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DIGITAL CONTRACT PROOFING: GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Jun 1, 2001 12:00 AM


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Choices include thermal laser, inkjet and dye sub

One graphic arts expert describes proofing as a tug-of-war between client and printer.

“The customer is comparing the proofs against the original… asking for the most faithful color rendition possible,” explains Hal Hinderliter, author of “The GATF Guide to Desktop Publishing.” “Unfortunately, the color gamut and tonal range of a slide or real life are beyond the capabilities of a printing press to reproduce through normal four-color process methods.”

This communication challenge notwithstanding, printers have been using film-based off-press proofing with excellent results since the 1970s. But as CTP installations grow, printers and their customers are confronting the challenge of proofing in a digital workflow.

“Before, proofing was a relatively simple exercise,” said Eric Woods, of R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. (Chicago) in a presentation at Seybold Boston. “You made film for plates, you used the film for proofs… it was difficult to get different data on plates than what was on the film.”

So how do you successfully proof in a filmless environment? Should you use a $150,000 thermal laser proofer that can reproduce halftone dots? Or should you go with a $10,000-or-less inkjet or dye sub device? What about using your platesetter to make proofs? While there are many factors to consider, ultimately, the proof must satisfy the customer's, as well as the printer's, production requirements.

Legally, an approved proof is a contract — printers and customers are agreeing an acceptable reproduction can be made with the designated paper and ink. It's also a communications and quality control tool used to set printers' and customers' expectations — it predicts the results of a press run and provides a basis for evaluating a press operator's efforts.

After two or three decades of film-based proofing, it has taken some time for graphic arts service providers and their customers to adjust to the digital world, but acceptance is growing. When asked to describe the balance between digital and analog contract proofing, 57 percent of participants in a GATF study said they generated more digital proofs than photomechanical. Only 10 percent made approximately equal amounts, while 31 percent still manufacture more photomechanical proofs. On average, the survey participants use digital contract proofing on 61 percent of their new orders. (GATF's Digital Proofing Study, Part VI, features input from 109 print shops and prepress service bureaus that use digital proofs. For more information, see www.gain.net.)

On the customer side, the proliferation of drop-on-demand (DOD) inkjet printers on designers' desktops continues to create proofing challenges for printers. DOD inkjet color gamuts can be too wide or too restrictive in certain colors for printing on press — and not all designers share their graphic arts service providers' enthusiasm for color management. Several vendors, however, are addressing this issue: DuPont has created a total DOD inkjet package for designers that includes a print engine chosen for its consistency, color management software, proprietary media/proofing bases and inks. The proofer can replicate color standards available in the complete Waterproof product line. Imation and Fuji offer color management software for some inkjet printers. (Fuji's Color Path Visual Profiler is in beta testing.) CreoScitex Iris I Proof desktop proofing system is a two-up device with unlimited hot folders and simultaneous RIP and print capability. The Epson Stylus Pro 5000 is bundled with color rendering dictionaries for DuPont's Waterproof, Fuji's ColorArt and Imation's Matchprint III.

Look for significant remote proofing announcements at Print 01. Imation and RealTimeImage expect to release their Virtual Matchprint later this year (see p. 38). DuPont will launch a remote proofing solution based on its CromaNet color management technology. Don't miss our remote proofing story in the September issue of AMERICAN PRINTER.

Proofing primer

Choosing a proofing system can be confusing. The “BRIDGs Color Proofing Handbook for the Graphic Arts” accompanying this issue of american printer can help you make that choice. It describes different technologies and how they differ in accuracy, workflow fit and price.

Highlights include:

  • How to select a proofing system
  • Monitor proofing
  • Dye sub, inkjet, electrophotographic and laser thermal imaging
  • Film-based imaging
  • How to make a better proof
  • The importance of viewing conditions
  • Print characterization chart.

For more info, e-mail BRIDGS2000@aol.com

SWOP: Raising the quality of publication printing
By Caroline Jenkins, associate editor, Folio:

Specifications for Web Offset Publications (SWOP) has published the ninth edition of its eagerly anticipated set of specs, SWOP for the New Millennium: 2001. This latest SWOP booklet addresses many of the problems and issues associated with digital workflows.

“In older editions, film specifications were kind of front and center, and digital came after that,” says Joel Rubin, chairman of SWOP. “In this year's SWOP, digital comes first.”

Certified proofs are key

There have been a few other changes since the last spec booklet was published in 1997. “The biggest differences involve two areas,” Rubin says. “We are much stronger in specifying standard file formats for data exchange — PDF/X-1 and TIFF/IT-P1 — and we stress the acceptance of proofs from SWOP-certified systems.”

“This is the first SWOP booklet that advocates the certification process for proofing systems,” adds SWOP board member George Leyda. The SWOP certification system requires proofing system manufacturers to submit an application data sheet and proof for official approval by the organization. “Certified proofs are really key in creating production proofs that match.”

SWOP: 2001 also outlines quality control guidelines with which printers, advertisers, prepress providers and publishers — working with both digital and film files — can voluntarily comply. It covers such topics as image trapping, vignettes, minimum printable dot, screen rulings and angles, and gray balance, to name a few. And it describes the responsibilities of all parties involved in the production process.

Perhaps most important, it lists the following vendor proofing systems officially certified (or pending certification) by SWOP to produce adequately matching press proofs: the Agfa Pressmatch Aqueous Negative, Agfa Pressmatch Dry Negative, DuPont Digital WaterProof, DuPont WaterProof, Fuji Color-Art System CR-T4 SWOP, Fuji FinalProof, Imation Matchprint Negative, Imation Matchprint Positive, Imation Digital Halftone, Iris Pro SWOP, Kodak Approval Digital Color and Polaroid PolaProof Digital Halftone.

The mission of SWOP, as the group puts it, has been “to continually raise the level of quality of publication printing by setting forth specifications and tolerances.”

“The digital world gives us speed,” notes Larry Warter, director new business development, Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. (Hanover Park, IL), and a SWOP contributor. “Now we need to re-introduce quality. SWOP gives publication printers a predictable path.”

Even with the new, welcomed focus on digital, says Rubin, the publication of SWOP: 2001 hasn't been easy. Each SWOP booklet must receive unanimous approval of the group's endorsing organizations — which include the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies, the Magazine Publishers of America and GATF — to be published.

SWOP shop: what's available

SWOP's website, www.swop.org, contains more detailed information about the organization and its members, the proofing system certification process, the specs themselves and all of the SWOP products.

Here's a brief rundown on what the group offers:

  • SWOP for the New Millennium: 2001 | Price: $12.

  • SWOP Digital Calibration Kit | This kit helps relate press, press proof and off-press proofing results to SWOP. It includes a CD with TIFF/IT files for the SWOP proofing test form, a copy of the International Standard 1SP 12640, a copy of the SWOP booklet, two certified SWOP press proofs and measured data from the SWOP production bars. Price: $400 each.

  • SWOP Analog Calibration Kit | This set also relates press, press proof and off-press proofing results to SWOP. It includes a set of four-color halftone films, two certified press proofs of the test form, documentation and instructions. Price: $975.

  • SWOP video | This film, titled “Framework for Quality,” educates and helps train production employees in the preparation of print materials. Price: $19.95.

Visit Folio: online at the american printer/IndustryClick.com magazine rack, www.americanprinter.com.

ON THE ROAD WITH AGFA
Busy graphic arts professionals can't always find the time to attend a trade show or visit a demonstration center. And, it's not always practical to have the real experts — prepress and press operators — come along to help evaluate new equipment. So why not have the demo center come to them? That's the idea behind Agfa's Digital Solutions Tour. The demonstration center on wheels is rolling through Alabama, Florida, New Orleans, Kansas and Texas.

Because the latest workflow software, digital proofing and CTP solutions are literally brought to printers' front doors, more employees — from prepress to bindery — have an opportunity to see the state-of-the-art equipment. Although the Galileo platesetter isn't on board, visitors can see the Apogee PDF workflow, pre-exposed violet and thermal plates in various tone curve reproductions and sizes, and the SherpaJet for backed-up imposition and contract-quality proofs.

CTP inevitable: not if, but when

The tour recently stopped at a $5 million, 42-employee Florida printer that offers design, photography, finishing and fulfillment services. While the company doesn't have CTP capabilities yet, the vice president and co-owner says it's inevitable: “At our size and volume, it's not whether we'll go CTP, but a question of when.”

The company's pressroom includes an 18-inch AB Dick 9850, two 26-inch Komoris (one two-color and one four-color) as well as a 40-inch, five-color Lithrone.

The company is working with Xpedx to evaluate its CTP options. (Afga is the printer's current plate and film supplier.)

“The Digital Solutions Tour is a great concept,” says the exec. “It's very difficult to get me out of my office, and it's also a chance for our employees to see new things.”

Asked about his CTP evaluation strategy, the Florida exec laughed. “Owners don't care about the technology. ‘Will the platesetter fit our budget? Is it easy to operate? How quickly can you get plates on press?’” The exec explains that he relies on his prepress manager to investigate workflow, proofing and other issues.

The prepress chief reports that while the printer doesn't necessarily need all of the Apogee PDF-based production system's bells and whistles, he was impressed by the way it normalizes files. Agfa's normalizer, based on Adobe technology, includes specific solutions to handle bleeds, in-RIP trapping, etc.

Last-minute imposition changes

One of the highlights of the road show's visit to the Florida printer was a demonstration of the Apogee PrintDrive output manager. PrintDrive manages the Print Image Files (PIF) output by one or more RIPs and controls output flow to a variety of output devices.

PIF files contain every dot that will appear on the plate — they are the equivalent of the final films used in a conventional workflow to expose printing plates. Users can preview jobs on-screen, view the actual dots to check angles and traps, proof on a wide-format printer and quickly remake plates.

Agfa demonstrators showed how a job originally scheduled for the 40-inch press could be moved to the 26-inch press without re-RIPing files: “You just re-assemble and image on the fly. It blows people away when they see this,” the demonstrators explained.

For more information on the Agfa Digital Solutions Tour, see www.agfa1to1.com.

WIDE-FORMAT INKJET PRINTER
Epson Stylus Pro 10000 creates detailed images up to 44 inches wide on a broad selection of media at true 1440 × 720 dpi. Its engine features a micropiezo DX3 print-head that creates variable-sized droplets as small as five picoliters to produce text and line art comparable to a final press sheet. It is said to be six times faster than the Stylus Pro 9000 and 9500. Images can be printed up to 231 sq. fph using the printer's fastest settings and approximately 72 sq. fph when printing photographic output. Users have two ink choices: archival or photographic dye. The archival ink is a pigment-based ink system that protects against fading or damage caused by light or moisture.

The printer uses six individual 500 milliliter ink cartridges (cyan, magenta, yellow, light cyan, light magenta and black). Ink cartridges can be changed on the fly during an actual print job. It accepts media up to 1.5 millimeters thick. The printer holds up to two rolls of two- or three-inch cored media simultaneously. Cut-sheet media can be fed automatically using the system's high-speed loading feature.

It is compatible with Macintosh OS versions up to 8.5.1, as well as Microsoft Windows 95/98/2000, ME and NT 4.X operating systems. Printer interfaces include USB, IEEE, 1394 FireWire, ECP Parallel and Epson Type-B expansion slot standard. An optional EFI Fiery Spark professional software RIP is available. List price is $9,995.
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INKJET DIGITAL HALFTONE PROOFING RIP

BESTColor USA Inc.'s Screen Proof lets inkjet printers reproduce proofs that include both halftone information and color information in a single run. It supports 1-bit TIFF with G3/G4 PackBits or LZW compression formats used by leading manufacturers of exposure, CTP and digital printing equipment for generating bitmap data. The screened data is recombined and processed using a new technology that maintains all screened information while the color is adjusted by a color management system for specific paper and reference ICC profiles. It can be integrated into Agfa, CreoScitex, Screen, Fujifilm, Harlequin, Heidelberg, Krause, Purup-Eskofot and other workflows.
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FAST ICC PROFILES VIA THE INTERNET

Until December, purchasers of X-Rite's DTP41 autoscan spectrophotometer can get a free copy of ProfileCity's software as well as a custom profile. ProfileCity's ChromaCatcher technology allows users of X-Rite color measurement instruments to send colorimetric data uploads directly to ProfileCity's ICC color profiling engine on the Internet. ProfileCity then automatically processes and e-mails the custom ICC profiles to the user.
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INTEGRATED, CONTRACT-QUALITY SOLUTION

Blanchard Systems introduces the Vortex Proofing Solution to produce contract-quality proofs with low-cost inkjet printers. Sold as a complete workstation running Windows 2000 on an IBM IntelliStation platform, it is powered by GMG ColorProof software.

The solution utilizes an exclusive profile editor algorithm. GMG's technology reportedly is within ± 13 E tolerance on each color swatch. Using a Spectrolina spectral photometer, which automatically captures and measures all colors with a single click, the profile editor compares printed press samples to digital proof samples. The profile editor can be transferred to ICC profiles, so output devices running on other proofing software can accept standard data from the Vortex Proofing Solution. Vortex works with a variety of proofing devices, including Epson Stylus Pro, HP DesignJet, Fuji PictroProofs and Iris printers.

Its RIP can translate either PostScript (Level 3) or PDF data. It can also output other data formats, including TIFF/IT, Scitex CT/LW and JPEG. It is currently shipping and is priced at under $20,000. The software can be purchased separately for under $10,000.
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IMATION, REALTIMEIMAGE TO OFFER VIRTUAL MATCHPRINT

Imation Corp. and RealTimeImage will offer a hardware/software color proofing system that delivers accurate CMYK color to the user's monitor. The Matchprint Virtual Proofing System combines the companies' respective color management technology and image-streaming collaboration tools with customized, high-end color monitors. It is expected to be commercially available in Q4 2001.

The system is said to allow graphic arts, corporate and creative users to accurately simulate Imation's Matchprint proofs in an application model hosted by RealTimeImage. The companies are initially targeting large ad agencies, publishers and suppliers.

According to the two companies, controlling the CMYK profile, as well as more precise and accurate CRT calibration, ensures that accurate color is achieved from one workstation location to the next.
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LARGE-FORMAT INKJET CONTRACT PROOFING

Agfa's Sherpa 43-, 54- and 62-inch wide digital color proofing systems offer two resolutions: 720 × 720 dpi, and a faster 360 × 360 dpi resolution. The capstan printer uses a piezoelectric inkjet system said to conserve ink without sacrificing quality. Agfa pairs the Sherpa with the Windows NT-based Apogee Proofer RIP 3.1, which automatically queues and spools jobs.

ColorTune Pro color-management software, which runs on the Proofer RIP, uses the Sherpa's six colors — CMYK plus a light magenta and a light cyan — to generate accurate, ICC-compatible color profiles. The extra colors are said to soften highlights, making it easier to match difficult colors such as flesh tones. Users can select from the ColorTune library or create a custom profile to match any output device. Automated output linearization generates optimal color mapping. A dedicated driver for Apogee PrintDrive integrates color management to bring bitmap proofing to higher levels of color fidelity.
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MATCHING SPOT, METALLIC COLORS

The Kodak Approval XP/XP4 digital color proofing system uses process donors and software to produce millions of spot colors. New orange and green donors can be combined with other donors to enlarge the spot color gamut range or to proof six-color jobs. Pantone spot colors are built within the Approval XP/XP4 with Recipe Color software, eliminating the need to stock a library of color donors. A new white donor and a clear receiver target carton and plastic substrate applications. Recipe Color software is based on a proprietary technology that uses a single bitmap image per spot-color plate and exposes that plate multiple times to deposit the appropriate amount of each CMYK colorant to mix the defined spot color. Spot-color reproduction is made possible by fully adjustable density of the donor technology as well as the ability to expose the same spot color plate as many times as needed with dot-on-dot precision. When using the metallic base with Recipe Color software, the system can reproduce gold, silver, chrome, bronze and virtually any other metallic color. Since the metal donor contains true metallic flake, it can provide the same luster as metallic inks.
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WINDOWS NT-BASED RIP

DuPont Color Proofing announces version 1.1 of its Cromalin Color Station, a Windows NT-based software RIP that enables color proofing utilizing the Epson Stylus Pro 5000, 7000 and 9000 series of printers and DuPont Proofing Media. The software enables users to work in a separated workflow, show accurate traps, overprints and four-color blacks. The proofing system includes DuPont-certified color profiles for industry-standard WaterProof and Cromalin proofs, and is ICC profile compatible.
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PROOFING, PLATESETTING OPTIONS

ECRM's DesertCat 88 digital contract proofer and thermal platesetter produces imposed eight- and four-page contract proofs that replicate the actual dot shapes, structures and color densities of the final printed piece. A mutiple-beam IR diode thermal laser head and external-drum design allow optimum power to be delivered. The proofing media is imaged one process color at a time to form a composite full-color halftone. Image integrity is maintained by using the same thermal light source, and the same RIP and screening used to expose plates for the same job. The composite halftone can be laminated onto the actual printing stock, providing an even closer match to the final job.
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TRUE HALFTONE DOT SCREENING

Fujifilm's FINALPROOF, an A2- (21.5 × 25.6 inches) or B2-format (21.5 × 32.25 inches) digital halftone color proofer, lets users laminate to actual paper stock to produce contract-quality proofs.

FINALPROOF uses Fujifilm's Thin Layer Thermal Transfer technology and the same CMYK pigment colors used in its analog Color-Art proofers. Proofs are automatically imaged and registered using a multi-beam infrared laser diode array and external drum design. It provides true halftone dot screening at the same resolution (2400, 2438, 2540 dpi) as Fujifilm output recorders. It uses the same optics and laser intensity as the Javelin platesetter to ensure file integrity and dot structure.
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COLOR RIP CONNECTS TO PRINTER/COPIER

Imation and Xerox announce the Imation Matchprint Professional Server, a color RIP providing network connectivity to the Xerox DocuColor 12 printer/copier. It enables the production of high-quality comps, proofs and prints that simulate Imation's industry-standard Matchprint color-proofing systems.

Imation's patented Color Locking technology allows easy and accurate device calibration and linearization, which captures and processes hue, chrome and density color impact. Calibration on the DocuColor 12 requires only three steps and a few minutes to complete. It offers a full range of color targets, including SWOP, commercial, web offset, European and Japanese. Utilizing built-in profiles, the server is fully ICC-compatible for advanced color management. The server offers a range of custom and embedded spot-color options, via Pantone licensing. Accurate in-RIP color-separation support maintains up to 16 color channels: CMYK, plus 12 spot colors.
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HALFTONE PROOFING AND PLATEMAKING

CreoScitex's Trendsetter Spectrum images proofs using the same input file, resolution, line screen, screen angle, spot function and drum used to image film or plates. Incorporating SquareSPOT laser imaging, it interchangeably images four- and eight-page proofs on the same device. An advanced media-handling mechanism automatically cleans, registers, loads and unloads proofing material for multiple proof cycles. The company's Harmony tonal calibration software enables production of proofs that consistently match standard presswork specifications. The final proof can be laminated on any stock paper used for the final printing job, for complete predictability. It is currently offered with Kodak Polychrome Graphics and Imation consumables; DuPont's Waterproof thermal imaging proofing media and Fuji's FinalProof thermal proofing media are future options.
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INKJET RIP OPTIONS

Harlequin offers ScriptProof, a ScriptWorks Edition RIP said to generate color-accurate digital proofs from low-cost inkjet printers. The ScriptProof RIP is designed to be used by graphic designers to output preview proofs, and by prepress and printing professionals to produce contract proofs for target presses. The RIP includes a Java-based graphical user interface (GUI) and simplified color management capabilities.
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REAL DOTS, INK AND PAPER

Polaroid Graphics Imaging's Prediction two-up automatic digital halftone proofing system features the laser ablation technology (LAT) also found on its PolaProof system. The Prediction offers resolutions of 2540 dpi or 2400 dpi up to 400 lpi. It runs unattended, imaging up to 12 A4 pph and integrates seamlessly into most common workflows using the imager's integral PC with large storage capacity. The proofer can be configured as a network printer or direct connection to an existing RIP. It offers a wide selection of industry standard color sets, including GRACoL, SWOP, Publication, Eurocolour and six-color Pantone Hexachrome.
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DIGITAL COLOR PROOF SOFTWARE

Screen (USA) has introduced LabProof, a direct digital color proof software system that generates color proofs to large inkjet printers. Paired with Screen's color management system, LabFit, LabProof performs color matching based on ICC profiles.

One part of LabFit color measures printed sheets (in four minutes) using an 85-patch color control bar, while another part of the program is said to provide high-precision tuning for consistent color proofing.
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