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One of the technologies that has been on the fringes in the graphic arts for a long time is the ability to bypass making a negative and, instead, go directly from a file to an imposed plate. This has long been looked on as a sort of ultimate, but always unattainable, goal for printers but, alas, it's now possible.
Actually it has been around in one form or another for several years but the stories we heard about its success were such that it seemed to offer far more problems than it did positive results. At any rate practically no one in the short-run book printing business seemed inclined to take the plunge. However, some recent advances in technology, and some demonstrated positive results have altered the scenario here and, by early July, TS will become the first Michigan short-run printer to be able to go from a customer furnished file, direct to a press ready plate. Here, to the best of our knowledge at the moment, is what this will mean to TS and our customers. But first of all, before we take credit for blazing a new technology trail here, I'll admit that an underlying reason we took this step is that we are approaching 100% utilization of our two current imagesetters and we need additional capacity.
Currently most imagesetters are nothing but film output devices and they sell for about $300,000. However for some $200,000 more you can combine imagesetting with the latest in computer-to-plate (CTP) capabilities and that's the path we chose. Our new machine, the Creo Trendsetter, will allow us, when appropriate, to go directly from a text file to printing plates, for 5.5 x 8.5 and 6 x 9 trim sizes (either sheet-fed or web impositions) and for 7 x 10 trims that are done on the web.
Going direct-to-plate will alter some of the ways traditional book printing has functioned. From a cost point of view, there will be a savings in the material cost, processing and handling of the page negative of approximately $1.25 for a 6 x 9 page.
Currently this savings will be mostly offset by the plate required for this process as it is over three times the cost of a regular aluminum plate. However, the cost of these new plates is expected to decline significantly within the next two years, so there should be significant cost savings eventually. From an environmental standpoint there is no negative to develop and the new plates will eventually be a "processor-less" plate so no chemicals at all are involved. Between these two factors, there are a lot less chemicals going down the drain. Actually, in CTP, you don't even need a darkroom. All the imaging is thermal imaging not light imaging so any light will do.
From the standpoint of quality of reproduction, going direct-to-plate (at 2400 dpi) will be one generation closer to the original copy source so quality should be better than ever. While going from a file to a negative is one generation better than going from camera copy to a negative to a plate, going from a file direct to a printing plate is 2 generations closer to the original source.
As far as production speed is concerned, going direct-to-plate eliminates the step of making the negative so movement of the job through one additional department is eliminated and thus, it is faster.
Proofing has been one of the major problems to be solved in going direct-to-plate and here is the solution that we have arrived at. If a customer sends us a lot of work that's going to go computer-to-plate, we can provide them with a package of software that will allow you to receive a "virtual" proof almost instantly over the phone lines. The customer, if they have a speedy Mac and lots of RAM, can see their proof on a screen, checking layout, backup, margins, etc. They will not, however, be able to make changes without providing us a file correction. They could view 16 pages at a time or 1 at a time if they prefer. We can also offer what is being called a digital blue that we make and print out on a HP duplexing laserprinter and send to the customer just like a regular blue. The significance of this proof is that the file will be RIPped with the same RIP that will output the plate. The Creo system comes with software that orchestrates this process. Any problems that we will encounter in the RIPping process will be apparent in this proof. In most cases the digital blueline can be printed on the text stock the job will print on.
With CTP, the completed jobs will be archived on digital linear tape (DLT to the technology experts) in near line storage (I suppose that's NLS) and this allows reprints to be called up and made ready for plate in minutes instead of hours or days for a reprint done from conventional negatives. Corrections done when reprinting a book will be both quicker and easier for computer-to-plate because new film doesn't need to be made and stripped. The direct-to-plate reprint will be made on the more expensive plate again but that plate cost may be offset by the time savings created by having the job on DLT and not having to pull and check (and perhaps correct) negative flats.
If you would like to see a sample of the digital proofs so you can see for yourself how they compare to a conventional blueline, give your CSR (or anyone at TS for that matter if you're not a customer and don't have a CSR) a call and we'll be happy to send you a sample.
There you have it. All the news that's fit to print about the latest revolution in graphic arts copy and plate preparation and it comes to you from your reliable and unbiased source Printer's Ink.
By the time you receive your next issue of PI, we should have some case histories to tell you about. Why not aim to be the first publisher on your block to get a short run book printed using CTP technology?
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During the past year and a half, TS had 2 five-person outside consulting teams look at our "order entry" process. These teams were both visiting us as part of educational projects and both, independently, came up with the same recommendation and that was that we should put our primary customer contact functions into regional, cross functional "matrix teams," instead of having them in individual departments of marketing, estimating, customer service, order processing, order planning and, in the case of EP jobs, preflight.
These teams, one from EDS and one from the U of M Business School, used TS as a lab to give their people consulting experience. Both teams spent approximately 2 months working in our plant with a team of our people and they both left behind recommendations for how they felt we could successfully implement this and what the resulting benefits would be.
Following these recommendations, we formed our own design team of one person from each of the affected departments and this team has been meeting for several weeks now. Their job is to develop our implementation plan and to get one "pilot team" functioning.
And by the time you read this, our first team should be in place.
After we have some experience with the pilot team, it is our intention to move, within 9 months, to have 4 or 5 teams in place (i.e. the entire customer contact and order entry people will end up working in cross-functional teams instead of departments).
Some of the steps we need to take to accomplish this will be cross training some of the people to be able to fill in wherever the team needs help figuring how they will be supervised if, indeed, they are to be supervised how are the individuals going to be reviewed or is the review done as a group setting up a system for measuring how it is working, etc.
Some of the major goals of this restructuring are to be able to put 90% of our incoming jobs into production within 24 hours of receipt, reduce the number of internal revisions we make on jobs because questions are discovered and answered before work is begun, reduce the number of incoming customer calls that go into voice mail by 50%, handle all jobs consistently and efficiently and, overall have better communication with customers and get their questions answered better and quicker and keep them proactively informed on the progress of their jobs.
We anticipate having all the teams organized, trained and functioning by Spring, 1999.
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For quite a few years now we have had a procedure where we confirm the price of every job after it is received at T-S. If the job is identical to our original quotation, then the confirmation is also identical to that quote. However, the large majority of jobs actually have some variation from the original quote and the purpose of our price confirmation is to let the customer know what impact those variations are going to have on your final invoice.
The price confirmation is sent out within days of the arrival of the order here at T-S so if you have any questions about the price you can ask them before the job is manufactured. As a matter of fact, if you make a change that will effect the final price during the time the order is in production at T-S, we will send out an updated price confirmation that reflects that change and shows your new price.
All of this is aimed at eliminating any surprises on your final invoice. However, if you do not read the price confirmation then it won't be doing any good.
The second confirmation that we send out on every job we receive is our confirmation of specifications. This also goes out shortly after the order is received, and it frequently goes out in the envelope with the price confirmation. The confirmation of specifications actually spells out every spec we have on your job. And it also shows any items we still need from you like shipping instructions, cover copy, or whatever. This confirmation is designed to tell you how we interpreted your instructions and to let you know exactly what we'll be producing so there will be no surprises for you.
Many of our customers check out these two confirmations thoroughly when they get them but we still have instances where they are not looked at and because of this, problems sometimes occur.
When you produce a "custom product" like a book, it's best to do everything possible to be sure the printer produces what you're instructing them to. If you take the time to look over these two sheets that go out on every job, it should go a long way toward insuring that your expectations will be met.
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Paper prices don't merit much more than a passing comment in this issue since they have not moved much since February. The overall trend of white text stock appears to be downward while natural isn't moving in either direction. Currently, our natural floor sheet, Glatfelter's Supple Opaque, is about 20% higher priced than our white floor sheet, Joy White.
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The Ann Arbor telephone area code is changing from 313 to 734. For the moment, either area code will work, but as of July 25th, you will have to dial 734 to reach us. I think the phone companies must be trying to help out all the printers who do business cards and stationery, as area code changes seem to be effecting the entire country.
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In case you missed it, the University of Michigan Hockey team duplicated their Football team's feat and won the NCAA Championship in April. They crushed Boston College 4-3 in overtime in the final game. And this afternoon I'm going to see the U of M women's softball team (48-4 and ranked #2 in the country) play the 1st game in their participation in the post season tournaments which could lead to an NCAA championship. They have a pitcher who is 29-0 and she's also their leading hitter.
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At the request of a customer, I'd like to say that typos in a manuscript are not something that a printer is apt to catch. If there is a typo or grammatical error that gets past the proofreader, it is very likely going to get in the printed piece. We have caught misspellings in author's names or book titles on covers but that is the exception, not the rule.
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We had a customer who asked that we address in PI how we can suggest customers could save money by "ganging" their jobs. Actually, virtually every order for a standard trim size book that we receive will be ganged with other orders of the same trim size and text paper. Our pricing reflects the fact that your book will be run with other similar work so there is no additional saving if you send in two at once.
If you're doing a really unusual trim size or a short-side bind book, where we are not apt to have something similar to run it with, then there could be economies to be had in the unlikely event that you had two of them.
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In case you're interested in electronic prepress progress vs. conventional layout, about 2 out of every three-text jobs that come to TS now come via file format. For covers and jackets the numbers are now 3 out of every four are received on a file.
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Some customers ask for books to go in half-size cartons that weigh no more than 25 lbs. These would be people who likely are doing their own fulfillment, maybe even moving the books off the truck and into their house or garage, and they don't want to knock themselves out doing that heavy lifting with 35 to 40 lb. cartons.
Well, we do have the half-size cartons available and we can use these if you request them. For these there is an additional cost of from $.05 to $.10 per lb., depending on the total weight of the shipment and with half size cartons you will have twice as many cartons to dispose of.
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Our Customer Satisfaction Survey is still generating good feedback for our people at TS and also it's giving us ideas for Printer's Ink articles. However, because of some of that feedback, we have changed the frequency with which we mail them out.
We used to send one out to every new customer and then another one every 6 months if we received jobs from the customer that often. Now, however, and at the suggestion of some of our larger customers, we send out no more than 1 per year to each customer.
We assume that if you have comments to make to us more often than that, that you'll contact us at the time and not wait to hear from us anyway.
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As I've said before, and I sincerely mean this, should you ever have comments or suggestions for TS, you can contact anyone you want here and you'll receive a response. That includes me, Ned Thomson, my e-mail address is email@example.com.
I guarantee you will hear back from me promptly if I'm the one you choose to call on.
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PDF, or Portable Document Format, is continually progressing toward its apparent place as the delivery system of choice for graphic arts copy preparation. We've written about this format in the past and told you we would keep you updated. This is our update. First of all, the benefits this format figures to offer are: 1) Smaller file sizes perhaps as small as 1/100th the size of a PostScript file; 2) when properly created, fonts, images and graphics are all contained within the file and everything is in place and viewable on screen (with either Acrobat Reader of Acrobat Exchange); 3) PDF files should run equally well on Mac, Windows or Unix platforms; 4) because of their small size, PDF files are especially easy to archive, retrieve and transmit electronically.
Currently, files must be converted to PostScript by the file preparer, then the PostScript file is distilled into PDF. Applications that directly export PDF do not take into consideration all the needs for high resolution output, thus the need for PostScript conversion first. You could use Adobe Acrobat Distiller software and convert your files from PostScript to PDF and get the advantages that PDF offers. You would have to purchase the Distiller program to create the PDF file but you can download from our website the Acrobat Reader Program which allows you to view the PDF file after you've created it.
Thomson-Shore now has PressWise 3.0 which supports direct importing of PDF files, until now it was necessary to convert the PDF files into PostScript before we could impose them. When PressWise sends the print file, it converts the PDF code into PostScript. Soon imagesetters and CTP systems will be able to process PDF files without this conversion, which will greatly streamline the process.
Our EP Guidelines for PDF file preparation will be published sometime in August. In the meantime we'll be happy to answer any questions you may have.
We are also encouraging test files using the PDF format. Please allow 10-14 days for test results, currently these tests are done free of charge. So, by the next issue of Printer's Ink, we should be ready to tell you how to proceed full speed with PDF.
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We now have available, compliments of Aquired Knowledge, a 30 day demo of QuickCheck 1.0. The full version of this utility costs $99 and is available through Aquired Knowledge. Along with the demo CD are instructions on how to purchase the upgrade.
The demo program provides a tutorial on making PostScript, a preflight utility that allows you to analyze and view your PostScript pages, and a configurable PostScript driver. This is brand new, and is currently only available for Macintosh. The IBM/PC version should be out in late summer.
If you prepare, or are receiving PostScript files, we highly recommend checking this demo out. Call Laurie Briegel at TS if you'd like a QuickCheck 1.0 demo.
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Although this has no bearing on book manufacturing, the impending retirement of Harry and me has generated more e-mail than anything I've written in PI for a long time, so I'll include this one last summary which you might actually find interesting.
Harry and I and our wives spent the first four months of 1998 in Arizona. Now that we're back in Michigan, we anticipate working from 10 to 25 or so hours a week, likely being involved in a couple special projects, until the end of the year and then we'll be fully retired.
As I said in the last issue, Harry has taken to this phasing down very well but I struggled a "bit." In Arizona, I had a schedule that had me playing a couple of hours of tennis a day as well as getting a lot of other exercise but I still felt a need to be somewhat more productive.
At any rate, proving the point that idle minds will find something to fill up the time, I hit upon an interesting project that should come to fruition next December. Here's what I'm trying to do.
Our house in Arizona is on a small, two-acre lake. We're one of 6 houses that border the lake on 2 sides but the entire lake is really community property and sort of a geographical feature of a 1300 home development.
The lake has a lot of fish (11 carp, 50 catfish, hundreds of sunfish and, as we left, several hundred tadpoles soon to be frogs). Well, I figured what it really needs to add class to the place is a pair of swans.
To move to see if this idea was viable I got all of the books on swans (3 of them) out of the Scottsdale public library, talked with my Michigan neighbor who recently retired from the U of M Department of Natural Resources (and who is a dedicated "birder"), talked with the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, all the other 5 neighbors on the pond as well as some of those across the road, the "Modification" committee of the development and got an enthusiastic and positive response from everybody.
That was followed with conversations with the Phoenix Zoo, a Wildlife Ranch and a "Bird Farm" all in an effort to locate a pair of young Mute Swans with pinioned wings and two different sets of parents.
It seems this is not something that is easy to accomplish and I have now talked with breeders in 5 different states and finally on Maryland's Eastern shore I located someone who believes they can help me.
At the moment I expect to go back to Arizona about Christmas time and by then this venture should have successfully located the birds which will have to be flown to Scottsdale. After that I'll have about 4 months of feeding and nurturing them and convincing them that they should stay at their new home (we may call it Swan Lake) before we come back to Michigan again.
If anyone out there reading this has any suggestions for me, I'll be delighted to hear from you. After all my research, I just may have developed enough unique knowledge to warrant writing a book on how to put swans on a lake.
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Printer's Ink is a quarterly newsletter written by Ned Thomson, president of Thomson-Shore, Inc. A hardcopy version is sent out to approximately 20,000 addresses, world-wide. If you are interested in being added to our mailing list please contact us one of the following ways:
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