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remote proofing delivers

Sep 1, 2001 12:00 AM


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Interest is growing in remote proofing, thanks to improved inkjet printers, color measurement devices and profiling software

Direct Digital Design, a 30-person prepress house in Kansas City, KS, has enjoyed a remote-proofing workflow for nearly 10 years with one large client account, Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, MO.

“Remote proofing is much faster than using FedEx,” remarks Ray Flatt, president of Direct Digital Design. “But the thing about time savings is you only seem to save it once. Then the process becomes the norm because you can never go back to working the old way.”

The production department at Bass Pro Shop uses a two-up CreoScitex (Bedford, MA) Iris 2Print proofer to produce several thousand proofs each year. After Direct Digital performs prepress work on a Bass Pro project, the shop outputs a proof on one of two Iris 4Print systems. If everything looks okay, the proofing department sends job files using a T-1 connection and Echo Mac-based software. (CreoScitex introduced this software in the early 1990s but no longer supports it.)

Nonetheless, Direct Digital still finds the old software useful because it performs JPEG compression and file transmission using an intuitive drag-and-drop interface. On the customer side, the Echo software decompresses the JPEG-based proofing files before output. This remote-proofing process saves Bass Pro a significant amount of time during prepress production, according to Flatt.

“Timing is often crucial for Bass Pro's retail and catalog projects,” he says. “Remote proofing allows them to hold a project open until the last minute [for] the latest pricing.”

To create ICC profiles for use in its two 4Prints and the 2Print at Bass Pro, Direct Digital uses GretagMacbeth's (New Windsor, NY) Spectrolino spectrophotometer and ProfileMaker software. Bass Pro keeps its 2Print calibrated by printing test targets several times a week. It sends Direct Digital the hard-copy test proofs, from which color readings are obtained via the Spectrolino. If color measurements show that the remote proofer has drifted out of calibration, Direct Digital provides Bass Pro 2Print proofer operators with the information needed for recalibration.

Not all remote-proofing workflows rely on the transmission of job files to a client for output on a remote proofer. Some printers simply install color-calibrated digital proofers at customer locations and let them produce their own proofs, which are submitted along with the job files for print production. A case in point is Precision Litho, a 65-person commercial printer in Salt Lake City.

Although Precision uses several digital proofing devices, including Kodak Polychrome Graphics' (Norwalk, CT) Approval XP4 and Approval Classic, the shop uses a 24-inch-wide Epson Stylus Pro 7000 inkjet printer both in house and at several client locations for remote proofing. Precision's Stylus Pro 7000, which offers six-color printing and a 1440 × 720-dpi resolution, is driven by Computer Graphic System's (CGS) (Minneapolis) O.R.I.S. ColorTuner RIP and special inks and media.

Mark Smith, Precision's color department manager, says the O.R.I.S ColorTuner RIP — along with CGS proprietary inks and media — provide the best color match to Precision's four-, six- and eight-color, 40-inch Heidelberg sheetfed presses, as well as its 28-inch, five-color Heidelberg press.

Precision has installed a few CGS/Epson devices at client locations for remote proofing. “We also have a few proofers that are mobile,” says Smith. “When a customer has a large catalog project to produce, we'll actually set the CGS/Epson device up at their location to let them proof pages.”

DRAMATIC COST REDUCTIONS

One such client is Nu Skin Enterprises, a healthcare products manufacturer in Provo, UT. Nu Skin uses the CGS/Epson system to proof its packaging and collateral projects. Nu Skin prints directly to the CGS/Epson proofer by placing the file to be output in a hot folder, which causes the ColorTuner RIP to create a PostScript file for output on the proofer.

After a job is complete, Nu Skin sends inkjet proofs and job files to Precision. “We've been able to increase our productivity tremendously by letting some of our customers have the control on the proofing side. At the same time we've seen dramatic cost reductions,” says Smith, who adds that the shop keeps consumables for the proofers in stock for clients to purchase, which further lowers costs.

Color calibration for Precision's remote-proofing workflow is performed with ColorBlind software from Imaging Technologies Corp. (San Diego), which creates ICC profiles based on the Matchprint standard. To keep its remote proofers color-calibrated, Precision has the client output a test target each week, which it sends to Precision, where a color operator uses a GretagMacbeth spectrophotometer to measure density readings on the test proof to ensure calibration.

If color has drifted on the remote proofer, Precision creates an updated profile (installed by a Precision technician) to recalibrate the proofer.

To help jump-start the industry's use of remote proofing, BESTColor USA (West Chester, OH) is introducing a remote-proofing option in its BESTColor 4.5 RIP software. Colorproof, the remote-proof option for the new BESTColor RIP, can transmit PDF-based jobs along with color information embedded in a Job Description Format (JDF) file to remote proofers.

“We think the market is ready for remote proofing,” remarks Mark Geeves, president, BESTColor USA. He explains that the increased use of desktop and large-format inkjet proofers are paving the way for greater acceptance of remote proofing.

Also aiding remote proofing are inkjets with improved color gamuts, lightfastness and stability. In addition, the cost of consumables on these inkjet printers is lower than that for high-end digital proofers. “People can achieve cost savings without sacrificing color accuracy,” says Geeves.

Other factors that may spark widespread adoption include increased availability of low-cost color measurement devices and profiling software. “And, people are becoming more accustomed to using this technology to create color profiles for their projects,” reports the exec.

REMOTE-PROOFING WORKFLOW

Colorproof's remote-proofing workflow starts with outputting a page on a color-calibrated proofer at the sending site, says Al Johnson, manager of technical services at BESTColor USA. After creating a PDF of the proofed page, 16 color-bar patches on the hard-copy proof are read with a handheld color-measurement device. Density readings of the 16 colors, as well as a color-profile reference number, linearization data from the proofer, and production specifications (such as the type of proofing paper used) are placed into a JDF file, which is transmitted along with the PDF to the remote-proofing location.

At the remote site, the proofer operator selects the proper color profile (obtained from the color-profile reference number in the JDF) in the “read-only” version of the Colorproof RIP. After the job is output, the color-bar patches on the proof are read using a handheld color-measurement device and the software compares the results to the original color-bar measurements in the JDF.

When the color readings are within the user-specified tolerances, the software automatically sends an e-mail “certification” message to the Colorproof software at the sender's site. If the remote proof is outside the specified tolerances, the program generates a “red flag” message alerting both the operator at the remote site (on screen) and the “master” Colorproof software at the sending site, again via e-mail.

“If the problem [doesn't involve] the wrong type of paper or ink, or a printhead that is malfunctioning, Colorproof software can be used to initiate a linearization routine to recalibrate the remote proofer back to the established benchmark standard,” explains Johnson.

Johnson says the reason read-only Colorproof software is used at the remote site is to ensure the integrity of the remote-proofing process. Operators at the remote site cannot alter the settings in the read-only RIP. Colorproof's integrated file-transmission and automatic messaging capabilities are provided through a technology partnership with Shira Computer Ltd. (Kfar-Saba, Israel).

PROOFER WITH ONBOARD DIGITAL CAMERA

At Print 01, BESTColor will also show the next generation of its automated remote-proofing technology, which features a digital camera and color-measurement device mounted directly to a remote proofer. Currently being developed by engineers at BESTColor's parent company, BEST GmbH in Krefeld, Germany, the on-board system automates the process of capturing color readings from remote proofs.

Designed to work with the remote-proof utility in Colorproof, the system consists of a digital camera for quality control, a strip-reading color-measurement device from a popular industry vendor, and a control-wheel mechanism that measures printer speed. All three components are controlled by hardware (a system board) and software developed by BEST GmbH.

Originally designed for automatic inspection in assembly line manufacturing, the digital camera uses filters to capture the different colors imaged onto remote proofs, allowing users to ascertain their quality.

Johnson says the system is expected to be available sometime early next year. Plans are to make the system compatible with the entire range of Colorproof-compatible printers, including desktop devices, through the use of a standalone version of the remote-proofing module.

CERTIFIED CONTRACT REMOTE PROOFING

DuPont Imaging Technologies (Wilmington, DE) is also unveiling a new remote-proofing system at Print 01. Designed to work with the company's line of Digital WaterProof inkjet proofers, DuPont's Certified Contract remote-proofing system consists of software and hardware that manages and certifies color for remote proofing.

“This system allows our Digital WaterProof systems to share color information across a network, and then certify that the color from machine to machine is within a very tight tolerance,” explains Mark Rauscher, technical marketing manager of digital proofing, who works out of DuPont Imaging Technlogies' Customer Technology Center in Itasca, IL.

On the sender-side of this process, an operator outputs a proof, and, using the Digital WaterProof terminal, prepares the job for transmission to the remote proofer. The system uses lossless compression to prepare the job file, which is sent along with the color-profile data and instructions for the proofer, such as what type of stock to use and whether the proof is to be output automatically or manually.

“We've taken pains not to complicate the process for the sending side,” says Rauscher. From an operator standpoint, setting up the job for transmission to one or more remote proofers is similar to producing a proof. The operator checks off one box in the software interface to indicate where the files will be transmitted. Users can also check off more than one box to send proofs to multiple proofers.

User interaction is also simple on the receiving end of the process. “You don't need a color guru at the receiving end who understands how to tweak color or perform color matches,” Rauscher explains. “All they need to know is how to feed the color-bar strip through a densitometer.” The system uses the X-Rite (Grandville, MI) DTP-41UV densitometer, which comes with the Digital WaterProof system.

If the digital proof is within the tolerances set by the vendor and client, it is “certified” and the system's small label printer outputs the certification number for placement on the hard-copy proof. The certification (or denial of certification) is also logged into a database hosted by DuPont on a website accessible by designated users of the system. The online certification database will also be used to compile information about the performance history of each remote proofer using this system.

DOCUMENTATION BUILDS CONFIDENCE

“The process not only forces color calibration, it documents the activity,” explains Rauscher. “This raises the level of certainty on the sending side that files were transmitted and received, and that the proof was output, measured for color and certified, or denied certification. It also raises the comfort level of customers who know their color proofs match those produced by the vendor.”

DuPont recommends high-bandwidth connections for transmitting job files to remote sites. On average, each color proof requires 80 MB of data. Those beta testing the system typically have T-1 or T-3 connections; however, some have been successfully using DSL to transmit the files. “But even the hour it takes to send a large file for outputting a remote contract-color proof is still much faster than waiting for a next-day FedEx delivery,” he adds.

Rauscher says the Certified Contract remote-proofing software is expected to become commercially available before the end of the year. Pricing for the software was unavailable at press time. Customers will pay for a software license cost on top of the price of the proofer. Existing Digital WaterProof customers will also be able to purchase the system.

Whether using third-party products to manage color on remote-proofing devices or the automated systems recently introduced by vendors, it seems the remote-proofing process is finally gaining momentum in the printing industry. This trend is being driven by technology such as high-quality inkjet proofers, and low-cost profiling and color-management tools. But the real drivers of the remote-proofing process are graphics arts professionals eager to shorten cycle times while establishing closer client relationships.

Online soft proofing options

While a large amount of current online soft proofing simply involves posting PDF and JPEG files on password-protected areas of a website, many e-commerce vendors and even some makers of prepress-workflow systems have added online soft-proofing capabilities to their products.

An example of the latter is Artwork Systems (Bristol, PA), which sells Nexus WEBWAY, a system that allows users to preview, annotate and approve jobs over the Internet using a standard Web browser.

Proof-it-Online

Proof-it-Online's (Naples, FL) online proofing system uses a Web-based interface, but the system does not require the use of a browser plug-in. Pricing for the system — monthly fees typically range from $25 to $300 — is based on the number of proofs a customer has on Proof-it-Online's servers.

Compatible with Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator and AOL 4.x browsers on both the PC and Mac, Proof-it-Online integrates with a service provider's home page; however, proofs are uploaded, converted and stored on Proof-it-Online's servers. The system supports more than 50 file formats, including PDF and PostScript. It can also accept multipage document files in one session; the system then automatically separates the pages to allow for individual page review and approval.

Group Logic's Imagexpo

Online soft proofing is especially valuable for projects with tight deadlines, asserts Andy Lewis, vice president of marketing and sales at Group Logic (Arlington, VA). He notes, however, that the process is not for everyone, particularly those managing color-critical projects. “In those cases, soft proofing can be a stretch because calibrating displays can be difficult,” he says. “But for applications that warrant it, like repeat jobs, projects involving Pantone or spot colors, or clients who trust the production vendor to produce accurate color, the process can be valuable.”

Group Logic's Imagexpo works by creating bitmap images from industry-standard file formats. The bitmap pages are viewed on screen simultaneously by two or more people, who can scroll or zoom into a document and interactively mark up the soft proof on screen using the program's built-in text and drawing tools. Users can make annotations in password-protected layers (up to 31), each with different names to help track review cycles. For Mac users, the software is ColorSync 2-compatible, which allows the soft proofing of color, as long as the monitors displaying on-screen proofs both use the same display profile.

Although the software does not use a Web-browser interface, Imagexpo is compatible with direct-dial-up modem, ISDN and Appletalk, as well as TCP/IP for Internet connections. It is also available for use by subscribers to Fuji Photo Film U.S.A.'s (Hanover Park, IL) new Web-based e-commerce solution, myfujifilm.com.

RealTimeImage's RealTime Proof

RealTimeImage (San Bruno, CA) offers RealTimeProof, a Web-based system that has many annotation features similar to those of Imagexpo. RealTimeProof, however, uses a unique “pixels-on-demand” technology that delivers image data to a Web browser on an as-needed basis to display soft proofs over dial-up connections. The company recommends 56K modems; higher-speed connections further boost performance.

Progressive, on-demand image streaming quickly fills in the details as users zoom in, pan or scroll on the soft-proof files. Compatible file formats include Postscript (both composite and pre-separated), EPS, DCS, DCS2, TIFF and TIFF-IT/P1, Scitex CT/LW (include the “improved” Scitex formats), JPEG and PDF. The file types remain native on the system, and are not altered in any way.

To view images and page layouts using RealTimeProof, customers upload files to a project workspace account at the RealTimeProof site. Once connected to the project workspace, users can see thumbnail images next to the file names. Images can be selected by clicking on the thumbnails, which brings up full-resolution images or documents.

Project participants can annotate the files by clicking on the image and holding down the button to create electronic “sticky” notes that accept typed comments.

At Print 01, RealTimeImage will show a new version of the software that lets users view individual CMYK colors on a proof — a capability requested by many RealTimeProof users, according to Chris Gulker, vice president of marketing.

RealTimeProof customers pay for the service on a per-use basis. There are three levels of pricing: a monthly fee of $200 per project (limited to 1 GB of data for each project); $1,000 a month for up to 20 projects comprising a total of 20 GB; and $2,000 a month for 50 projects. The highest level of service has no limitation on the amount of data submitted to the system.

RealTimeImage also offers a version of RealTimeProof that runs on customer-hosted Web servers: RealTime Classic. It now has a faster imaging engine; support for more file formats (including DCS2 and PDF); support for spot colors; the addition of three annotation tools; improved densitometer and measurement tools; and support for multipage PDFs with direct access to any page. RealTimeImage is also bundling a hard-copy remote-proofing feature (using ICC profiles) that was an additional add-on cost in RenderView.

Precision Litho, a commercial printer in Salt Lake City, uses RealTimeProof Classic on a regular basis with four major clients. Mark Smith, Precision's color department manager, says RealTimeProof Classic, which the shop offers under its own PrecisionView brand, is ideal for jobs with tight deadlines.

“We recently used PrecisionView for a client's catalog project,” he relates. “The client was working out of her home in a remote part of Idaho. We were able to make color corrections, and she was able to view the changes to the pages immediately online.”

Accurate CMYK color for RGB monitors

New tools are emerging that promise to deliver accurate CMYK color to the user's RGB monitor. At Seybold, Imation (Oakdale, MN) and RealTimeImage (San Bruno, CA) announced a hardware/software color-proofing system. The Matchprint Virtual Proofing System combines the companies' respective color-management technology and online image-streaming tools with customized, high-end color monitors.

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 Imation and RealTimeImage, 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.

The system consists of a critical-color viewing environment incorporating customized high-end color monitors, Imation's Color Fidelity Module (CFM) color-management technology and RealTimeImage's Web-based collaborative proofing solutions. It will be introduced at Print 01 and is expected to be commercially available in Q4 2001.

Related articles

Check out www.americanprinter.com for these archived articles:

  • “Workflow and the Internet,” August 2001

  • “Color management: What are you waiting for?” July 2001

  • “Digital contract proofing: great expectations,” June 2001