In an age of on-demand cable, print-on-demand and instant messaging, it's no wonder publishers say the most important aspect of computer-to-plate technology is faster turnaround times.
Over its 10-year life span, CtP technology has brought the industry as close to on-demand turnaround times as possible, shortening production time and streamlining the manufacturing process. It means publishers can drop pages in their printers' laps knowing they'll be turned around quicker than Barry Bonds swinging at an 0-2 fastball.
Time-sensitive subjects are now brought to market faster. What Martha Stewart knew or didn't know about the stock price of Imclone, or what President Bush knew a month before the Sept. 11th attacks now gets into readers' hands almost as it happens. But, in addition to getting books to market more quickly, CtP technology has changed the way publishers look at proofs and gives them options for their jobs that were difficult to accomplish with a film-based workflow.
"From the publisher's perspective, there are a couple [of] things that are key, and one clearly is faster turnarounds," says John Zarwan, an independent market strategy and business development consultant in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. A CtP workflow, Zarwan says, allows more time for fact checking or designing because pages can be submitted as late as a day before the title goes on press.
Publishers who used to fight with their vendors to get their materials turned around quickly agree that a CtP workflow has made a difference in the way they do business.
"I can get quick turnarounds from pretty much anyone, and I think CtP plays a role in that," says Sue Willing, manufacturing manager at O'Reilly and Associates, a publisher of computer technology books in Cambridge, Mass., that publishes more than 100 new titles a year.
While publishers relish the extra time CtP workflows add to their schedules, printers need to be aware that jobs inevitably run late. And with publishers taking advantage of the last-minute uploading that CtP allows, little time is built in to accommodate delays.
"People don't plan as far ahead," says Mark Romer, a prep supervisor with C.J. Krehbiel Co., a book manufacturer in Cincinnati, which implemented CtP technology about four years ago. "They can always be late, so [the schedule] all closes up."
But the time savings CtP brings to the publisher can't be denied. "It's taken about a week off [the manufacturing process], though it depends upon your job and where you place it," says Jenny Collins, a production manager with North Atlantic Books and Frog Ltd. in Berkeley, Calif., which prints about 60 new titles a year.
FLEXING YOUR CtP MUSCLE
In addition to fast turnarounds, a CtP workflow gives publishers a sense of flexibility in where they can take their business. Outside of contractual obligations, a CtP workflow allows a publisher to move its job among several printers more easily, based on a given situation.
"We're not as locked in to a printer, particularly on reprints and revisions," says Steve Johnston, purchasing manager for The National Underwriter Co., publisher of insurance books, in Erlanger, Ky. "It gives us much more flexibility on second printings or version changes."
Why? There's no film. "That whole [film] expense is gone, and changes just become much easier, either with a given printer or in transporting the file from one printer to another."
With his job on disk, Johnston shops more effectively to find a more appropriate printer for a reprint of 1,500, when the initial run was 10,000, without loading up a few boxes with film and transporting them to another printer.
"It's definitely easier [to move CtP files from one printer to another]," says North Atlantic's Collins. "It's not something we do a lot, but certainly without physically moving the film, it seems easier."
The flexibility of CtP benefits the printer as well, says C.J. Krehbiel's Romer, in that publishers can take their jobs anywhere they want and still get a first-generation plate.
"If they want to go to another printer, there's no involvement with us. In the old days, [we] had to pack the film up and transport it. Well, now it's fairly easy. From our point of view, it's quick and efficient."
With the elimination of film, one hurdle print providers struggle with is providing their customers with a good-looking proof that meets all of the desired color-management issues. In fact, some publishers have stopped paying attention to proofs because they know the proofs won't match the finished piece.
"I feel a little more nervous about proofs being accurate, but haven't had any problems despite my nervousness," says Collins. "I hope for the best more than I used to. With film, the proofs that you get are indicative of the final job because they're using the same process."
O'Reilly's Willing says she gives her printers PDF files and has done away with the proofing process because the finished product is so accurate.
"They're getting the registration spot on, and we're getting the [turnarounds] we want, so it's a whole combination of technologies that came into play."
The combination Willing mentions is remote and soft proofing software, referred to by some as the stepchildren, or offspring, of CtP technology. In recent years, companies such as Kodak Polychrome Graphics, RealTimeImage, and Integrated Color Solutions, have developed proofing systems that allow production managers to print a proof off site (remote proofing) or view a proof on a calibrated monitor under controlled, ambient lighting (soft proofing).
"There are software advances that make it possible to RIP with integrity when it comes to proofing," says Brenda Brown, manager of prepress with Malloy Inc., a book manufacturer in Ann Arbor, Mich., that has implemented CtP since it was first available.
"Certainly all the software that's been developed and hit the market recently for color management has made a huge difference in [our ability] to provide color-managed proofs."
More printers are implementing these technologies and persuading their customers to employ soft and remote proofing as part of their workflows. Collins says North Atlantic Books plans to incorporate soft proofing within the next few months, while Willing, who's there already, says online soft proofing is the wave of the future.
The percentage of print buyers who've embraced the technology over the past three years has crept close to the 10-percent to 15-percent range, Zarwan says, and he suspects the user rate is currently higher.
"People are using it a lot more, but whether it's to the extent that they're willing to sign off on something [using a soft proof], I think that [depends on the] function of their relationship with their printer."
WASTE NOT, WANT NOT
One unforeseen benefit of CtP technology that few can debate is the reduction of make-ready waste in the pressrooms. "That wasn't originally pushed as a benefit of CtP," Zarwan says. "For book publishers, paper costs is anywhere from 25 percent to 40 percent [of each job]. So if you could save 5 percent to 10 percent, it's huge."
With faster turnarounds, flexibility and new color-management tools, it's hard to argue against moving toward a CtP workflow. And the benefits that print buyers have experienced over the past couple of years will seemingly grow in the future.
- Warren Chiara