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Designing Large

How Design Software is Meeting the Challenges of the Large Format Market

By Thomas Franklin

The ancient biblical lament that there is, "nothing new under the sun," doesn’t quite apply to the world of design software. Indeed, there’s a good deal new under the sun, particularly when it comes to improved efficiency, color management, and printer support.

"The tension in design is time versus creativity," says Will Eisely, group product manager, Adobe Creative Suite. "Our mantra is, ‘don’t sacrifice creativity or productivity’."

"Time is money, so ease of use and an efficient workflow are critical," says Nick Davies, GM, Graphics, Corel Corporation.

"We’re looking at the whole workflow as it relates to printing. Many updates involve not simply better design tools but greater efficiencies," says James Ramsden, president, CADLink Technology Corporation.

Indeed, most software vendors suggest that while there are still tweaks and advancements to be made on the design capability end, much of their brainpower is focused on making their products easier and more efficient. Efficiencies are typically produced through improved automation, accessible help screens, better color management, and greater RIP support for the increasingly populated universe of large format devices.

There are several seemingly perennial challenges in designing large format graphics. Chief among them is scaling up bitmap images and avoiding the pixilation that frequently plagues such up-scaling. The other is coping with the ever expanding array of printers and media that comprise the large format market. Both color management and drivers need to keep pace with the introduction of new equipment and new materials.

Adobe stresses the integration between its universe of products, including InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop. "Photoshop and Illustrator integration means you don’t have to convert files to TIF or EPS. You’re not creating multiple high-resolution images and that makes file management much easier," Eisely says. There is also what Eisely dubs Adobe’s dynamic partner eco-system of trainers, design schools, and third party developers that are constantly adding value to its products or ensuring that knowledge is shared among users.

The company has also gone to great lengths to future proof their titles, anticipating new developments and formats—such as XML—that end-users will sooner or later start demanding, Eisely continues.

Adobe has begun to hint at some of the new tools in CS3, which is tentatively slated for Spring of 2007. The next version of InDesign will run on Macs with Intel processors and feature Photoshop-style effects, which can be applied to InDesign objects.

"People like the Adobe user-interface, so the new version will have more of a Photoshop feel to it," he adds. To improve efficiency for the bread and butter design task—dropping pictures onto a page—the new InDesign will offer a loaded place gun which will bring an entire set of photo thumbnails into the place gun rather than requiring opening and closing dialogue boxes.

"Successful businesses, like Starbucks, don’t sell products, they sell engagement," Eisely concludes. "Design matters now, more than ever, because prints need to be engaging. Clients want their large format communications to be engaging, to be successful."

For CADlink, supporting new flatbed printers capable of printing with white ink on non-white media has been the company’s latest innovation in its SignLab 7.1 release, adds Ramsden. "Printing white poses an interesting problem—you can print an under layer of white on the media, similar to someone priming a wall before painting, but that gets complicated and with certain images it doesn’t work. Secondly, you can just print white where white is required, but that causes problems in some RIPs."

To handle whites, many designers resort to Photoshop, but, "most people aren’t Photoshop experts," Ramsden says. So CADlink created a new interface just for white printing and for isolating certain images to take advantage of the color of the media. The company also built-out color support for older vinyl media, including palettes of old vinyl that lets sign shops update graphics without having to buy specialty media.

"When you go to design school you learn on CorelDRAW or Illustrator," Ramsden observes. "We have to give our customers enough value-add to make the switch." That value add comes in the form of, "better integration with the output. In a print-and-cut environment, we excel," he says. SignLab also offers a See Through Sign Wizard in partnership with Contra Vision, for creating single or double sided transparent graphics without specialty media.

Corel Corp. tackled the bitmap-to-vector conversion issue with a tool dubbed PowerTrace in the newest version of its CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X3.

"We’ve found that users had bottle necks in terms of scaling and resolution issues in bitmap images, so we’ve created alerts to warn users when images are too low res," says Paul Turnbull, user experience designer, Corel. Using PowerTrace, vector graphics can be scaled to dimensions of 150x150 feet.

The newest release also provides more detail and better color management for vector images, Nick Davies says. Corel attempts to distinguish itself by providing, "professional quality tools that are easy to use," he continues.

To that end, the newest version of CorelDRAW features video help guides along with a hint docker screen to offer real-time, application-specific suggestions to users to help them make the most of the application they’re currently using. The product also comes bundled with the CorelDRAW handbook, which offers tips and tricks from some expert users.

Of all the major titles, the most recently updated is QuarkXPress, which is on its seventh version. Among the many updates is a new color management system. "Color management has been redefined. There’s more control than ever before, but your customers don’t have to be color scientists to benefit from it," states Dave Ebersole, senior product specialist, Quark, Inc.

"A QuarkXPress layout can be authored entirely in RGB, and then in QuarkXPress 7, the colors can be converted to an ICC profile for a specific device at output. You can also preview multiple output settings using the new soft proofing feature, which eliminates the need to create multiple versions of a project for different outputs. This allows for easier repurposing of files and maintains as much accuracy in color reproduction as possible. You can also choose to maintain the RGB data on output, deferring any color conversions to the output device."

Other enhancements include a new job jackets technology which Ebersole describes as, "keeping everybody in the creative and production process on the same page all the way from concept to press, or from press to concept." Job jackets allow users to define specific parameters for layout creation, from what colors or style sheets to use, how many inks are allowed, or output settings such as the color space, what ICC profiles to use, and the file type such as PDF or print.

"You can check a file for consistency at any stage of the process, or even create new files that automatically comply with your specifications and make sure they are ready for their intended output. This goes way beyond pre-flighting to allow you to check a project’s compliance at any time," Ebersole adds.

The company also added design-oriented features as well, including the ability to apply transparency effects at the color level, so any object in QuarkXPress that can have a color applied can also have an opacity applied. "This allows you to create a box that has a fill using a 50 percent opacity setting while also creating a frame that has a different color and opacity value. We also have features that address some basic image manipulation needs without having to travel to another application. You can color correct images using standard curves or levels along with artistic filters," Ebersole concludes.

SA International
Rather than learning disparate design and RIP programs, "people are looking for an all-in-one solution to overlay and edit text, create new text, and keep a unified workflow," states Matthew Scher, director of product management, SA International—formerly Scanvec Amiable. "We’re looking to automate more tasks, make the software more transparent," Scher adds. SA’s Flexi8 has few limits on how large output can be—800 feet to be exact—yet files are kept small and manageable, Scher says. "On the design side, you need tools with no restrictions but that won’t bog down your program."

Flexi8 also offers a new PDF Export option that lets users create proof files that can be e-mailed to customers and sized to fit various paper sizes. Color profiles are also powered by GretagMacbeth. On the efficiency end, the software allows for customizable shortcut keys and a new true shape nesting that lets objects be nested based on shapes or holes in the media to reduce waste. Circle 114

Your Choice
It is clear that software manufacturers are working hard with designers to meet customer demands. Although there is always room for improvement, all the products have made noticeable advancements. Take a look at our next feature, Software’s Creative Hands, to see what the end users are reporting about their software of choice.

Aug2006, Digital Output

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