American Printer's mission is to be the most reliable and authoritative source of information on integrating tomorrow's technology with today's management.

Standards update

Oct 1, 2002 12:00 AM


         Subscribe in NewsGator Online   Subscribe in Bloglines

A graphic-arts pundit once compiled the following phrases to describe the standards-development process: intensely exacting, overly theoretical, concerned with minutiae, unforgiving and just plain boring. While participating on a standards committee is not a rollicking good time, these groups do play a vital role in boosting printers' productivity.

We asked some well-known standards gurus to share their insights on standards in general, as well as update us on some key developments. Our panel includes Larry Warter, director of new-business development for Fuji Photo Film U.S.A., Inc. (Hanover Park, IL); Alan Darling, COO and CTO of Quality House of Graphics (Long Island City, NY); Martin Bailey, senior technical consultant, Global Graphics (Cambridge, England); and Frank Romano, Fawcett Professor at RIT's School of Print Media (Rochester, NY).

Many CIP3/4-related announcements are expected at Graph Expo this month — we'll present a show wrap-up in our November issue. Also, for a comprehensive overview of the groups involved in standards for printing and publishing and the types of standards being developed, don't miss David McDowell's article in the July/August 2002 IPA Bulletin. The Standards Update column, “What? by whom? with whom? And how does it all fit together?” is available online at ipa.org/bulletin/standards.php3.

  • How did you first become involved in standards development?

    WARTER: During Print 74, William Sullivan came by the DuPont booth and asked Tom Basore and me if it was possible to standardize input for publications around proofing. That led to the formation of Specifications for Web Offset Publications (SWOP), and I was hooked.

    Soon after, I joined the executive committee of the R&E Council of the Graphic Arts (White Stone, VA) — and they were concerned with pallet-loading standardization. I agreed to represent R&E at the Committee for Graphic Arts Technologies Standards (CGATS) and that completed the cycle.

    DARLING: I moved to the U.S. from England in 1980 with Monotype. One of my first projects involved working with Tom Dunn on digital advertising for the Los Angeles Times. Sadly, Tom has since passed away. But in the late 1980s, under Tom's auspices and now working with Quad/Graphics, I got involved in TIFF/IT. At Quad, the logic was that if we were going to be pushing a standard for digital file delivery, we had better be involved in defining it, or live with the consequences.

    My degree is in engineering. The past 10 years or so of my professional life have had less to do with engineering and more to do with business-management issues. Standards give me the opportunity to exercise my scientific side!

    BAILEY: Around 1997, somebody else at Harlequin (now Global Graphics Software) chaired the CGATS subcommittee working on PDF/X. He asked me to come to a meeting to help with some of the deeper technical discussion. Also in 1997, our CIP3 representative had to drop out to concentrate on other things, and I took over from him. Once you've been identified as a potential participant in standards, it's really hard to get away!

    ROMANO: The Digital Printing Council of PIA (Alexandria, VA) considered a variable-data printing standard to be essential, and I volunteered.

  • Most standards writing efforts are dominated by vendors — how can we get more users involved?

    WARTER: Vendors have the time, money, technical ability and need to write standards, and they will continue to bear the brunt of the effort. But vendors lack a firsthand feel for the needs of the user community. TIFF/IT P1 and PDF/X1a are both examples of standards that needed to be slightly revised when users found problems with the original efforts. More user involvement in simply reviewing standards as they are written would save a lot of time.

    DARLING: The value for vendors is easy to establish. They need to create products to satisfy these new standards, so they had better ensure they are aware of exactly what the standards are. For the users, the value isn't so clear-cut — there are travel costs involved, as well as time away from the office. But it's shortsighted of users not to get involved. Benefits include:

    • Contributing to your industry

    • Meeting and working with some of the best technical minds in the business

    • Learning the standard topic inside and out

    • Spreading the word to your clients about the latest technology

    • Increasing your company's credibility in the industry and among your customers.

    Quality House of Graphics supports my activities in the CGATS workgroups as chair of DDAP. The company also supports my colleague, Nubar Narkashian, chairman pro-tem for SWOP. Quality definitely does its bit to support standards and I applaud them for it, just as I applaud other companies with the foresight to allow their representatives to attend these meetings.

    BAILEY: The best standards are developed by groups composed of vendors and users. Users typically don't have enough influence on major vendors to persuade them to implement the standard in future software versions, and are often restricted to providing recipes for using existing tools in specific ways. That can be very useful, and often has the advantage that such specifications can be developed and implemented very rapidly, but it doesn't move the technology forward. End users also usually don't have sufficient technical knowledge of file formats or color-management issues, for example, to be able to formulate a clear, complete and unambiguous specification.

    On the other hand, the vendors usually don't have a complete understanding of the user requirements that might be addressed by a new standard. They also sometimes have a tendency to overlook workflow inefficiencies caused by using products from multiple vendors together.

    A marriage of users who can provide input on requirements, and feedback based on real-world experience about compatibility issues, with vendors who can provide technical expertise and implementations of the standard in their products, therefore builds on the strengths of both groups.

    That's why CIP4 provides the opportunity for users (prepress or print providers, consultants, dealers, etc.) to join in our associate membership class. For $150 per year, all of those users can become directly involved in providing input to the further development of JDF.

    ROMANO: There is no cost to participate other than travel expense. Few real users (printers) are involved; yet, standards are vital to their business.

  • Where can standards deliver the biggest benefits for printers?

    WARTER: Standards work best when they address the repetitious interactions between companies where communications are a problem. They are least effective when they attempt to address the areas where companies like to differentiate themselves.

    DARLING: I like to use the example of Ethernet cards. You buy a computer from one company, an Ethernet card from another, cables from another and a hub from yet another source. The magic that allows the card to work when you plug it in to your computer and plug the cable into that hole in the wall is standards.

    This analogy is similar to what happens at Quality House of Graphics. In our advertising prepress work, we deliver ads to many publishers. Each of the publishers is getting ads from many prepress shops. Each of these publishers has relationships with different printers.

    If the ads are delivered to an internationally accredited standard (TIFF/IT or PDF/X), the publisher should be able to plug the ad into a page and send it on to the printer. The printer should then be able to process it reliably — thanks to TIFF/IT and PDF/X — and quickly and accurately run it up to color — thanks to SWOP. Without these standards, the whole process is much more cumbersome.

    ROMANO: Standards allow printers to interface with customers more efficiently. This means that print jobs can flow through systems in a more automated manner. Productivity is vital to our industry's success.

  • What is the biggest standards misconception?

    DARLING: Everyone tends to think of standards as the lowest common denominator. The old joke of a camel being a horse designed by committee is a typical perception.

    But a well-written and implemented standard will actually raise the bar of services that can be offered. Anything that allows a process to be performed more reliably and more accurately has to eventually positively impact the bottom line of all the participants in the process.

    People who aren't involved in the effort may view standards as a way of “de-crafting” the process and giving away the secret sauce that differentiates one printing company from another. Well, those people need to wake up. The process is going to be de-mystified whether we like it or not — it's better to participate rather than oppose it. If you're involved in the de-mystification process, you are in a better position to understand the real value your company offers. The earlier you can identify this, the sooner you can capitalize on it.

JDF: an ambitious, end-to-end standard

JDF is a format and proposed industry standard based on eXtensible Markup Language (XML) and built on the existing technologies of CIP3's Print Production Format (PPF) and Adobe's (San Jose, CA) Portable Job Ticket Format (PJTF). It provides the means to describe print jobs in terms of the processes needed to create them. The format lets users explicitly specify the controls needed by each process.

Adobe, Agfa (Ridgefield Park, NJ), Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA) and MAN Roland (Westmont, IL) were responsible for the initial development of JDF, but in 2001, the companies transferred JDF activities to the International Cooperation for the Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press and Postpress (CIP4), an international standards body located in Switzerland. (CIP4 is the successor to CIP3, a joint initiative of vendors launched at Drupa 95.) Groups such as PODi, GCA, CGATS, SC6 and ICC have formed new cooperative agreements to further ensure the standard's compatibility with other efforts. CGATS chair Martin Bailey tells us more.

  • How does JDF differ from other graphic-arts standards and specifications?

    BAILEY: The standard itself isn't all that different, except in the ambitious scope of the requirements that it addresses. The reason it looks as if there is a difference is because the need for a standard in this area was more widely understood by both vendors and users before the work started than is the case for most standards. There had been several initiatives during the previous few years designed to come up with some approach to a common job ticket, or to mechanisms for translating between proprietary ones. All of those attempts had failed for one reason or another.

    When JDF was launched, it was complete enough and designed well enough that it was apparent that it could work, and it had very strong statements of support from some major vendors in the industry. That was enough to reach a critical mass of interest and acceptance so that it could be completed and real product started to appear.

  • Many commercial printers are most familiar with CIP3/4 as it relates to ink-key presets. When can we expect broader, end-to-end solutions?

    BAILEY: Don't knock ink-key presets! As run lengths get shorter, it becomes more important to trim time and waste off makeready, and the facilities that CIP3 PPF provide are very useful for that.

    There have already been quite a few demonstrations of products using JDF at trade shows, starting at Print 01 and then expanding dramatically at Ipex this year. Quite a few of those are either very close to shipping or already out. It's still going to be a while before a complete workflow can be built using off-the-shelf components from multiple vendors, connecting them using JDF. The way in which those products are being developed, however, means that there will almost certainly be a smooth migration path from the current state to that workflow.

  • JDF became an official standard in slightly more than a year — what facilitated a faster development process?

    BAILEY: It actually took somewhat more than a year — development had been going on for about a year before the idea was launched. Having said that, there were several vendors who felt so strongly that an open standard for job tickets was key to their future that they were willing to finance several staff members to work full time on its development. The one thing that slows most standards development down more than anything else is the lack of availability of people with the knowledge and technical expertise to figure out how to solve problems and to write out those solutions in a generally applicable way.

  • What key issues is the group currently addressing?

    BAILEY: The two main areas identified for new work in JDF 1.2 (to be published next year) are:

    • To push JDF further upstream toward design and origination, especially looking at transmission of digital assets and preflight

    • To emphasize the importance of, and to assist in implementing compatibility between, components from multiple vendors.

About Martin Bailey

Martin Bailey began his career in the graphic-arts market as a senior programmer for pagination systems. From there, he became software manager at a financial typesetting company in London. As that company began selling to and serving the desktop-publishing market, Bailey became bureau manager, technical director and, finally, R&D director. After a short period as consultant and production manager for a small desktop-publishing service provider in Aberdeen, Scotland, he joined the technical support group of what was then Harlequin, now Global Graphics Software (Cambridge, MA), in early 1993. Since then, he's held a variety of positions in the company, including support manager, product manager and developer, before becoming senior technical consultant.

Bailey chairs the Committee for Graphic Arts Technologies Standards' (CGATS) SC6 and SC6 Task Force 1 within it, and ISO TC130 WG2 TF2, both of which are developing aspects of PDF/X. He is also involved in other standards work related to variable-data printing and is CEO of CIP4.

In 2000, the Digital Distribution of Advertising for Publications Assn. (DDAP) honored Bailey with the Joseph L. Pedone Founders Award for his outstanding contribution to “open process integration through accredited standards.” CGATS presented Bailey with its 2002 Roland Zavada Standards Award (the “Rollie”) in recognition of his national and international contributions to standards development in the graphic arts.

About Alan Darling

When asked about his most satisfactory standards-related achievement, Alan Darling was quick to note that standards are a group effort: “Committee members are enthusiastic about the standards they are involved with — to get a new standard passed is a great feeling.”

Darling adds that TIFF/IT was a great accomplishment because it heralded the acceptance of digital ad delivery. Nonetheless, the exec reports the latest standards he has been working on, PDF/X-1 and PDF/X-3, “are the most satisfying on many levels. They mark the move to the next generation of digital-delivery file formats. The tool set to handle them, while still evolving, exists in the mainstream of software development (as opposed to TIFF/IT, where specialized tools had to be developed). PDF/X allows us to seriously look at the business information about the files (like insertion orders for ads) that would not be possible in any existing delivery format.”

Darling joined Quality House of Graphics (Long Island City, NY) as COO and CTO in September 2001. He is responsible for developing an integrated technology strategy that encompasses both Quality's ad-agency and printing clients and their internal workflows. Shortly after joining the company, Darling created a PDF/X-1a workflow to satisfy agencies' needs for the delivery of this file format.

From 1995 to 2001, Darling was president and COO of Western Laser (Valencia, CA). Prior to that, he spent nine years with Quad/Graphics, Inc. (Sussex, WI). The exec worked for Monotype, both in the UK and the U.S., from 1974 to 1986.

Darling is chairman of the Digital Distribution of Advertising for Publications Assn. (DDAP), a member of the Committee for Graphics Arts Technology Standards (CGATS) and a past board member of Western Publications Assn. (WPA).

PPML/VDX: enabling variable-data printing

PPML/VDX builds on Adobe's (San Jose, CA) PDF as well as Personalized Print Mark-up Language (PPML) to create an open standard for variable-data exchange. PPML is an XML-based, industry-standard printer language for variable-data printing. It enables documents that combine both database information and variable content to be created through a “save as” command in new software products.

PPML/VDX creates a verifiable data format that allows designers and printers to exchange final-form, variable documents electronically. A PPML/VDX-compliant job includes creative content from current design applications and variable information from common database applications.

The standard combines PPML's capabilities for encoding the layout of variable data with what are said to be PDF's openness, reliability and soft-proofing benefits. It gives designers control over the final form, content and merged appearance of each piece — even when every page or document is unique.

The PPML/VDX standard reportedly opens the door for designers and IT professionals to collaborate on variable-data applications for both print and e-commerce using open standards such as PDF, XML and PPML. RIT's (Rochester, NY) Frank Romano provides us with an update on the standard's development.

  • It has been said that PPML/VDX will remove a variable-printing stumbling block — can you elaborate?

    ROMANO: Until now, every variable-data printing program was linked to a specific digital-printer front end. This meant that the designer had to know exactly which printer was being used before starting the job. Designers usually do not work that way.

    PostScript and, later, PDF, freed the designer to start a project and then deliver it to any printer. We needed the same flexibility for personalized printing. As a result of the complexity of the workflow, only very large jobs were being produced. VDX now allows small jobs to be done profitably.

  • How has the industry responded to PPML/VDX? What will drive its acceptance?

    ROMANO: The standard is now published. Virtually every supplier of digital printing and personalized programs has been involved and is working to implement it. As digital-printer and front-end suppliers integrate the capability into their systems, PPML/VDX will become available to more creative professionals. Also, makers of variable-data programs are integrating the capability so that users can essentially “save” to a VDX file.

    VDX is PPML, which is an XML functionality inside Adobe Acrobat PDF that makes the entire job — layout, database and links — completely portable.

  • What's next for PPML/VDX?

    ROMANO: We are currently writing an applications note and will begin to look at any extensions to the standard. More importantly, the Digital Printing Council of PIA (Alexandria, VA), with support from Hewlett-Packard, EFI, Heidelberg and Xerox, are embarking on a major program to train graphic designers in variable-data printing. The package consists of an interactive training program on CD with a book of material about personalized printing, and it will be delivered via printing companies to their design clients. It is an ambitious project.

    To learn more about VDX, see npes.org/standards/subcommittees.html.

SWOP enters the digital age

This past year, Specifications for Web Offset Publications (SWOP) published the ninth edition of its set of specs: SWOP for the New Millennium: 2001.

“SWOP 2001 is the digital SWOP,” reports Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. Inc.'s (Hanover Park, IL) Larry Warter. “We completely changed the emphasis from analog film-based input to digital. We are a little disappointed there was not more excitement about the change. But SWOP is so completely accepted as the definitive force for publication that it's almost overlooked when people are expecting change. We're trying to address that issue.”

The new edition emphasizes specifying standard file formats for data exchange, namely PDF/X-1 and TIFF/IT-P1. It also stresses the acceptance of proofs from SWOP-certified systems.

SWOP: 2001 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. It also describes the responsibilities of all parties involved in the production process.

SWOP.org offers detailed information about the organization and its members, the proofing-system certification process, the specs themselves and all SWOP products.

About Larry Warter

The associations Larry Warter has volunteered with during his 30-year graphic-arts career read like a can of alphabet soup: GATF, WOA, GCA, R&E Council, NAPL, IPA, SWOP, GRACoL, SNAP, TAGA, GAMIS, CIP4, CGATS, ISO, PGSF, EPS and ICC.

Warter reports that his most satisfactory standards-related achievement was “when TIFF/IT was accepted as the preferred format for publications submissions. I'd spent more than five years trying to convince vendors to develop TIFF/IT-compliant workflows and I had met with active resistance from everyone.”

Warter is director of new-business development for Fuji Photo Film U.S.A., Inc. (Hanover Park, IL). Recent accolades include the GAMIS (Alexandria, VA) Neil Richards Visionary Leadership award, NAPL's (Paramus, NJ) Technical Leadership award and IPA's (Edina, MN) Leonard Holzinger award.

“He has contributed to our industry, our association and our lives,” said Michael Danz, chairman of the IPA board of directors, who presented the award to Warter on behalf of the organization. “Larry has a special place in his heart for this industry and has made significant contributions in the areas of standards, education and training. He has truly given above and beyond what is expected of any individual.”

About Frank Romano

Frank Romano's career has spanned more than 40 years in the printing and publishing industries. He is the Fawcett Professor at RIT's School of Print Media (Rochester, NY).

Romano, the author of 38 books, co-authored International Paper's “Pocket Pal.” His most recent books are “Pocket Guide to Digital Prepress,” “PDF Printing & Publishing” (written with RIT students) and the 10,000-term “Encyclopedia of Graphic Communications” (with Richard Romano). His books on InDesign and PDF workflow were among the first in their fields.

Romano has founded eight publications, serving as publisher or editor (or both) for TypeWorld (now Electronic Publishing), Computer Artist, Color Publishing, The Typographer, EP&P, and both the NCPA and PrintRIT Journals. His columns appear monthly in Electronic Publishing and the Digital Printing Report.

PDF: different strokes for different folks

To address the needs of disparate PDF users, industry standards groups are developing the PDF/X series of specifications: PDF/X-1, PDF/X-2 and PDF/X-3.

  • PDF/X-1 supports the complete exchange of CMYK data.

  • PDF/X-2 supports the exchange of CMYK and/or color-managed data, where some of the data required for final output, such as fonts or high-resolution picture data, are uniquely identified but exchanged separately from the main body of the data exchange. It is still under development.

  • PDF/X-3 supports the complete exchange of CMYK and/or device-independent color.

These targeted PDF subsets ensure that a basic set of specifications on the requirements of a PDF file will support the print-production workflow.

For more information, see “PDF/X frequently asked questions” at ddap.org/resources.

Gracol 6.0 now available

International Digital Enterprise Alliance (IDEAlliance) (Alexandria, VA) and its General Requirements for Applications in Commercial Offset Lithography (GRACoL) committee have announced the availability of GRACoL 6.0. Published annually, GRACoL's mission is to report the influence and impact of new technologies on commercial offset lithography.

GRACoL 6.0 includes new or revised sections covering subjects such as PDFs, digital proofing, process control, color management and gray balance. Roy Zucca, GRACoL co-chair, notes that an in-depth discussion about the evolution of referenced printing conditions and standards has also been added.

A copy of GRACoL 6.0 costs $9 ($6 for IDEAlliance members). High-quantity discounts are also available.

For more information or to order a copy of GRACoL 6.0, go to gracol.org or call IDEAlliance at (703) 837-1070.