Before You Print: Know Your Content

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If you've been responsible for producing print during the past decade or so, you've witnessed a revolution: the advent of digital content creation and computer-to-plate (CTP) print manufacturing. No longer is it necessary to print via analog means, with image setters and film driving the process.

Digital files are now the means for delivering content to any number of output possibilities: from traditional offset printing process to digital print engines, from Web site pages to documents bound for DVD or CD-ROMs.

As direct marketing and other print segments moved away from their dependence on film, responsibilities blurred. Suddenly, it was no longer just the printer who was responsible for quality assurance. That became a shared responsibility between the print buyer and print supplier.

In the early days of CTP, you may have found that printers were happy just to get digital content files. They had invested enormous capital in the new digital equipment and wanted a return on their investment. They accepted every type of file format from their clients: PostScript, Microsoft Word or Publisher files, DCS files, EPS files, TIFF, etc.

It was an inefficient way to work.

So printers didn't want any old files anymore. They wanted well-prepared files, not problematic ones that stalled production and the press room schedule. They realized that if a client can submit a digital file in the format the printer prefers (usually based on the type of prepress equipment and software they're running - PDF, for example), without any resident errors, the printing process will be more consistent, streamlined and cost-efficient for the printer and customer. These are the principles, after all, that CTP was based upon.

Standards groups enacted reform in digital file formats, and formats such as TIFF/IT-P1 and PDF/X-1a became standards for print production. Because these file formats were simple and cost-effective enough to make right on the designer's desktop (at least PDF/X files are), the need for prepress suppliers diminished, placing much of the quality-control burden back onto the shoulders of the content creators or print customer.

It is expected that when a file leaves a designer's workstation bound for a printer it is intact, prepared according to specification and ready to be proofed and processed immediately through the printer's prepress system. That's the ideal. But it's not the reality in the market today. Many printers confide that up to 80 percent to 90 percent of the digital files they receive from customers are problematic. They may have minor, easily fixed errors like an unembedded font set, or more complicated errors such as improper color space, dimensions or missing bleeds.

Even the most experienced graphic artist is capable of honest mistakes. But even the most minor file problems can cause unexpected delays in the schedule, additional costs for remedying the file's problems and increase the chance for a missed deadline.

Fortunately, the developers and vendors that support the graphic arts and print industries can be credited for a quick, thorough response to these new challenges. Along came remarkable technologies that made the new process better - solutions for digital proofing and job collaboration and pre-post-flighting, for example.

The tools for pre- (verification at the native application stage) and post-flighting (verification at the final exchange format stage) have been critical to enabling the print industry to embrace the idea of moving around files rather than film. Pre- and post-flighting solutions are typically standalone or server-based applications that look inside a digital file and tell you whether the file is complete and accurate, according to its output intentions. If an RGB resides in a document bound for four-color process, the software will tell you. If the file creator forgot to embed fonts, it will let you know.

Pre-/post-flight solutions might be the most important tool DMers can implement to ensure the success of a print campaign.

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