Serious about CTP
Contemplating a move to CTP? Here's a quick list of key issues to consider, prepared with the input of managers like you
Just how do you begin to hammer out your own plan for computer-to-plate (CTP) printing? One first step is asking your suppliers about their capabilities, so you can see how they might mesh with your own organization's capabilities and goals. To provide our readers with some practical, hands-on advice, we checked with three managers experienced in overseeing CTP work, and compiled their advice into this list of key questions.
Special thanks to our field advisors John Calvano, editorial operations director, Time Inc. Home Entertainment; Netty Douglass, director, rights management and workflow process, Thomson Learning; and Anita Patterson, director of digital prepress services, Rodale.
Money and Time
You are not alone if you consider the following your most important questions
* Will CTP save time and money on initial print runs? The CTP process may eliminate some steps, but others, such as file processing or storage, may be added. Compare savings to added charges.
* Can editorial pages close later than in traditional schedules? Is the deadline to the printer closer to the press start date than before?
* Even if there are no savings in initial print runs, are there any reprinting advantages?
* What other value does CTP printing offer? Higher line screens? Higher quality? Preparedness for a digital future?
* Take a last look: Does staying with film provide any advantages, temporary or long-term?
* Feeling positive? Go ahead, ask about getting started: What's best: one book at a time, or all at once? Should a test be performed first? Should the test be a live job or a throwaway? Who will pay for it if it's a throwaway?
The typical jobs and tools used for CTP work can vary from printer to printer. Find out the following
* Will the printer provide samples of CTP work done for other clients?
* What kinds of plates are used? How much do they cost? What is the plate's impression capability? At what run length might two sets be needed?
* What's the printer's usual dot gain for CTP?
* What kinds of page files will be accepted?
For example: Quark, PageMaker or FrameMaker files? InDesign files? MS Word files? TIFF-IT, PDF, PostScript? DCS 2.0? .ps (generic PostScript)? Scitex CTLW?
* What are makeready proceses and costs for CTP printing? What will the new workflow be?
* How much online storage capacity does the printer have?
TIP: CTP files can be very large; a printer who does not know the answer or who does not have gigabytes of online storage may be unprepared to route files internally without resorting to sneakernet.
* Will the publisher need, and can the printer handle, alternate trim sizes cost-effectively?
TIP: Consider proofing system page sizes and CTP plate dimensions.
Color Fidelity and Proofs
Establish ways to maintain color fidelity and content accuracy throughout the process.
* Is the printer geared more toward one-color or four-color CTP? Are the cost savings or workflow changes more significant with one or the other?
* What proofs will the publisher send to the printer with original files, if any? Will the printer accept the proof the publisher is currently using, or would a change be required?
TIP: Sending a proof to the printer for evaluation is recommended.
* What proofs will the printer send at what points in the cycle?
Proofing options common in book publishing range from preliminary black-and-white lasers to color digital proofs, and from page-at-a-time proofs to fully imposed pages printed front and back folded into signatures.
* How much time does the publisher have to review the proofs? Are they meant to be color-accurate? Are they halftone or continuous tone?
* If printing in four-color, will the publisher set up calibration routines to match the printer's standard operating procedures, or vice versa?
TIP: When going CTP with color files, it is beneficial for a publisher to set up internal calibration routines with the ultimate printer in mind.
Some ways a publisher and printer might begin to communicate here include the following: A publisher can choose some pages from a film-printed book, send them and their files and film contract proofs to the printer, have the printer proof those files on its digital proofer and, if possible, print them CTP. Or, the printer could supply the publisher with some pages from a CTP-printed book along with the printer's files and digital contract proofs. The publisher could then output the files using the digital proofer that the publisher (or prepress supplier) expects to use.
The publisher (or prepress supplier) can then adjust calibration curves with the printer's input.
* Is there a maximum page size at which fully imposed signature proofs are cost-effective?
* Is there interest in or the possibility for soft proofing (proofing on screen)?
TIP: Repeatable calibration for devices at both printer and publisher is a must for soft proofing.
* Is there interest in or the possibility for remote proofing (files produced at the printer, then sent via telecommunications to a publisher's site, or vice versa)?
If the remote proof is a final, printed out at the publisher's site, does the printer still want a signed proof sent back by overnight courier?
* What is the last proof the publisher will see? Is it color-accurate, or is it a position proof only?
* What is the printer's last internal accuracy check before going to press? Does the printer eyeball final plates against supplied proofs?
No one wants last-minute changes to be standard operating procedure. But to stay timely, breaking news or relevant political events must sometimes be incorporated into a chapter of a book that is about to hit the press.
* Could the printer open up a file and input a type correction? Can a proof then be sent?
* Could the printer scan an image?
* If the publisher executes the correction, should a new page file be sent alone, or should an entire chapter be resent?
* If a third-party prepress supplier is involved, how fast could this party execute a last-minute change or correction? How would the change be preflighted and proofed?
File delivery options are numerous and depend on schedules, transmission technologies available and whether hard-copy proofs accompany files.
* How will files be sent to the printer?
TIP : Options include dropping files to the printer's FTP site, sending physical media (often with proofs) via overnight mail, courier delivery on physical media, or sending files by WAM!NET. If sending physical media, confirm what's acceptable: i.e., SyQuest, optical, DAT, etc.
* How will receipt of files be confirmed?
* Does printer want back-up application files (such as Quark) in addition to the files that will be used for production (typically the PostScript or PDF output files)?
TIP: Having those files on hand might help the printer make a last-minute correction if needed, but means tracking and storing duplicate sets of files. Also, careful versioning control is required.
* When are pages preflighted and by whom?
TIP: Are pages preflighted by provider only? By printer upon receipt? By printer within three days? By customer service rep or by technical staff?
* What preflight software is being used by the printer and by the publisher?
* How thorough is preflighting?
TIP: You might ask: Does the printer spot check for overall document appearance? Is an automated program used to check for technical problems such as missing fonts? Are book-industry specific human errors checked like inconsistent margins, pages not matching supplied dummy, registration marks not included?
* If files will be trapped, should the provider let the printer handle it, or will the provider take responsibility?
Reprints and Archiving
Archiving and reprints issues have become increasingly important as publishers hoping to minimize overstocks ask for shorter print runs with more frequent reprints.
* Does CTP printing offer any advantages in the reprint process?
TIP: When a reprint run is smaller than the original run (15,000 vs. 50,000 for example), it may not be printed on the same printing press as the original. Traditional film would have to be manually restripped, an expensive process, but digital CTP files can be reimposed by computer in minutes at far less cost. A publisher who can count on that lower re-imposition cost has more freedom from the outset to print a smaller run.
* After printing, does the printer save the files? If so, for how long? On what media will files be archived?
TIP: Options include disk, tape, DVD and CDs.
* Are files stored as imposed pages or simply as sets of pages that would need to be reimposed for reprints?
* Will files be stored online on a network for a period of days after the initial print run?
TIP: When files are stored online, reprints can be run more quickly in the event of a hot seller.
* What is the turnaround on reprints that have no changes? What is the turnaround on reprints with minor text changes (to the front matter only, for example)?
* In what format will files and images be archived?
* Are files backed up in a second location for protection against disaster?
* Could the files go straight to an on-demand printing press? If not, what elements of the files would require modification?
* How fast can another printer be sent digital files if that printer will be handling the reprints?
* Should finished files be saved as PDF files by the printer? Can text be extracted?
Consider strategic plans of both printer and publisher for a lasting partnership.
* What technologies or markets is the publisher investigating for the future?
* How might these market shifts change manufacturing priorities (will turnaround time be more important than before, for example?)
* What technologies or markets is the printer investigating? Are these of interest to the publisher?
* Once it's decided to go CTP, can publisher or printer keep a log of materials and equipment used so that the two parties can track the positive and negative experiences with different brands?
* What recommendations does each have for the other? How can they help each other?