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May 1, 1997 12:00 AM

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Progress Printing truly lives up to its name. According to company literature, the company began on September 1, 1962 in "a renovated chicken house on Timberlake Road in Lynchburg, Virginia. The building was the size of a high school classroom, with a kerosene furnace and three employees. . ."

Today, Progress occupies more than 200,000 sq. ft. and has 302 employees in Lynchburg, as well as two additional locations in Richmond, VA and Greensboro, NC. As one of the largest printers in Virginia, the question facing Progress' management was not if

a computer-to-plate (CTP) workflow should be implemented, but how it could be done with minimal disruption and maximum efficiency. The company approached CTP one step at a time. Getting comfortable with electronic imposition was the first priority.

"As electronic prepress has evolved, our goal has been to digitize the entire process," relates Rob Anderson, prepress director. "Over the last six to seven years, we've been building a digital infrastructure with that in mind. We've gone from making signature-sized film fully imposed on an eight-page image recorder in preparation for simply swapping out that film-based machine with a plate device."

Anderson explains however, that the plate device was perhaps the least of the company's CTP concerns. Ultimately, the company selected Linotype-Hell's Gutenberg model, which is driven by the Delta RIP.

"All of the imaging devices out there are capable of putting a printable image on the plate at the quality level our customers expect," explains Anderson. "Dealing with an open PostScript architecture is the real challenge. The Delta RIP circumvents the need for PostScript-based imposition. It uses a component of the Delta List, which is a product of the interpreter. So it's actually imposing after PostScript has been interpreted. That's a big bonus to the workflow."

Progress, perhaps mindful of its roots, didn't count its CTP chickens before they were hatched. Rather than have its 20-person digital pagemaking staff move to CTP all at once, the company began by training four employees in the new technology.

Although Progress currently uses two Kodak Approval digital proofers at its Lynchburg facility, Anderson believes there's room for improvement. "Although we're now working with a PostScript interpreter on the front-end of the Approval, it's not the same interpreted data that is ultimately driving the plate imaging engine or even our film imaging engine. That's a big concern of ours--we'd like to have the same RIP driving both the engine and the proof. That's an issue we are diligently pursuing with our vendors."

Anderson also would welcome RIP standardization. "We need the ability to send rasterized data that is not dependent on a particular device around a network to a variety of imaging machines and proofing devices. That's the biggest issue out there."

As for those considering adapting CTP technology, Anderson advises a slow transition. "Make sure that you've got the ability to create the PostScript pages and manage them through a film-based workflow first. If you do that, you won't have to worry about the workflow. Take the time to fingerprint your presses and build the compensation back into your RIP to give your plates a dot gain similar to your conventional process. Make sure you've got your server in place, too."

Anderson adds that practice makes perfect--and you don't need an eight-up device. "If you're coming from a four-up arena, you can still develop your workflow around that--you can just tile out to a four-up device."

Although Progress has not trumpeted its CTP installation to customers--"we weren't sure what to expect," says Anderson--clients have noticed. "We've seen smoother press runs and customers' signing off on press checks more quickly," recounts Anderson. "We've had customers notice the improved quality. The registration is always cleaner; the images look cleaner because they're in better register."

Adapting CTP also has enhanced Progress' competitiveness. "It's given us an opportunity to offer our services to a larger audience and different markets," reflects Anderson. "Lynchburg isn't exactly a printing Mecca--it's kind of isolated here in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but CTP is changing that."

* Location: Lynchburg, VA * Founded: 1962 by T.D. Thornton II * Description: A 200,000-sq.-ft. commercial printer offering prepress, sheet-fed, web and finishing * Size: 302 employees, $53 million in sales * CTP User Since: October, 1996 * CTP Highlights: Linotype-Hell Gutenberg system; DuPont Howson SDB plates