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Jul 1, 2007 12:00 AM

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Prepress manager Sam Hargis describes himself as “the original PDF robot.” Over the years, he grew tired of the seemingly endless string of tedious manual tasks he had to carry out prior to RIPping files. “Nobody was really automating this work,” he recalls. “Everything was manual — checking out the files, getting the stuff linked up into PostScript, then PDFs, making proofs and so on.”

In 2002, Hargis released PDF-X-Robot, workflow software with an Xtension for Quark and a plug-in for InDesign. “It's the fastest way to make clean PDF files for magazine, catalog and commercial printing production,” he says.

PDF-X-Robot automates all processes that take place prior to feeding a file into a RIP. Once a page has been designed, PDF-X-Robot can do the rest. It automatically preflights, “PostScripts” and/or distills, and outputs to proof. Page by page, all fonts and graphics are verified and locked in.

“It does all the heavy lifting,” Hargis explains. “It basically replaces all the [manual] preflighting and output file work. If you were to take all of these processes and do them on your own, you would have to check every graphic and font on every page. It would take you probably to 50 to 60 clicks to do what my software can accomplish with a couple of clicks.”

In 2002, to promote and support PDF-X-Robot, Hargis launched In addition to product information, the site also hosts discussions on virtually every aspect of graphic-arts workflow. Popular discussion topics include software, computer-to-plate options, consumables and, according to one forum participant, “which vendors can be relied upon!”

Many users are drawn to the forums for troubleshooting purposes. “In analyzing search terms, it seems many are looking for information on a specific error message,” says Hargis.

Be nice or leave

Hargis, who had previously participated in a vendor-dominated online industry forum, is determined to keep “vendor propaganda” to a minimum at “There are only a few salespeople and they know they have to be open to valid criticism,” he says. “They're told [to explain] rather than oversell their products.”

Mark Tonkovich, Heidelberg USA (Kennesaw, GA) product manager for CTP and proofing, says he enjoys analyzing participant's problems and proposing solutions: “The forum provides a pulse on what users are looking for and what is important to them. It truly is a worldwide forum and, needless to say, the problems cited are universal.”

Forum participants can post anonymously and candidly, but those who can't substantiate their claims — or who obviously are pursuing some kind of vendetta — will be asked to leave. To date, Hargis has encountered only a few bad apples. “There's a surprisingly high level of technical knowledge; you could ask almost anything and get an answer,” says Hargis. “Some people will really research and dig for answer, which is pretty cool.”

Most of the site's 4,000 members are U.S.-based, but the forum also attracts some prepress specialists from England, France, India and many other countries. Although a few participants post under their real names, as with most online forums, many prefer to use an alias. “Snoopcat,” from Tulsa, OK, first signed on in 2002 and calls the site a “storehouse of solved problems — and all of the solutions are searchable in Google, Yahoo, etc. I was amazed at the help I could get so easily and freely. I can't remember many questions going unanswered or problems unsolved.

“There's not much fluff or useless ‘over’ posting. Every day, I can search these forums and find things that I did not know. I get and give free unbiased professional help quickly, anytime. How can you beat that?”

Another participant, “Swarnangka,” works for an imaging company based in India and credits the site with providing “insights on my customers' needs, wants, aspirations and grievances.”

Swarnangka calls the forum, “a great enabler, like Google,” and says its global following is growing: “It is slowly gaining tremendous power to influence the graphic arts customer community. For emerging markets [in other countries], its influence is and will be more pronounced as, in the click of a button, it brings the experiences of developed markets to them. May it never cease to put forward the truth (which it currently does, occasionally very harshly) and become just another advertiser-dictated forum!”

Hargis doesn't currently accept ads, other than the Google-generated kind, and says he remains committed to his original vision of creating a home for user-driven discussions. According to Hargis, many of the threads demonstrate the resilience and resourcefulness of most prepress professionals. “A company owner or senior executive might second-guess a software or hardware decision,” he explains. “It might not be something I would buy, but the people who have to make the stuff work always do. They might have some problems, but they're not complaining about what management bought; they're figuring it out.”

Editor's note: See pg. 40 for workflow-related products and news.

Katherine O'Brien is editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at