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Making Workflows Faster and Easier

New technologies have reached every corner of the DM industry, including print production. Gone are unwieldy film proofs and the endless wait between revision cycles. Today, a print project can be handled entirely in the digital realm, and your extensive customer data can be used to create truly personalized marketing communications.

Here are a few of these advances you may be hearing about, or will be soon:

PDF proofs that handle variable data. PDF technology has made the creation, transfer, proofing and printing of projects much easier and faster. The idea of a PDF as a universal file format is to create a document that’s readable on any computer. As such, a PDF file is designed to be a fixed representation of the print project.

This is both an advantage of the PDF format and one of its biggest challenges. For projects that include variable data personalization, it’s been nearly impossible to use PDF files as accurate proofing tools. But developments in PDF distillation technology are moving toward the possibility of creating various layers within PDF proofs, which let viewers see both preprinted copy and personalized copy within the same PDF file.

Known as PDF layering or versioning, this technology lets users create a PDF file with varying versions based on a single shell. Depending on the job, this can slash the number of proofs needed to view every version of a direct mail project.

This technology still presents challenges. Though many new software packages provide many PDF editing and preflighting tools, few let users create versioned PDF files. In addition, there isn’t a single method for differentiating between the preprinted shell and the variable data elements. The software packages that create versioned PDF files handle this many ways, which means your print and mail services provider must select the package that best integrates with its workflow.

This technology is in its infancy, and software with new features is always being released. Consult your printing or mailing services provider to learn more about how PDF layering and versioning can improve your projects.

Bridging the color gap. The flexibility of digital print production workflows has resulted in a range of proofing options. From soft proofs such as PDF files to hard inkjet and halftone dot proofs, digital proofing options differ on four points: price, speed, image quality and color accuracy. While differences in those first three are straightforward, the difference in color accuracy is much less so.

For many marketers, proofs that can be distributed and viewed remotely are an enticing aspect of digital proofing technology. But achieving color accuracy in this realm can be daunting. After all, the only way to be sure that the color you see in your office matches the color your printer sees is to install the same equipment, software and trained personnel as your printer, right at your desk. Though that’s neither practical nor desirable, customers are hungry for solutions that come as close as possible to replicating that level of reliability.

Industry standards seek to alleviate this problem by giving printers and equipment manufacturers a color accuracy target. For example, equipment calibrated using International Color Consortium color profiles gives printers and customers some peace of mind that the proofs they see meet stringent color standards. The downside to achieving these standards is that the calibration process can be lengthy and complex.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in color management is getting what’s on screen to match what’s on paper. For example, an on-screen PDF often has slight color variations from an inkjet proof printed from that same PDF file. Part of the challenge is in the different color palettes of the two mediums. Files optimized for CMYK printing must be translated into RGB colors for on-screen viewing. In addition, monitors used for color proofing must be specially calibrated for accurate color viewing.

Dozens of software packages address the CMYK-to-RGB conversion and monitor calibration. These color management tools don’t always yield optimum results. For example, a single PDF file sent to 10 users with identically calibrated monitors may still result in slight color variations, both from monitor to monitor and monitor to printed proof.

Though strides in color management continue, the best solution is to request proofs that you’re comfortable viewing. Look for a printing and direct mail services provider with several proofing options, and request a sample from each using a file you supply.

Making a better fine-toothed comb. As completely digital workflows become common, so do the tools that seek to improve the files we exchange. That’s the role of preflighting software, which gives files a once-over before they’re sent to the printer.

Original versions of preflighting tools were little more than a series of checklists that ensured a file contained at least the basic structure of a printable document.

The latest preflighting tools more resemble the actual prepress workflow systems of a commercial printer. They let designers trap, manage color, create PDF files and much more. In addition, many of these programs output files that are matched to a set of print-specific job definition standards. This gives printers the confidence to plug the files directly into their own prepress workflows, expediting the prepress process and getting files press-ready much faster. Some preflight software will even match your file against a plug-in of file settings that are customized to the requirements of a specific print provider, offering the ultimate in accuracy.

Regardless of how sophisticated these tools become or how much they simplify file creation, they are not meant to replace the experience of a designer or content creator. Every project differs; what’s printable for one project may be unsuitable for another. Only an experienced designer or prepress technician can decide what the proper setting should be for each project and make corrections accordingly.

As the latest print production technologies evolve, print and mail service providers and their customers will discover exactly how each one can be used to improve workflows for better quality and more effective mail campaigns.

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