PDF, FTP- Agfa Has Answers to Workflow
by Elizabeth Cunningham
Your senior reporter at large had the honor, or rather the
overwhelming assignment, of representing the U.S. at Agfa
Corporation's Automation Press Forum (graphic arts) in Mortsel,
Belgium last May. My colleagues think it was a hot assignment. I,
on the other hand, had great trepidations for two reasons. One, the
event focused on prepress and printing workflow. And two, I was
captive in Europe at a time when Americans are not all that
popular. The assignment was first, to represent Cygnus' graphics
books, and then, to learn about Agfa's PDF workflow system.
For those of you not familiar with Cygnus' vast volumes of graphics network publications, we publish Printing News, Print & Graphics, Printing View, Printing Journal and Southern Graphics. Needless to say, the photo/graphics division is the largest among the publishing company's diversified trade groups.
Whether you are in prepress, commercial printing, or traditional/digital photo printing, the dividing lines, as you know, barely exist. We are even doing away with the term "prepress" and are adapting "premedia", which is all-encompassing, as it includes commercial photo/graphics, digital prep, prepress etc. Perhaps you know that even the giant R. R. Donnelley has replaced its prepress department with Premedia Technology Group. All of my readers have workflow issues. Some use FTP (file transfer protocol) to transmit raw files, some PDF; some are Web enabled, and yet others are courier users.
It's a given that most commercial and pro photo imagers have a need for more sophisticated workflow. What I learned from Agfa's forum: a new opportunity exists for commercial digital photo imagers to supply premedia or creative content to advertising agencies, corporations, government, and even printers. This includes scanning, retouching, imposing, proofing, fonts etc., all embedded in a standard PDF file. If you question this, just think about the demise of many prepress establishments and the trend during the past ten years for printers to set up in-house prepress departments. It's doubtful that most printers made any money on prepress. Many would give it away to get the printing. Remember,when you could charge for RIPs? The latest trend is not to charge for scanning. When Scitex systems first came on the market, a shop could get $300 $600 an hour for retouching. Today, it's tough to charge $100-$200 p/h.
Providing content could be a cottage industry if you just supply scans, prepare PDF files, and communicate through a Web browser with the print buyer/client, prepress departments, printers for digital large format output. This is not a capital-intensive operation. Print buyers from all walks of graphics will pay for this service. Printers will demand it, and printers with a prepress department are learning to charge for file prep The bigger money, however, can be made with sophisticate communication and manufacturing tools, asset management and a digital photo studio. According to Agfa, the solution is Delano, useful in creating a Web-enabled, server-based software suite to facilitate communication and process management among prepress, print and creative professionals and customer support personnel. Delano was jointly developed with Quebecor World Inc. Access to real time information is the goal, to help reduce costs and streamline the entire reproduction and printing processes. Agfa, also being heavy into photography, is recommending that content providers set up a digital photographic studio, coupled with digital asset management and archiving. Are your toes hurting? R. R. Donnelley claims to have the world's largest networked digital photography studio. Just think, if this giant premedia and printer company decided to do what commercial photo imagers produce.
Art Shufelt of DDA has been pushing digital asset management, metadata and archiving for at least four years. Although he was absolutely on target, he has not had great success among commercial photo imagers. It always takes the commercial photo industry some years to catch up with prepress and printing. This cannot be the case today. Since we are all sharing many the same front-end or premedia tools, the printing industry could encroach on traditionally photo lab turf.
No, Agfa is not promoting its new premedia tools to commercial photo per se, but it is striving to spread the PDF word to the print buyer/client. Agfa is working with Adobe to continually develop PDF within its Apogee suite. It makes sense for PDF to replace PostScript because it is an editable format that can travel with graphics, fonts, etc., so content providers can make changes without requiring all the disparate elements.
If you don't believe that the future of all printing, photo, inkjet, offset etc. relies on digital workflow, exchanging data with advertising agencies and print buyer clients from all walks of graphics, then you had better rethink your entire business focus. As far back as 1997, Adobe's PDF file format was known as the de factor standard. If we jump to 2002, we learned that, in Belgium, PDF is now the norm for exchanging files.
Agfa's Apogee Create was the first desktop tool to deliver optimized workflow. Today, there is ApogeeX, based on PDF, JDF (job definition format) and digital film. It includes lots of features in one application including job management, advanced job tickets, trapping, enhanced connectivity and Web approval of pages and flats, making it simpler for commercial photo imagers with upscale imaging departments to provide content for printing. Just think outside the box.