Catalogers Make the Switch to an All-Digital Workflow

The search for better, faster and less expensive technologies is leading catalogers into the digital age. Already, established analog processes such as film-making, contact-proofing and plate-making are obsolete for certain applications because print projects can flow directly from digital files to the press. New technologies, such as computer to plate (CTP) already are in place.

CTP has generated a tremendous amount of hype regarding proofing, last-minute changes, plate remakes and the overall economy of implementing the technology. Industry studies indicate that at least 50 percent of all plates will be made using CTP by 2000. Since the technology is obviously growing and becoming more acceptable to catalogers, it is important to understand its benefits.

CTP reduces cycle time considerably because the film is eliminated. The speed of a digital workflow is increased because the film is skipped. Quality also is enhanced because the plate is a first-generation image, not a second generation as it is with film. Quality problems such as scratches, dimensional stability and impact contact also are avoided. So why haven't more catalogers embraced this new technology?

The answers vary. Nevertheless, there are some core issues involved with CTP that will surely qualify as benefits — and those who make the transition stand to gain:

Workflow efficiency: Because film doesn't need to be plotted, schedules can be compressed for greater efficiency.

Creative control: CTP's flexibility allows for later changes to be made and much more easily than in a conventional plate-making operation.

Content management: Digital content used in CTP workflow is much easier to re-purpose for alternative media. Ads can be re-purposed for the creation of Web sites or CD-ROMs, for example. The same information can be transmitted via high-speed communications to various locations across the country for printing and distribution, with the same ad running in multiple publications printing in multiple locations.

Workflow flexibility: Printers can receive files from different formats (Scitex, Quark, Pagemaker). This gives the customer more control over its pages and lets it make changes to original documents while having the most current at its site. A customer can send corrected files to the printer and have the digital prepress department make the changes.

Quicker registration: Press operators can get the press into register faster. CTP is a more exacting process than stripping of film. With CTP, the exact beginning point of the exposure to the plate is recorded. The head of the exposing unit looks for the edge of the plate and exposes exactly the same place for each plate.

Upcoming technologies are going to continue to improve and make using CTP much easier. Many of the file problems are being eliminated with Portable Document Format, which helps catalogers impose content in a more expedient and efficient manner. It allows catalogers to print and view the documents without the applications or fonts that created them and may be the cure to many common file-preparation problems. With CTP and Portable Document Format becoming the norm, proof turnaround and cycle times are becoming more and more compressed.

Although more development is needed to achieve a completely digital workflow, CTP and its commitment to the 100 percent digital concept may well be the first step to enhancing quality and reducing catalog production time.

Bill Marshall is executive vice president of sales and marketing at Banta Catalog Group, Maple Grove, MN.

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