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Making Critical Prepress Upgrades

(May 2012) posted on Thu May 03, 2012

"So as we move into faster printers and bigger files, don’t we also need faster and more powerful prepress equipment?"

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By Craig Miller

Combating down time
So as we move into faster printers and bigger files, don’t we also need faster and more powerful prepress equipment? It’s a sad truth that we sometimes focus on providing our staff with the latest and best production equipment, but then have our prepress people languishing on old computers. This is a big mistake. We have had 20 production people and all their associated equipment idle because files weren’t ready. Remember Moore’s Law: Processing power will double every two years. It often doesn’t take very long for computers to become obsolete. So how do you keep up?

For those of us with a printing background, we tend to be Mac-centric in our prepress departments. Those who evolved from the sign industry tend to prefer PCs. At least all of us now run prepress computers with Intel processors (sorry AMD).

My own shop has historically been a Mac shop for prepress and a PC shop for RIPs. And while Apple has been releasing amazing consumer products, its last Mac Pro was released in August 2010 (has Apple abandoned us graphics pro users?). Our shop’s old Mac Pros were getting old and too expensive to upgrade, and we decided to not wait for Apple to release its next Mac Pro. One solution we’ve found is to buy consumer-oriented Macs. The iMacs now have screens measuring up to 27-inches and smoking i7 processors, and it’s easy (and cheap) to upgrade these to 16 gigs of RAM.

We also have tried top-of-the-line Mac Mini servers, using these as prepress workstations. If you already have good monitors in-house, these little gems work very well. They have two hard drives, but no optical in their compact case. We use external Blu-ray drives, max out the RAM, and replace one of the drives with a solid-state drive. They cost less than $1000, and we put another $300 to $400 into their upgrades. The Mini’s biggest weakness is its graphics card. We upgraded two of our staff to this Mac Mini solution (from old Mac Pro towers) and they have been very happy with the performance results. For the price of a new Mac Pro, you can buy three of these.