Living Digitally in a Four-Color World
When it comes to computer-to-plate printing, more printers and publishers join the ranks of the believers every day, either experimenting with CTP with their four-color jobs, or switching to it
by Tatyana Sinioukov
Despite some limitations, as discussed by industry professionals below, CTP for four-color book production saves time and money and offers faster turnaround and higher quality than a conventional, film-based workflow.
That's why more and more printers and publishers join the ranks of the believers every day, either experimenting with CTP with their four-color jobs, or switching to it completely.
According to Frank Ervin, vice president of training and technology at Phoenix Color, Hagerstown, MD, CTP plate production for virtually all high-end color currently runs almost always a bit more slowly than conventional, film-based plate production. However, he muses, future research and development of CTP-related technologies (lasers, plate coatings, computing) and increased competition among suppliers of CTP tools, will provide faster turnaround and reduce run lengths and increase reprint periodicity.
Pros and cons of four-color CTP
Compared to a film-based workflow, says Ervin, a CTP one offers the following advantages
reduced usage of film, carrier sheets, film chemistry, tapes and adhesives
reduced personnel requirements for time-consuming stripping, film exposure, retouching and processing
reduced space requirements (for film storage, imagesetters, processors), and
higher-quality printing manifested through lower dot gain and better registration.
The final economics vary depending on how many times the book is reprinted, says Jerry Charlton, director of customer technical services at Quebecor, Kingsport, TN. He should know, since Quebecor, according to Charlton, expected to process at least 200 jobs CTP in 1998 and expects to double or triple that number in 1999 (Quebecor has been using Gerber Crescent 42 and 68 for output of imposed film and plates since 1994).
Tom Andersen, vice president of sales, H&S Graphics, Rolling Meadows, IL, adds to the list of CTP advantages
ease of data transmission without overnight carriers
reduced makeready times on larger format presses and
reduced paper waste.
At R.R. Donnelley, the ability to offer shorter schedules to its customers and to help publishers create lower break-even points was one of the reasons Donnelley opened a new facility with CTP capabilities in Roanoke, VA, last May, says John Pecaric, division director. "We felt like there was a critical need in the industry to be able to address cycle times as well as reduce the cost associated with creating titles," he explains. "There's so much fixed cost associated with creating a title.
"Currently," notes Craig Bauer, facilitator of information technology and digital prepress for R.R. Donnelley & Sons, the Roanoke facility is using Creo 3244 platesetters with thermal imaging to run 70 to 80 percent of all new incoming titles CTP (compared to 40 percent last year). "By the year 2000, everything will be digital," Pecaric predicts.
"Flexibility of imposing to different press configurations upon output of plates," also makes a CTP workflow attractive, notes Steve Franzino, vice president of technology, Courier Corp., N. Chelmsford, MA. He points out that the biggest advantage--better print quality--is most dramatic with four-color.
Courier, Franzino says, had been researching "the multitude of CTP options for the last three years or so," before installing its Creo thermal Trendsetter last March at the company's Kendallville, KY, plant.
Flexibility is also appreciated by Tom Carpenter, director of book development for the publisher North American Outdoor Group (NAOG), Minnetonka, MN, not only in terms of getting a smoother workflow, but also in terms of simpler and more economical book updates.
"NAOG didn't really convert to a CTP workflow," says Carpenter. "Rather, when we began a fairly heavy development initiative (for) four-color books about a year and a half ago, we decided (that) CTP was the only way to go. As far as four-color work goes, we have no other experiences than CTP." According to Carpenter, while black-and-white titles are still produced using traditional prepress methods and tools, all the four-color titles (approximately 40 a year, with subjects being hunting, finishing, gardening, home improvement and cooking) are done CTP.
Faster turnaround, offers Rick Wills, electronic prepress manager, Banta Book Group, Menasha, WI, is definitely an advantage when one compares server-based CTP output to RIP-based film output.
Another bonus, he says, is the elimination of film-based plate steppers. Large-format filmsetters are rare, expensive and difficult to maintain, Wills explains, while the Creo platesetters, for example, at 45 x 55ý, are ideal for most plate sizes and configurations. "At one point, you had to output two, three pieces of high-resolution film, then mount and step the plates. With the CTP devices, it's a one-shot process."
Banta Book Group, according to Wills, installed a Creo 4555 manual platesetter in September of 1996, adding a second unit, the 3244, in 1998. The company now produces approximately 60 percent of its four-color jobs and about 40 percent of its one- and two-color jobs CTP. "We have not 'converted' to a CTP workflow fully," Wills points out, "although all flats are ripped via the same server-centric workflow whether we go to imposed film flats or imposed metal.
"We went the CTP route for a variety of reasons," he noted. "Number one was the demand of our customers. We also recognized a significant acceleration in turnaround and a dramatic increase in quality."
There's a limit
Not that CTP can be perceived as a panacea for all production problems occurring in a four-color workflow. Among a few limitations, says Andersen, are certain proofing issues (the plate output may not match proofs, plus the quality of a proof may be limited by a "higher cost vs. lower quality" consideration); possible increased costs of reprints and high cost of plates, as well as sometimes having to convert supplied film to electronic format (for example, with Creo Renaissance or Eskofot scanners) and having to proofread multiple proofs supplied by the separator and printer. "At this time, it is more economical to update film than plates," says Andersen.
"CTP is still not as predictable as we would like even though the quality of the product (that is) going to press is better than (when produced using) conventional stripping," says Charlton.
The shift from the film, contact-based proofs to the digital ones requires an adjustment in evaluating proofs and a high degree of file integrity throughout the process, adds Franzino, noting that the proofing process for four-color jobs is faster in a CTP environment.
A switch to a CTP workflow requires increased levels of expertise as jobs grow more complex and the "safety net" a traditional engraver naturally provided is not what it used to be, since there are fewer checkpoints in the process, notes John Calvano, editorial operations manager, Time Inc. Home Entertainment, New York City. Art, design and prepress staff need to be trained to understand the basic requirements of print production and manufacturing in a digital workflow, he suggests.
Compared to a black-and-white CTP workflow, a four-color workflow, industry professionals agree, offers more significant savings in the long run. However, four-color files are often larger since they contain graphics. Therefore, dealing with them--and especially proofing them--is more of an issue.
A four-color CTP workflow is generally more complex than a one-color one, says Ervin, explaining that
customer expectations for color matching are higher
digital file preparation is more complicated and time-consuming
scanning, image editing, trapping and other prepress functions require "more capable (and expensive) systems as well as highly-skilled prepress operators" and
large files containing graphics also require more sophisticated electronic storage and retrieval systems and a larger investment in telecommunications services.
What, in Ervin's opinion, has allowed CTP to take off in a one-color world earlier than in a color world was the technology enabling printers to produce black-and-white work efficiently and inexpensively. "Only recently have the CTP systems been able to produce confidently, in our opinion, and consistently, above a 150 line screen for color," he remarks.
Proofing four-color jobs is more challenging than proofing one-color simply because four-color jobs are almost always more graphics-intensive, says Calvano. "We live in a visual world, so expect larger file sizes," agrees Andersen.
Just how much larger? "To give you an idea," says Bauer, "a black-and-white book typically is about 100 MB. A four-color book of the same page size is typically about 4 GB." Which is not to say that large, complex one-color files do not exist, Charlton says.
"In our shops," he says, "we use ... different methods for proofing one-color and four-color projects. The one-color method is simpler and faster."
However, he adds: "As far as proofing one-color for quality, we have not yet found a digital one-color proof that will satisfy our customers. The four-color digital proofs used for press checks though are very good."
More color, more savings
Savings in a four-color workflow are much better than with one-color, Charlton continues. In fact, the cost of one-color reprints is higher when done CTP than when done conventionally, he says. Black-and-white CTP savings due to workflow reduction are more dramatic up to the point when a file arrives to the printer's prepress division, Calvano says. "Once there, however, the printer's fixed costs of equipment investment, labor, plates, etc., are not really driven down substantially by having received only one-color files."
Workflow reduction is definitely more evident in the graphic-intensive four-color jobs, agrees Wills. "As we commonly run one- and two-color work at low resolution," he says, "it's not as big of an issue. However, we feel one- and two-color work is more than a viable option for CTP; it's fast, there are fewer plates and the halftone reproduction is fantastic on marginal paper."
Savings and workflow reduction are certainly important factors in four-color work, agrees Andersen, but, he says, he would not call them dramatic. For example, if you eliminate film and replace it with an expensive proof, how cost-effective is that, he asks. For one-color simple projects, he explains, "You can image a 600 dpi laser paper output DTP via the Opticopy camera cheaper than CTP."
Proofing four-color CTP
The most common proofs used today for high-resolution digital proofing of the four-color work are Kodak Approval, DuPont Digital WaterProof, Fuji FirstProof and Iris proofers, experts agree. "People have become comfortable with (Approval and Iris) like they are comfortable with DuPont Cromalin or Fuji ColorArt," comments Bauer.
"For less expensive proofs, there are dyesubs, inkjets and various other laser proofs which are too numerous to mention," offers Andersen. "Emerging as ... popular today is the HP8 page-imposed laser proof which is used in conjunction with Creo and Barco platesetters," he says, adding that he feels improvement in that area is still needed to make publishers more comfortable with choosing CTP.
"... A common proof today for books I believe is digital blueline (DBL) developed by Creo," says Franzino. According to him, DBL replaces conventional Dylux proofs. "We believe inkjet to be both cost-effective and color-accurate," adds Franzino. Roanoke's R.R. Donnelley plant also uses DBL.
Phoenix Color uses its ColorNet system digital proof almost exclusively for both CTP and traditional plate production processes, says Ervin. Since Phoenix does a lot of work that is more than four-color, what Ervin wants to see more of are the six- and eight-color proofing systems "that are beginning to hit the market that we will be able to apply to the ColorNet system very nicely."
"The only questions are cost and customer demand," he adds.
At Quebecor, in addition to the DuPont Digital Waterproof, Gerber Impress and DuPont Digital Dylux devices are used to produce digital folded and trimmed double-sided proofs, says Charlton.
For Banta, Wills ranks the proofing systems as "good," "better" and "best" and identifies the different purposes they serve. "Good" is the DuPont Digital Dylux, a black-and-white duplexed laser copy used for bleeds, margins and editorial and graphic placement only. "Better" is the Kodak Digital Science 1000, a large-format inkjet proofer which produces a fully imposed, full-color, 300 or 600 (black-and-white) dpi proofs used for imposition, editorial and graphic placement and color breaks. The "best" is Fuji FirstProof, a CMYK ink-transfer proof used for color matching on press. Fuji FirstProofs, Wills comments, although not as high quality as Kodak Approval, serve as a better economical alternative. "We've had good luck with them," he notes. Rainbow, Iris and Kodak Approval proofing devices are all fine, he continues, as long as the operator "takes the time to calibrate the device, preferably with a spectrophotometer to take the guesswork out of the equation."
How CTP catches on
"For us, it was creating and maintaining customer confidence," says Bauer. "How we addressed it was finding out what their reservations were and educating (them) if it was perceived, or, if it was a real problem, fixing it."
Developing good practices with font- and image-management is also a key ingredient in a successful switch to a CTP workflow, he adds. "Another thing we observed was once publishers develop a comfort level with CTP, their acceptance isn't gradual--it's almost immediate," he continues, recalling how some publishers saw potential cost and time savings and, as a result, converted.
For NAOG, learning the technology and learning to communicate with the service bureau (used for scanning) and the printer were the most important aspects in doing color work in a CTP environment, admits Carpenter.
Wills recalls what fears Banta had to face: "Our prep department had enjoyed a very successful conventional workflow for many years which endured the days of letterpress, phototypesetting, opticopy imposition and finally digitally imposed film; CTP was a big leap forward which upset the apple cart substantially."
Uncertainty as to the fidelity of the digital proofs and digital files and plates was a big issue, he admits, along with enduring the high cost of technology. Profit margins have narrowed and the shelf life of technology is turning around every 18 months causing companies to upgrade or scrap equipment, he elaborates.
Learning how to deal with digital proofs was also an issue for the New York City-based Henry Holt & Co., says Ivor Parker, vice president of production and manufacturing services. "Basically, I don't think any conversions happen so that all the issues are solved," but the primary hurdle with CTP is getting on board with digital proofing, he points out, noting that Henry Holt is planning to print children's books CTP at the recently opened Phoenix Color facility in Rockaway, NJ. "The production of children's books is a very traditional culture, so to speak, and it will be very interesting to see how publishers adapt and employ the new technology," Parker comments.
In addition to proofing, quality of files received and managing the whole infrastructure were the issues Quebecor addressed by using improved hardware and software and improving the internal workflow, says Charlton.
The biggest obstacle in the process of conversion for Time Inc. was proofing integrity, reveals Calvano. "It was technically addressed by calibration testing," he comments. "It was aesthetically addressed by negating some established paradigms of our clients and vendors."
Waiting to be fixed
Some elements of a CTP workflow are still problematic. File-preparation issues, like missing fonts and generally "poorly prepared pages" aren't limited to a CTP workflow, says Bauer, but need to be addressed nevertheless. Designers' files aren't always accurate, says Calvano, naming overprint, knockouts and CMYK separation as occasional trouble areas, adding that consistency of the final file formats submitted to the printer and printer calibration of plates are important.
For NAOG, too, says Carpenter, training of designers is important. "By this I mean teaching them to be consistent and proper in the way they construct the files, so that our printer is getting consistent packages to work with. We utilize a fair amount of outside design services," he explains.
Trapping software still needs improvement, adds Charlton. "Quality is still not as predictable as we would like it to be," he says.
Wills sums it up: "Those of us producing high-volume, multi-colored, long and short-run (work) CTP know it's got a way to go," he says. "It's not here yet, despite what you may hear, (and) it can't come fast enough!"
Perhaps for that reason, says Andersen, conventional platemaking today still outnumbers CTP three to one. "Prepress houses which have the capabilities to deliver projects from conception to design, art, text, file-building and even long-term storage and file management," he stresses, "and still be able to deliver digital information on a disk that is ripped and proofed per printer's specifications, are the prepress houses of the future."
Also looking at a bigger picture, Ervin offers his perspective: "As publishers get constrained more and more in the future with regard to turnaround requirements and scheduling times, these all figure into the profit margin--getting the book to market faster, before somebody else does. That means that the digital workflow of the customer needs to be integrated in a digital manufacturing workflow of the printer. The closer the publisher can be to the CTP device, digitally, and working very closely with the printer, the more successful they are going to be."