By Melissa Donovan
Communication on a human level is imperative in successful business dealings. Th e same can be said on a machine level. Workfl ow solutions are designed to handle communication between different processes in the print shop environment while automating a number of points in the entire design-to-print-to-finish chain of events. Many workflow products include features or tools specific to wide format, which are shared in a product roundup in this article.
Trending in Workflow
Communication and automation are two of the biggest trends in workflow software geared toward wide format print service providers (PSPs). Together they off er productivity advancements.
“Productivity is about letting software communicate. Print standards are penetrating wide format, JDF is the most common where a clear and standard definition of a job will give the digital production workflow more productivity, efficiency, and reliability,” explains Sebastien Hanssens, VP marketing and communication, Caldera.
Bart Fret, director of sales – large format, GMG Americas, finds that print shops are not just looking for a workflow, but really full XML- or JDF-enabled automation.
According to David Lindsay, PR manager, EFI, “as wide format print shops grow and expand both their digital production volumes and the types of applications they produce, they are increasingly seeking out workflow solutions that help them drive efficiency while managing a growing number of production variables.”
Print providers rely on workflow to automate traditionally manual tasks. Many of these are in the prepress process, adding marks, trims, live areas, and bleeds. “Th e latest version of workflow software from most vendors includes new banner finishing features and JDF connectivity to reduce steps in the workflow or eliminate them all together,” shares Dean Derhak, director of product management, SA International (SAi).
“Businesses are looking for workflow solutions aimed at eliminating redundant manual touch points, with the goal of increasing efficiency and profits in their shop,” agrees Therese McGady, marketing associate, Aleyant.
Bryan Manwaring, director, product marketing, Onyx Graphics, Inc., suggests that PSPs are looking for better ways to reduce material waste, minimize errors in the print shop, and maintain or lower costs. “We find they are looking for automation to accomplish this.”
“More customers are taking advantage of existing workflow automation tools even in smaller shops in order to maximize production and gain a competitive advantage. Things like automated print condition selection via hot folders and template-based workflows are great ways to gain incremental increases in productivity that really add up over time,” adds Josh Hope, senior manager, industrial printing business development and marketing, Mimaki USA, Inc.
Workflow automation is important because of its effect on the physical print process. “Wide format digital printers are faster and more efficient, and more customer projects require faster turnaround times. Also, the RIPs are much better and faster for wide format printing. It is not acceptable to have jobs sit while manually reformatting an incoming file rather than running an automated preflight system,” says Greg Stewart, product marketing and strategy manager – digital finishing business, Esko.
Here we share a selection of workflow solutions designed for wide format print shops. Standout features, why each is a fit for wide format in particular, and product cost are included.
Agfa Graphics’ Asanti Production is designed for wide and grand format printing. It offers full automation capabilities through hot tickets, layout, and ticket templates. A patent-pending Calibrated Printing Mode makes color management easy and predictable. Integrated Image Editor offers automated or interactive tiling, grommet and pocket creation, and bleed extension. Asanti Production is designed for five users, with additional seats available in packs of one, five, or ten.
Aleyant tFLOW is a digital proofing and prepress automation workflow. It integrates with management information systems (MIS), web to print (W2P), enterprise resource planning (ERP), and output systems. An automatic proofing tool allows users to automatically create proofs based on pre-designed templates that include elements such as marks, trim, live area indicators, and finishing parameters like grommets, pull pockets, and bleeds. Three pricing packages are available for tFLOW.
Caldera recently launched StreamLive, a cloud-based application that allows different players of the production workflow to collaborate and work together. With connectors and plug-ins StreamLive connects to MIS, ERP, prepress, and RIPs. Options include a calendar-based planning module, custom document generation, and preflight. It starts at $49 per user per month.
Dalim Software GmbH’s Dalim ES is a device independent collaborative web portal and production automation solution. It works with all forms of media content, not just print, including packaging, three dimensional, and video. For wide format specifically, the program provides a collaborative workflow and asset management environment that serves all marketing content channels. Dalim ES is available in both buy to own and subscription options.
EFI Midmarket Print Suite includes a full range of technologies to handle W2P, cross media marketing, estimating, scheduling, accounting, and fulfillment. It addresses product-specific applications unique to superwide format such as fleet and vehicle wraps, point of purchase signage, and outdoor graphics.
Esko offers Automation Engine Avant. The workflow is built from Esko Automation Engine base technology, allowing it to connect into any system. It bundles with Esko Device Manager, this software is used to communicate job status and help manage jobs based on cutting time and material. Automation Engine Avant is modular based on customer needs and pricing is flexible.
EstiMate Software’s most popular workflow product according to the company is EstiMate Desktop, a desktop pricing and shop management software. Pricing features are available for both wide format roll stock and fl atbed digital printing. Th e software accurately estimates waste from each job and charges appropriately for additional material. Available through monthly and annual plans, EstiMate Desktop’s cost ranges from $39 to $139 per month.
Estimator Corp. introduced Estimator Cloud WF in December 2016. Th e program features unlimited finishing services including sewing, welding, and laminating. Detailed internal reports show the costs of each production item and analyzes the costs and profit of each job. Th e program allows for unlimited users and is based on number of printers. For wide format, users are offered an installation and setup charge of $350.
PrintFactory, powered by GMG, works as a single platform—allowing anyone to print to any printer from any workstation. Th e software gives print providers the ability to off er the same quality product repeatedly with advanced color management tools. PrintFactory, powered by GMG, starts at $3,500 for one user.
InkSoft’s online, interactive Sign & Banner Design Studio features a simple interface allowing any customer to create production-ready graphics. A built-in e-commerce function allows for checking out and paying online. Th e program is available for a one time activation fee of $1,999 and then $199 a month for hosting.
Mimaki added several new features to its RasterLink RIP product in the last year. These include Artista Textile Collection for fluorescent ink workflow, Pantone color libraries for spot color work, and the Artista UV Texture Collection for automation of texture and gloss effects. Tools such as these can be used with hot folder automation or jig features on flatbed printers for accurate piece job placement. RasterLink is included with all Mimaki printers.
Onyx’s ONYX Th rive version 12.1 features increased speeds for file processing. According to the company, processing times in ONYX 12.1 are three times faster than in ONYX 12 for halftone processing. Other tools ideal for wide format include bleed and grommet marks and automating finishing functions with Quick Sets 2.0. Th e base price for ONYX Th rive is $4,995.
The Ordant workflow solution includes features like approving quotes through email, online proofing, business to business and business to consumer storefronts, and connections with QuickBooks, FedEx, and UPS. Its newest feature is a calendar, which integrated into the software allows users to create, assign, and track various tasks. Pricing for Ordant starts at $295 a month.
Pixta, Inc. offers pixtaFlow. This cloudbased service includes an estimating engine specifically designed for large format with modules for price breaks based on quantity of square footage used, square footage based pricing with markup, as well as product-based pricing. pixtaFlow now offers an API that can be used to drive the estimating engine remotely from a customer’s application or their web store. It costs $165 for the first three users and $25 for each additional per month.
Racad Tech Inc. sells Online Sign Studio, which is available as a plug-in to existing content management systems. For wide format, the system is designed to detect uploaded files and either accept or deny based on the file format size and/ or resolution. Pricing is scaled based on features required, set up costs go up to $5,000.
In early 2016, Red Tie Inc. introduced its Pay As You Go W2P solution, with no upfront costs or monthly fees—users only pay for what is downloaded. Th e program allows the print provider to control the size of files being uploaded by the end user. In addition, warning and stop icons are available for low-quality user images. Pricing varies based on what is downloaded. For example, $150 entitles a user to 50 print-ready PDFs with the solution.
Version 12 of SAi’s FlexiSIGN & Print includes a new Artwork Approval Tool. Th e wide format design through production workflow software incorporates a web-based tool so print providers can manage the customer approval process inside of Flexi. Print buyers view artwork on a secure web page, annotate changes on the design, and the system tracks them automatically. FlexiSIGN & Print allows users to add cut contour and perforation paths to designs, allowing for print-and-cut in the same production workflow suite. Th e program is available by subscription starting at $49.95 a month or at full purchase of $3,295.
Smartsoft Inc. offers PressWise, a cloudbased end-to-end print MIS and workflow solution. In Fall 2016 it debuted several new features. A kitting functionality allows jobs that contain multiple components to form a single product for simplified quoting and invoicing. Other enhancements include a multi-ship functionality, sales tax flexibility, and new customer reporting.
The Automated Flow
Workflow solutions are available in a range of options. Many communicate well with multiple systems such as MIS, ERP, and the like; some are hosted in the cloud while others are available for install on site.
Most of today’s software programs share the common trait that all are designed to streamline print, specifically to automate manual processes to speed up production times and increase efficiency in the print shop.
Mar2017, Digital Output