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Remote proofing: close at hand

Feb 1, 2002 12:00 AM


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Although proofing methods have changed, the method of delivering proofs to collaborators — across town or across country — has largely remained the same. Overnight couriers, such as FedEx, have been a mainstay in the graphic arts industry, ferrying proofs between printers and their customers. Remote hard-copy proofing — the transmitting and printing of proofs at customer or agency sites — offers a means to trim time from graphic arts workflows by dramatically shortening proofing cycles.

Yet although many compelling products that enable remote proofing have recently been introduced, there is still resistance to adopting this type of proofing. This is largely due to the complexity of the remote-proofing systems available today, which can be difficult to use and maintain, and sometimes can only be used in special circumstances. But there is hope:

  • The new generation of CTP systems will give commercial printers a lower entry cost to digital workflows. This will help teach more people about the uses of digital (and remote) proofing methods.

  • The various elements of remote-proofing systems, which currently require custom installation and vigilant maintenance, will gradually become better integrated and suited for more printers and their clients.

  • The proliferation of low-cost, high-quality proofing devices will allow proofing to take place far away from prepress work and printing, enabling users to distribute-then-print more complicated print jobs with more confidence.

The transition of hard-copy proofing from analog to digital methods has also been helped along by commercial printers' adoption of CTP workflows. Since no film is made to output contract proofs, printers must rely on digital halftone proofers, such as the Polaroid PolaProof from Polaroid Graphics Imaging (Bedford, MA) or Kodak Polychrome Graphics' (KPG) (Norwalk, CT) Approval.

DESKTOP INKJET PROOFERS

But digital halftone proofers have a high acquisition cost, making them inaccessible to many and impractical for low-volume remote-proofing applications. Lower-cost inkjet proofers, like the Epson (Long Beach, CA) Stylus Pro 5500 and Hewlett-Packard (HP) (Palo Alto, CA) DesignJet 50ps, can deliver prints with six colors at high print resolution.

These printers are powerful proofing tools, capable of output that simulates analog proofs, thanks to color profiling and the ability to print on special media. Third-party vendors, such as BESTcolor USA Inc. (West Chester, OH), are designing RIPs that allow these inkjets to print halftone dots.

In addition to inkjet printers, servers can add functionality to color copiers. No stranger to the color-proofing market, Imation (whose color-proofing business has been acquired by KPG) has designed a server that drives the Xerox (Rochester, NY) DocuColor 12 color copier/printer as a proofer. The availability of lower-cost alternatives that mimic the output of analog and digital proofers lowers the price of admission, and puts hard-copy color proofing at more points in the workflow.

The Epson Stylus Pro 5000, introduced in March 1998, was a significant breakthrough in inkjet proofing. The high-resolution (1440 × 720-dpi), six-color printer was driven by an external EFI (Foster City, CA) Fiery server, and could simulate analog proofs when loaded with special proofing media from DuPont Color Proofing (Wilmington, DE). With DuPont's commercial and publication proofing paper, the Stylus Pro 5000 could also simulate the appearance of the final printed piece as printed on common offset stock, giving it an edge over the pristine bright-white stocks used in conventional analog proofers. The device, which cost $10,000 (including the EFI RIP), was an inexpensive alternative to the dye-sublimation and Iris inkjet proofers available at the time. Its current incarnation, the Stylus Pro 5500, prints at 2880 × 720 dpi, and is available for $3,495 (an EFI Fiery Spark RIP is available for $2,995).

HP recently introduced three printers designed for remote proofing: the DesignJet 50ps, 20ps and 10ps. The 50ps, which ships with a Heidelberg prepress RIP, lets users create a print file for remote proofing that contains color profiles and print-setting information. This file can be opened and printed by remote DesignJet 50ps printers, as well as 20ps and 10ps models. To ensure consistent print quality between machines, HP has integrated a densitometer that automatically takes color measurements, allowing the driver to make adjustments as necessary to keep color values within spec. The DesignJet 50ps is available for $3,495. The base model, the DesignJet 10ps, is available for $995.

ELECTROPHOTOGRAPHIC TECHNOLOGY

Inkjet is not the only print technology to find its way into proofing applications. Electrophotographic color copiers and printers, which may be more expensive to acquire than inkjet proofers, usually have a lower color-page cost. The lower page cost and a larger paper capacity also make electrophotographic units more suitable than inkjet for printing short-run color projects. Thus, a color copier does not have to be a dedicated proofer, and can handle other graphic and office printing when not outputting comps or proofs.

The Xerox DocuColor 12, introduced in August 1999, can print on media as thick as 140-lb. stock, thanks to its straight paper path and image-transfer belt technology. The Imation Matchprint Professional server, introduced in February 2001, drives the Xerox DocuColor 12 color copier/printer as a proofer, giving the machine the ability to simulate Imation Matchprint analog proofs. The system, which uses Imation proofing media, has an Adobe PostScript 3 RIP. It supports Pantone-color matching, ICC profiles and several press emulations, including SWOP, Euroscale and Commercial. The Matchprint Professional Server is available through Xerox for $29,500. The Xerox DocuColor 12 is available for $29,995.

In addition to inkjet and copier options, there are also devices such as Fuji Photo Film U.SA. Inc.'s (Hanover Park, IL) PictroProof, which features a proprietary laser exposure/thermal development and dye transfer system. “PictroProof looks a lot like a copier, which helps [novices],” says Don Schroeder, Fujifilm senior product development manager, color proofing. “It has all the characteristics of a true remote-proofing solution: easy automatic calibration, about 90 seconds to make a proof and good consistency.”

The exec reports that one of Fujifilm's customers have placed 40-plus PictroProofs at offsite client locations. “The built-in calibrator ensures accurate and consistent color results at the touch of a button.”

PictroProof can be combined with Fujifilm's soft-proofing tools. Myfujifilm.com incorporates Group Logics's (Arlington, VA) file transfer and Imagexpo software, as well as Markzware's (Santa Ana, CA) online proofing application. “Hard proofs can be sent directly to your clients' proofing device or posted on myfujifilm.com for clients to download,” explains Shellie Hall, myfujifilm.com spokesperson.

THIRD-PARTY SOFTWARE

Third-party software can enhance the capabilities of desktop inkjet proofers. Global Graphics' ScriptProof RIP enables inkjet printers to print files in imagesetter formats (PostScript, PDF, TIFF). According to the company, the color-accurate inkjet proofs generated with ScriptProof are good enough to be used in the press room. ScriptProof includes color profiles that simulate analog proofing systems, including the Imation Matchprint, DuPont Cromalin and Fuji ColorArt. In addition, ScriptProof supports SWOP and FOGRA press simulations. The ScriptProof RIP, provided to OEMs, supports desktop and large-format proofers from Epson and HP.

David Boxall, sales and marketing director for Global Graphics Software (Waltham, MA), emphasizes the need for precise color calibration in remote-proofing workflows. “It's all well and good to be able to send press profiles to your inkjet proofer, but the output device needs to be calibrated to a stable, predictable state to give you the results you expect,” he says. Global Graphics' SetGold utility calibrates inkjet proofers, adjusting CMYK color scales and gray balance to return the proofers to just such a “golden” state. This calibration allows printers to fully reap the benefits of ICC profiling, according to Global Graphics.

DuPont's Cromalin Color Station software RIP, introduced this past September, is designed to drive inkjet proofers from Epson and HP. The RIP supports ICC profiles, and prints PostScript Level 2 or 3 output from several graphics software packages, including Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, PageMaker, Macromedia FreeHand and QuarkXpress. It also renders traps and overprints, and supports imagesetter file formats. Pricing for the Cromalin Color Station depends on the print engines with which it will be used. For example, the RIP for the Epson Stylus Pro 5500 is available for a list price of $3,995, while a version that drives the Epson Stylus Pro 1000 and HP DesignJet 5000 costs $4,995, a price that includes installation and training.

Also in September, DuPont introduced its iCertification remote contract-proofing system. The iCertification system uses DuPont's ChromaNet Web server to link DuPont Cromalin Digital iG and Digital WaterProof proofers, automatically sending files between these output devices. Once a proof is generated at the remote site, its color data are compared to those of the proof at the originating site; the iCertification system certifies the color match.

According to the vendor, the iCertification system has been used at a select number of DuPont customer sites since November, and has since received some enhancements. The system now allows multiple collaborators to share color data, and an online annotation tool has been integrated, which lets users digitally mark proofs with corrections and comments. The iCertification system is available to new and existing customers under controlled sales conditions (DuPont has not yet set pricing). DuPont plans full commercial availability some time during Q1.

OTHER SOFTWARE

BESTcolor's Screenproof, a software module for its BESTcolor RIP, allows users to proof halftone dots with their inkjet printers, from already-RIPed PostScript files destined for imagesetters or CTP systems. BESTcolor claims that users can check halftone screen angles and traps, and see moire patterns in proofs. Screenproof, available for $11,000, supports several desktop and large-format inkjet proofers. In January, BESTcolor was expected to have shipped a remote-proofing module for the BESTcolor RIP. Still undergoing testing, the remote-proofing option allows users at remote locations to open and print a PDF file with embedded color values. Once a proof is made on the inkjet proofer, color measurements made with a spectrophotometer are compared to color values embedded in the file. If the values are within spec, the file originator automatically receives a verification message via e-mail.

But getting accurate color with a remote-proofing system is not the only consideration. “Sending files over the Internet quickly and efficiently is vital,” says Mark Geeves, president of BESTcolor USA. “Without that, you don't have remote proofing.” File-transfer systems like Group Logic's MassTransit and FileFlow's (Milford, MA) FastSend allow users to automate the transfer of compressed files to remote locations.

SELLING REMOTE PROOFING

For now, it appears that commercial printers will be in the technology leadership role, taking on the challenge of getting their customers to adopt remote proofing. The long-standing, stable accounts that generate high dollar volume are probably more receptive to remote proofing than newer customers or customers with infrequent print work.

Wide acceptance of remote hard-copy proofing will also depend on the development of inexpensive systems that are easier to implement and maintain.

Portions of this article originally appeared in the November 2001 issue of Color Business Report (see www.blackstoneresearch.com).

Remote proofing in real time

Another method of remote proofing can bypass the hard-copy proof altogether. Soft proofing, or viewing of proofs on color computer monitors, has emerged as a compelling new proofing alternative. Soft proofing can radically speed up the proofing and revision stages of a project, especially when the Internet is used as a communications medium. Many soft-proofing systems allow multiple collaborators in multiple locations to review and annotate proofs. This workflow reduces the number of hard-copy proofs needed, further reducing hard-copy proofing and overnight courier costs.

Soft-proofing methods can range from the rudimentary, such as PDF files via e-mail or FTP sites, to systems that allow users to review content and layout, to more complex color-managed systems that seek to emulate hard-copy proofs.

Layout, content review

Some services, such as YouWorkIt's (Cardiff, CA) PrintProof and PROOF-it-ONLINE's (Naples, FL) online approval system, allow users to proof their documents for content. They are designed for both non-graphic-arts professionals and novice users. Fuji Photo Film U.S.A., Inc.'s (Hanover Park, IL) myfujifilm.com allows for collaborative or non-collaborative soft proofing, with full annotation tools.

Midrange high-resolution reviewers

Many online soft-proofing packages, such as RealTimeProof (San Bruno, CA) and Creo's (Bedford, MA) InSite, function in color-managed workflows, supporting ICC profiles. Both have a built-in software densitometer, similar to Photoshop's eyedropper tool, that lets users see color values. Thanks to file-transfer technologies that speed image viewing, users can zoom into individual pixels in a full-resolution image file. Some packages allow online files to be printed on digital proofers.

High-end color-managed systems

The complexity and color accuracy of some upcoming systems, such as Imation's (now acquired by Kodak Polychrome Graphics, Norwalk, CT) Virtual Matchprint Proofing System and Global Graphics' (Waltham, MA) Remote Director, allow them to emulate hard-copy contract-proofing systems. Indeed, Imation's monitor-based system attempts to simulate the appearance of the company's hard-copy Matchprint, a standard for contract proofs. Both systems rely on precisely calibrated color monitors and controlled viewing environments to ensure color accuracy.

While users may eagerly adopt soft proofing as a workflow tool to speed production, whether they embrace it as a replacement for the hard-copy contract proof depends on the comfort level of printers and print buyers.

Desktop metallics

KPG's First Check Desktop Color proofer can print process and spot colors as well as opaque white, gold and silver foils and metallics, and a finishing coat. It can print on paper or transfer and shrink-wrap films. Standard media size is 13 × 19 inches; maximum resolution is 600 dpi. First Check uses a thermal dry proofing technology with pigmented ribbons. The proofer is driven by a BestColor RIP and reportedly takes just over 15 minutes to produce an A3-size CMYK proof at 2400 dpi. Price is $5,000. See www.desktopproofing.com.

Selected desktop inkjet proofers

Product Max. resolution Color print speed Price Comments
Hewlett-Packard
DesignJet 50ps
2400 × 1200 dpi 13 × 19 inches 5 min.
(1200 × 600 dpi)
$2,995 Six-color inkjet with built-in in densitometer. With Heidelberg RIP, generates PDF-based proofing files, which can be printed remotely by DesignJet 50ps, 10ps or 20ps models.
Epson Stylus
Pro 5500
2880 × 720 dpi 13 × 19 inches in 24 min. 33 sec.
(2880 × 720 dpi)
$3,495 Epson's latest version of the Stylus Pro 5000. Uses Epson archival inks. EFI Fiery RIP is available for $2,995.
Canon BJC-8500 1200 × 600 dpi 13 × 19 inches in 13 min.
(1200 × 600 dpi)
$1,995 Sold by Creo as the Iris iProof.

Selected file-transfer software

Product Price Comments
WAM!NET WAM!PROOF Included with Direct! service for $350 setup fee Allows file output to PostScript-compatible copiers, printers and proofers. Users select the device at the remote site to which they want to print, and hit “print.” The file lands on the receiver's network access device, which spools and routes the file for output, and the file is automatically printed. Sender and receiver must have WAM!NET Direct! managed network service.
Group Logic MassTransit Professional $4,300 Automates point-to-point file transfer. Users drag and drop files to hot folders. Once MassTransit detects a file in the hot folder, it automatically transfers it to the remote location. Once the file is received in a hot folder on a server at the remote site, it is automatically printed on a proofer. Uses LZW compression (lossless), which compresses files at a ratio of 10:1, on average. Flagship product MassTransit Enterprise offers greater automated file-transfer capability for larger customers.
FileFlow FastSend $99/month FastSend uses a proprietary, lossless compression algorithm to allow the fast transfer of image files and document files via the Internet, over FileFlow's servers. Compression ratio is 25:1. FileFlow claims a 25 MB file can be transferred in three minutes.
Prolatus Courier Free Using Prolatus' proprietary Catalyst technology, Courier software lets users convert imagesetter files to .cxm format, which can be transmitted over any Internet connection, regardless of bandwidth. At the receiving end, Prolatus Expert software uses the data in the .cxm file to create a full-resolution image file. Courier software is available for free; however, Expert software costs $5,000 per license seat.

Print 01 news

  • At Print, remote-proofing devices from DuPont, Hewlett-Packard, Imation, Xerox and RealTimeImage won “Must See 'Em” accolades.

  • Also: Heidelberg announced it will integrate and resell RealTimeImage's online proofing technology as HDProof; Prolatus introduced a remote-proofing markup tool; and Kodak Polychrome Graphics announced the First Check desktop color proofer.

Remote article retrieval @ Americanprinter.com

Want to read more about remote proofing? See “Remote proofing delivers,” September 2001, p. 36. We also have three online case studies:

  1. The case of the commercial printer and the ad agency

    Jim Smiddy, technical director at Blanks Color Imaging (Dallas), details the commercial printer's setup for a $1 million ad agency: A Kodak Polychrome Graphics (Norwalk, CT) DCP 9500 dye-sublimation proofer teamed with RealTimeImage's (San Bruno, CA) online proofing system.

  2. The case of the Wisconsin printer and the New Jersey customer

    Michael Thee, graphic systems administrator for Color Craft (Manitowoc, WI), describes a remote-proofing system that incorporates two Xerox Phaser 780 laser printers and Group Logic's (Arlington, VA) MassTransit software. Remote proofing was integral in the printer's retention of a Wisconsin customer that moved to New Jersey.

  3. The case of the all-digital printer

    L.P. Thebault Co. (Parsippany, NJ) has been fully digital since December 2000. Jim Sewell, vice president of technology, explains how the sheetfed and full-web printer conducts remote proofing. Its system, powered by RealTimeImage, lets prepress personnel and clients across town or across the country proof the exact image data that will be used to produce a document.