The NORM in Workflows
There's been a new trend in digital workflows over the past several years. 'ROOM' workflows used to be the norm. But now 'NORM' workflows are fast becoming the norm (say that 10 times fast).
Perhaps this isn't the boldest statement, but there are definite implications for publishers and printers. And, for those PDF purists, to set the record straight, both ROOM and NORM workflows can accept PDF files.
First, let's define these two different workflow frameworks. ROOM stands for 'Rip Once Output Many'. In this type of workflow, pages are RIPped into an intermediate format, either unscreened raster or screened bitmap. These files are then imposed and, ultimately, sent to proof/film/plate.
NORM, is an acronym for 'Normalize Once Render Many'. To better understand this model, you have to split the process of RIPping into its individual steps, interpreting and rendering (rasterizing/screening).
Within a NORM workflow, pages are interpreted and saved into an intermediate format, referred as a 'normalized file'. These normalized files are then imposed, and ultimately sent to proof/film/plate.
The main selling point of ROOM workflows has been that they're the only ones that can guarantee that what you see on proof will be what you get on film/plate. This is a myth. NORM can also deliver the same reliability, along with a much lighter and flexible format. Let's look at some specific advantages of the NORM workflow model.
1. Lighter format. In a NORM workflow, the size of the intermediate files are smaller. This might not seem like a big deal, due to the cost of storage these days, but most companies don't have unlimited space. A lighter format allows you to keep more jobs online, and reduces the amount of server management during peak periods. Smaller files also result in less network traffic.
2. Repurposing-friendly. We all know publishers are repurposing material on the Web. With ROOM workflows, the intermediate format is a raster or, even worse, a bitmap format. Essentially, the entire page becomes a Photoshop image. Due to the size of these files, the only alternative to repurposing these files is to down-sample them. When this happens, text and vector objects get the dreaded 'jaggies'. With NORM workflows, fonts remain fonts, and vector objects remain vector objects. This lends itself much better to repurposing.
3. PDF friendly. I'm not talking about accepting PDF files here; rather, about workflows producing print-ready PDF files. ROOM workflows produce PDF files that are essentially raster or bitmap files in a PDF wrapper. These PDFs take longer to RIP, and can result in artifacts—unwanted pixels—if they're output at a resolution other than what they were designed for. For these reasons and others, organizations such as the DDAP (Digital Distribution of Advertising for Publications) selected vector PDF (specifically PDF/X-1a:2001) files as their recommended delivery format of choice. The PDF files that NORM workflows create are of this vector category.
4. A more flexible format. When a last-minute change occurs, ROOM workflows always require the RIPping of a complete, new single page. NORM workflows allow changes to be made to the intermediate file itself, resulting in quicker last minute changes (both printers and publishers know every second counts when a job is on press). Another situation is fixing file problems. Submitting pages as PDF files is common. However, if there are problems with the files (i.e., missing bleed), you won't have the application files to fix it. With a NORM workflow, the files remain completely editable, so you have the tools to fix the files. Our Esko-Graphics FastLane workflow has a high-end editing application, whereas other NORM workflow solutions typically use plug-ins to Adobe Acrobat. This high-end editing application can also be used to easily create varnish or bump plates.
Esko-Graphics has supported the NORM workflow philosophy since 1986. It is still the basis for our FastLane workflow today. Are we saying that everyone should abandon ROOM workflows? Absolutely not. However, if you're investigating better ways of doing your work, take a look at NORM. And while you're at it, take a look at FastLane, perhaps the best-kept secret in commercial prepress.
- Andrew Redman
Andrew Redman is business development manager, automated workflows, at Esko-Graphics. He can be reached at APRE@Esko-Graphics.com.