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Is Universal Workflow on the Horizon?

(May 2005) posted on Thu May 05, 2005

Several technologies have emerged to make tighter workflow integration possible.

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By Stephen Beals

At the recent Graphics of the Americas show, there was a buzz
that digital-printer manufacturers are finally realizing that the
creative and manufacturing communities need a seamless way
to go from digital, to offset, to Web, and back. There was a consensus
that a "one-workflow-fits-all" approach is needed"?and it
seems that there is much work going on to make this happen.

A holistic approach to printing! It almost sounds too simple.
But, why not? After all, we are starting from essentially the same
point"?with raw files created
by a designer. The challenge,
however, has been
that the end product has a
powerful impact on the
design and production workflow.
At present, the designer
needs to know what the target
output device will be in
order to create a design that
works. Designing for print
requires a different approach
than designing for the Web.
And designing for digital printers uses a completely different rulebook
than designing for output on an offset press.

A merger of technologies

Several technologies have emerged to make tighter workflow integration
possible. One has been around a long time: OPI (Open Prepress
Interface, from Adobe). While many print-production programs
don't follow the precise Adobe code, the essential idea is to
use smaller (in terms of file size), lower-resolution images for
design, and then swap out the high-res images on-the-fly once the
job hits the RIP. That concept is about to be pushed a lot further.

The other is PDF. Used for all manner of file delivery, PDF has
the capability of retaining vector data for clean output of those elements
at any resolution, and the ability to apply compression to
raster images to keep the files small. The fly in the PDF ointment,
though, is that the raster elements can be low resolution, and
common office software likes to treat black text as "rich black."

For that matter, the vector content of a PDF file can have
every single vector element rasterized at any resolution and still
be called a PDF. While the fact that a print file is in PDF format
means it can be viewed on virtually any computer platform, it
does not mean it can print satisfactorily on any machine.