD and PDF import and export, DrawPlus is suitable for many types of design and print projects.
Plug-ins provide powerful enhancements to many common solutions.
Blow Up 3, Alien Skin Software’s photo resizing plug-in for Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, makes crisp, clear enlargements with just a few clicks. It handles large output sizes and boasts a simple interface where users select paper size from the standard presets, optionally set a crop region, and choose an output sharpening preset for proper ink diffusion.
Hewlett-Packard’s (HP) new SmartStream Designer is a plug-in that creates, integrates, and previews personalization jobs whether they contain fixed data or variable text and image elements. It is also an easy-to use imposition tool for HP Scitex printers. It is available in free and desktop editions for creating jobs in Adobe InDesign CS5 and QuarkXPress 8, adding personalized elements, images, text, and colors to all creations.
SmartApps by ONYX Graphics, Inc. are wide format specific plug-ins for Adobe Creative Suite. All SmartApps products are RIP independent, work on Mac or Windows platforms, and are compatible with multiple versions of Adobe Illustrator and Acrobat.
The product line includes SmartApps Sign & Banner plug-in, SmartApps Pitstop Pro for pre-flighting and creating digital master PDFs, and the new SmartApps VehicleWraps plug-in for precise tiling and file preparation of vehicle wraps.
With plug-ins such as SmartApps, PSPs drive manual intervention and file preparation upstream and get to a print-ready PDF early in the production process. “We refer to this as the $5, $50, $500 rule—it costs $5 to create the files properly from the start, $50 to handle file problems or edit jobs a second time at the RIP workstation, and $500 to fix problems after they have reached print. We help customers work wisely by enabling the files to be created properly from the start,” says Danielle Mattiussi, director of product marketing, ONYX.
A Comprehensive Solution
With the number of options available, PSPs may find it difficult to decide on software, or they may purchase several design products in an attempt to create a comprehensive solution. By choosing one, shops benefit from reduced training time and cost savings. “The primary benefit is to streamline production and to lessen the burden of having to learn and invest in multiple products,” says Michael Chramtchenko, director of marketing, CADlink.
In order to complete a final design, many times the designer is required to work with additional design components that may originate from multiple sources as well as multiple design packages, such as CorelDRAW and Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. “Solutions such as CADlink’s plug-ins reside directly within these packages so that files can be brought directly into SignLab from the native design application. This eliminates the file export/import scenario that results in frustration,” shares Chramtchenko.
There are many other benefits of a comprehensive design software solution. “PSPs tell us they need sign design software that focuses on good, accurate design, but also on the finishing touches for the later stages of production,” shares Dean Derhak, Flexi product manager, SAi. “Products such as Flexi 10 offer a wealth of sign industry tools, compatibility with more than 30 different file formats, flexibility to work with plug-ins, and efficient production output.”
Serif’s DrawPlus is also a comprehensive option. “With such a diverse range of tools and features in one program, users can customize the design area to suit specific needs and create a more productive workflow. Plus, it rules out compatibility issues with other programs,” shares Simon Monahan, product marketing manager, Serif.
Bill Hartman, VP business development, digital finishing, Esko, urges PSPs to consider structural design when thinking about a comprehensive design software solution. “With a greater number of PSPs offering signs and displays, a lot of work—particularly regular two dimensional rectangular signs—has become commoditized. Structural design tools are interesting to sign and display shops because they allow PSPs to design and create 3D POP products,” he says.
These not only help shops differentiate themselves, but also create higher margin products. “Esko’s entire design-to-print-to-cut software allows companies to coordinate structural and graphic design to build business models with higher margin 3D products, and allows PSPs to coordinate other activities, for example, placing displays more efficiently on display boards. This is critical, particularly when the substrate is expensive, as more displays can print on fewer boards,” shares Hartman.