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JDF: Ready for Take-Off?

(July 2011) posted on Thu Jun 30, 2011

The Job Definition Format has been around for a decade now. So why isn’t it more common in wide-format printing—and why is that about to change?

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Esko’s Plettinck has the same take: “In general, this is one of JDF’s advantages: It allows the customer to build solutions from products from different vendors. For example, JDF capabilities are not yet present on the input side in our iCut Layout; but on the output side, the product can already generate a JDF layout. It’s a generic description of how you’re going to place the different items on a sheet, independent of which wide-format printer you actually want to send the file to. As long as the RIP on that device supports JDF layout, it can take the output of iCut Layout.”

“From the Vutek perspective, it’s going to be bundled in with the latest versions of the GS series of printers, and it’s also being included into the Fiery XF 4.5 version that’s just being released, says Mark Goodearl, EFI/Vutek product marketing manager. “There won’t be anything separate to get, it’ll just be a matter of configuring it to work together. We’re going to continue to build JDF capabilities into future Vutek printers, and at some point we may add it to the legacy equipment.”

How soon?
As said before, one JDF-enabled component isn’t much good by itself, but there’s a network effect: automating one segment of a workflow makes automating other segments easier and more appealing.

”We expect demand for JDF to grow quickly as print service providers learn about the power of automation,” says Mattiussi. “It will be driven by ‘the big guys,’ but the entire market will benefit. The alternative is a proprietary, single-vendor RIP and MIS system, and if we learned nothing else from the conventional print markets, it’s that customers don’t want to be locked to one vendor.”

Part of this process is the CIP4 working group’s efforts to develop Interoperability Conformance Specifications (ICS) for wide-format printing. “Now all the HP partners that are certified provide a level of interaction to our customers,” explains HP’s Peiro. “But once this becomes an ICS, the whole world can interact with those partners.”

As for how soon this all might happen, no one can really say. “We can only make an inference from other industries,” says Plettinck. “When I became active in the JDF world, there was no JDF whatsoever in labels and packaging. By now it’s widely adopted. Once an industry starts using it and seeing the advantages of it, the adoption rate can rise very quickly.”

HP’s Cuzner sees the same parallels. “The JDF standard across the graphic-arts industry and digital production devices appears to be well accepted and used. We see that wide format will adopt a similar path, but it’s very difficult to predict the trajectory. When you’re working with the CIP4, the timeline is rather vague. You’re working with partners coming from different angles with different speeds. We do have specs at HP, and we know what makes sense from the technology perspective.”

“If it takes more than a year and a half, it will be too late—by then something else will have happened,” Peiro chimes in. “Hopefully it will take about a year.”

Kirschner is bullish on the possibilities for his company. “Probably only two to five percent of our current RIP sales are equipped with JDF capabilities,” he says. “But I think that within the next three to five years, all print service providers will have to be able to accept jobs via the Web. We feel that JDF is the best route.”

Jake Widman is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Big Picture magazine.

Want to learn more about what JDF entails? Check out the ABCs of JDF: