R.R. Donnelley Starts Shift to All Digital Prepress Operation

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R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. has begun an 18-month project to make its production operations all digital by offering prepress processes online and making the Portable Document Format, or PDF, the standard format for clients.

The printing services company said that standardizing on the PDF format will streamline file preparation processes such as scanning, preflighting and proofing. R.R. Donnelley, Chicago, also said that digitizing its operations will let clients monitor and manage print productions over the Web, in most cases ending the need for shipment of paper proofs between printer and client for editing.

The move to all-digital production represents a multimillion-dollar investment, said Mary Lee Schneider, president of R.R. Donnelley's premedia technology group. The technology for total digitization has been around for several years, and some analysts, such as Thad McIlroy, author and president of Arcadia House, San Francisco, long have called for a digital migration in the print industry.

Print and production is by nature a conservative industry, and many in the graphics arts community remain reluctant to accept totally digital production, holding to the idea of always having a paper proof, McIlroy said. All-digital production has gained broad acceptance only in the past year or so.

"From some perspectives, Donnelley is late to the party," McIlroy said. "But in reality, the party's just getting going, and Donnelley has arrived at a good time."

R.R. Donnelley plans to create new file preparation facilities called Digital Solution Centers dedicated to a specific segment of its client base. The first one is in Pontiac, IL, and is dedicated to the production of trade magazines.

Catalog clients, which include Lands' End and L.L. Bean, eventually will deal strictly with one R.R. Donnelley location. The print communications provider has yet to pick a location for the planned catalog center.

Currently, a client might deal with three R.R. Donnelley preprint operations as well as third-party outsourcers to produce a campaign. Because each individual preprint facility uses its own standard format, the client would be responsible for sending out page proofs in multiple formats.

"We've got different workflows at every operation," Schneider said. "It's not often that you want to be in a position to tell your customer, 'You're wrong, we need to do it this way,' then not give them the tools to do it."

To implement the digital standardization, R.R. Donnelley will use PDF workflow technology developed by Vancouver, British Columbia-based Creo Inc. R.R. Donnelley bankrolled Creo's development of its technology in 1994 and adopted Creo's Prinergy workflow system and its Synapse InSite Internet Portal, which allows clients to access production information over the Web, in its book publishing operations last year.

Those programs will be installed company-wide, Schneider said. R.R. Donnelley's choice of Creo earned praise from some analysts, including McIlroy, who said that in the past R.R. Donnelley has talked a good game about adopting cutting-edge technology, but not necessarily walked the walk.

"I'm impressed," McIlroy said. "I've not been a big defender of Donnelley."

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