By the time a graphic is ready to print, it has gone through many steps. Comprehensive solutions with a design or production background and plug-ins provide automation and integration within an already streamlined workflow process.
Manufacturers recognize the benefit of a design-to-print-to-cut product, allowing for initial design and following through to layout requirements such as nesting and crop marks. Design software is much more than traditional layouts, fonts, and graphics; desktop publishing solutions—and plug-ins that complement them—fit into the overall production workflow of a shop. These configurations bring new value to the term end-to-end automation.
Comprehend to Comply
The value of a comprehensive design solution and/or plug-in that offers tools for an end-to-end production workflow is paramount. Print providers looking for an intuitive, user-friendly system rely on one point of contact.
“The true value of a comprehensive design solution is defining the job so it can be produced without issue, rework, or changes downstream. This is especially true for short-run digital work when you need to manage hundreds of thousands of smaller jobs,” explains Bob Raus, category manager, Indigo SmartStream and Partner Programs, Hewlett-Packard.
An all-in-one solution provides cohesiveness to the project in question. “The last thing any designer wants is to end up with a design that looks as if there were several people working on the creation. When jumping from tool to tool, there are always differences between features and functions offered. By staying in an all-in-one solution, you are more likely to have the same visual theme, styles, and colors—resulting in a more comprehensive piece,” recommends Tony Severenuk, user experience designer, CorelDRAW Graphics Suite, Corel Corporation.
While many software manufacturers strive for this complete scenario, they currently rely on integrating with other solutions providers to offer customers seamless interaction from design-to-print-to-cut. “It’s next to impossible to use a single tool throughout the entire design process. Every job, large or small, is unique and requires a different set of specialized tools,” advises Finley Lee, CEO, Alien Skin Software, LLC.
“The benefit of a comprehensive solution is that it minimizes the number of software solutions pieced together—mostly unsystematically—and as such minimizes problems and errors and allows for a much more efficient way of working,” shares Bart Fret, director of sales, large format, GMG Americas.
The design part of the process can lead to more control at the end of the workflow. “Designers are at the right stage of the workflow for defining many aspects of a production job including finishing setup such as bleed and grommet placement on banners, to more complex designs such as artwork placement and paneling of vehicle wraps,” says Bryan Manwaring, director of product management, ONYX Graphics, Inc.
Dean Derhak, product director, SA International, points out this is especially true for specialty application workflows, where the printing method affects the design, like white ink or metallic printing. “A designer with the right tools can prepare these jobs correctly much faster than a printer operator can last minute, and with less chance of costly mistakes. Any print provider that frequently takes jobs out of production and back to the designer for reworks can benefit from an end-to-end workflow solution.”
While many design solutions allow print service providers (PSPs) to print directly from the software, sometimes the output isn’t well optimized. It is in this regard that many RIP manufacturers, such as Caldera, collaborate with design professionals like Adobe Systems Incorporated to ensure design files are interpreted correctly.
A Break from Tradition
Common features found in design software include layouts, pre-made templates, fonts, and graphics. However, a variety of other tools are instrumental in the later stages of production. Files need to be touched at every part of the workflow and many vendors address this.
Dale Cook, technical product manager, Serif Ltd., lists other important features now found in design software packages, such as proofing, asset and resource management, and preflighting.
Proofing occurs at a later stage in the design process and changes and errors may still happen. A useful tool is the ability to conduct a last-minute edit on a PDF file. “It is also important to have the ability to see what the output will look like upfront in case the design is flawed,” says Fret.
“The final stages of a production cycle involve many challenges, such as output sizing, sharpening, and color correction. Technical processes like these are often confusing and can be difficult to navigate,” admits Lee.
Imposition is another component, especially because it varies by printer and paper size for each job. “Automatically imposing on the fly at the printer enables a job to be moved to the best device right up to production time,” suggests Raus.
Finishing should be considered at every step of the workflow. Derhak notes that a good design solution is equipped with tools that make that easier. For example a tile map shows how printed tiles will connect and overlap, or cutter registration marks and margins offer a streamlined print and cut.
Bill Hartman, VP business development, digital finishing, Esko, says that tools in the prepress area that make finishing more productive are often ignored. “It is best to create a cut file before you RIP and print. Tools compatible with the graphics workflow create a valid and optimized cutting file. These tools will add a die line, generate a graphics bleed to assure the cutline is clean, smooth the cut path, and create registration marks and barcodes,” he says.
With the range of applications growing daily, application-specific plug-ins are playing a role in the overall design workflow process. These tools, according to Manwaring, make it possible to produce ready-to-print designs in just a few clicks.
“For many print providers, production teams manually perform many steps to produce routine jobs such as signs and banners. With these application-specific tools, the designer creates print-ready artwork that does not require extra steps in production, freeing up production teams and reducing the overhead costs of many jobs,” he adds.
Conversely, RIP providers offer certain tools such as nesting or tiling in their own software products so it doesn’t have to be done at the design level. “Doing it at the RIP end means getting it done faster and with less risk of the computer freezing because too much memory is being used. These types of chores are better managed at the RIP level from both a saves time and is really easy point of view,” advises Sebastien Hanssens, VP marketing, Caldera.
Outside of the normal print workflow, print providers also must address the power of integrated marketing material. Turning to a design solution that offers components to create that is a major consideration, especially as publishing shifts towards tablets and smartphones in some segments.
While Gavin Drake, VP, marketing, Quark Software Inc., recognizes that layouts, fonts, and graphics as the basis of rich, well-designed content, he says that interactivity is a new component instrumental in a printer’s workflow. “Printers must read beyond print by adding video, audio, slide shows, buttons, and other engaging elements into designs for digital publishing,” he continues.