Because I personally have many friends, acquaintances, and clients on both sides of these industries, I usually try to attend both Seybold, as well as Print/GraphExpo. This simultaneous cross industry mix that was prevalent at this year’s show was a refreshing change, and an opportunity to see vendor solutions that span the gamut from content creation to finishing.
Seybold, with its focus on the publishers, content creators and corporate graphic departments, was highly focused on content management and publishing workflow tools. Print05’s hardware however was focused on large format, custom sizing, job automation and ticketing, standards and alternatives such as inkjet/toner implementation.
The real beauty here is that for almost the first time in the nearly 20 years I have been in this business, they are beginning to see the value of cooperative implementation along all stages of the process. The line between prepress and printing is blurring.
While spending nearly a week at a trade show and a conference on print and publishing, I came away with a few notable trends: People like to “drag and drop” workflows, they like to take people out of the variable pool, and they like improving profitability.
One of the main new philosophies in our industry is that, “If a human has to intervene, or place their hands or focus on an individual job, they will lose money.” While on a large scale that may well hold true, but there is and will always be a need for flexibility in the nature that every job is different to a printer.
That flexibility is one of the reasons I really like the new dragable, customisable workflows. No two shops are alike. These were all recurring themes at the show, and they all would make for great future planning if not for one thing… The print industry tends to abhor change.
Our industry will accept change only if it has compelling reasons to do so. If the photo process had not meant massive time savings and a compelling lowering of labor costs to accomplish print preparation, we would still be hand cutting type and imagery. (Also, not to neglect an opportunity to mention that in my reader poll that I set up on one of my servers as per my contribution in July, a mere one respondent replied to my question as to whether film is dead.)
That said, a few of the new things announced or shown at the event that particularly caught my attention were on both sides of the industry: prepress and print.
Most software/workflow vendors had some form of new solution that passes JDF, XML data for hands-free workflow and job ticketing. Most of these offer the slick drag and drop interfaces I mentioned above to show visual representations of job cues, and server roles.
I like this method of customising workflow, and offerings from many vendors, including Dalim, the new player from Enfocus founder’s spinoff Gradual Software and their acquisition of CaslonFlow, and Enfocus’ new Pdf Automate, all provide drag and drop workflows.
These offerings allow for prepress roles to be laid out as a floor plan of tasks, and servers, with drag enabled connections allowing users to direct conditional situations to provide a work-path. These tools allow customisation to new levels, and can provide users the ability to construct, or reconstruct workflows as diversely as a box of Legos.
The real beauty of these workflow tools, is that they allow for conditional variables and results. These drag and drop workflows allow the user to configure a fail or pass variable to control the flow of a job either to the next stage of the process, or to recue the job in some other fashion. Virtually every vendor I spoke with is already or will be providing full compliance with both JDF for job submission, and XMP for variable data inclusion and implementation.
On the hardware front, some of the newer offerings from JetPlate and Glunz & Jensen were CTP solutions based upon inkjet printing of plates onto aluminum plates. This technology is of interest to me (as regular readers of my column are aware) because I see inkjet manufacturing as a huge growth segment of our industry, growing beyond what we would consider to be normal “print” roles.
When we can actually print a plate on a device, a plate that we can actually print from, the cost of entry into CTP is lower than it has been ever. Inkjet manufacturing is a large part of our future, and a real and viable way to enhance traditional print-related sales with value added variable data finishing or mailing. I have said it before, and I will say it again, trade shows keep affirming my gut feeling – inkjet will change the world. Maybe we will not be using inkjets just to proof anymore, maybe we will be using them to manufacture.
So, once again, nothing really earth shattering was released at the show. We are learning that massive change is not necessarily a good thing and we are looking to purchase tools that utilise our legacy investments while adding functionality and features that our customers either need or want.
The days of literally finding a scrap dealer to haul off old print equipment “by the pound” because of massive change in the technology in our industry, may be going away. The vendors all want to play well with others, speak the same language and integrate themselves into seemingly any workflow.
The tools from Adobe continue to be refined, and their arch rival Quark has a new look, logo and version of their Xpress application that they announced this show. (The Quark/Adobe battle for content creation platforms has gone a long way to improve the overall suitability of their tools to our industry.)
Software vendors, now an important part of our industry, are seeing the importance of their role finally, and taking print as an industry very seriously. Which is why, again, the recurring theme among software developers, is that they can take any file, and process it into virtually any workflow. (Historically, these same vendors approached the industry with the mindset that, “This is our workflow, you should scrap what you currently use for ours.”)
Our industry continues to mature, and the tools follow as well. All is well as long as people do not need to manually touch a file (grin).