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How CHILI’S New Illustrator® Feature Plugs Into An Increasingly Automated Future


  • How CHILI’S New Illustrator® Feature Plugs Into An Increasingly Automated Future

    By Sean O'Leary


    As 2019 kicks off, CHILI publish will begin rolling out a new Illustrator Plug-in for its Universal Graphics Engine platform. That news is bigger than it sounds at first.

    The “native AI document conversion utility” is particularly targeted to the packaging and label industries, which, due to the greater complexity of their graphics (and the incorporation of large numbers of vector components), have historically favored the Adobe Illustrator® desktop application to create content.

    The development of this plug-in will not only open up online interactive graphics editing and management for the fastest growing segment of the greater commercial printing industry, it will also enable access to a growing collection of ancillary benefits. The Brussels-Chicago-based developer believes the new feature represents another step toward an integrated, automated data driven printing future in which Variable Data Printing and DAM offers huge revenue potential.

    Now let me track back and drill a little deeper.

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    Again, What Is CHILI publisher Exactly?

    Stripped to its core, the CHILI publisher platform is built to enable “automated self-service”, the ability for end user of every description to do desktop publishing in the digital clouds. The range of possible user categories extends from “Joe Consumer” creating a business cards on a web-to-print site to a corporate project manager coordinating a global product roll out.

    At a fundamental level, CHILI publisher offers a basic functionality that is quite familiar to print professionals: the ability to edit documents and prepare them for printing using a browser-based interface. But interacting with graphics online also opens up a long procession of other benefits as well, based on data-driven technology that is still working its way into the printing world. The most straightforward manifestation could be described as the benign yet watchful democratization of graphic content management. It’s the empowerment of non-design professionals to edit graphics and prepare print files…but with digital oversight that simultaneously prevents unfortunate design decisions. This last may include protecting graphical assets, enforcing compliance, assuring accurate production, etc.

    For some printers, however, there is a conceptual challenge due to the fact that CHILI’S Universal Graphics Engine is not a “software program” as such, it’s an open architecture Application Program Interface (API). It operates under the hood of online graphic interfaces created by partners, who may be anyone from an in-house IT person for a print company to a software developer with multiple degrees. CHILI’S “ghost in the machine” has proven to be infinitely adaptable, automatically generating content according to the processes and conditions the owner wants to impose. A CHILI customer can incorporate whatever functionality, task repeatability, templates, compliance features, tools and menus they think are useful.

    “Our customers are platform builders of one form or another,” says CHILI CEO Kevin Goeminne, “They glue it together. It could be an e-commerce platform, a label printing platform or a brand management platform. It doesn’t really matter, but typically there is a graphical document somewhere in the loop.”

    Which brings us to the Illustrator Plug-In.

    Illustrator Plug-In Basics

    For the first eight years of CHILI publisher’s existence, its online graphics editing model was InDesign®, for the simple reason that Adobe’s desktop publishing layout application is by far the planet’s most widely used product for graphic design, marketing, retail, POS and print. In a typical online editing scenario, original artwork is created in InDesign and then imported into the CHILI environment, where constraints, and other rules of usage have been established.

    However, the packaging design life cycle is a bit different than a typical graphics scenario, meaning CHILI had to develop a ground up workflow for the Ai plug-in.

    In a packaging life cycle, the process begins with a master design based on essential product, brand, region and compliance parameters. The printed materials are then created in a range of variations, including product “flavors”, sizes, formats, dates, language, messaging, locations and measurement standards.

    In a manual scenario, each printed version of the design is generated by a graphic designer with access to Illustrator and the skills to use this complex software program. The process will generally include coordination among multiple departments and specialists: lawyers, brand managers, perhaps translators. Then, for every printed variation of the design, the file has to be located. opened, changed and re-approved. Multiple outside partners are likely to be involved in a process that at best is, costly and error prone.

    Using the Illustrator Plug-in, however, this complex process can take place in a single location accessed by all stakeholders. An Ai file is imported directly into the web-based CHILI environment, where permissions, rules and restrictions are put in place, including brand controls, compliance controls, locality controls and production controls. As a simple example, consider an unskilled user, who would be able to see the design online, but would be permitted to change only a bar code or expiration date.

    At a different level, certain tasks – such as making color scheme adjustments global - can be automated. Moving into whiz bang territory, the new plug-in can enable 3D visualization for packaging concepts, adding functionality not found in Illustrator itself.

    So far we should have a big win for the packaging/labels segments of the print market. The ability to edit, collaborate and coordinate will result in significant improvements in turnaround and cost savings. Yet due to the nature of their business, it is likely that the implementation of VDP and DAM technology will ultimately have the most long term impact for packaging and label printers. When a platform is integrated with a data base and Digital Asset Management capabilities, the process of creating multiple iterations of a global campaign could be reduced from weeks to days or even hours.

    To DAM and Beyond

    According to CEO Goeminne’s vision, the Illustrator Plug-In is another leap into an inevitable convergence event (not Ray Kurzweil’s singularity but along those lines) that transforms (or rather, is transforming) commercial printing. The last time PrintPlanet caught up with him, he was in Chicago, where he was attending a DAM (Digital Asset Management) conference. Goeminne is convinced that Digital Asset Management can become a way to differentiate a printer from the competition and generate new revenue streams.

    “Today everyone has a marketing stack and graphic assets,” said Goeminne. “There is potential in helping mid-to-low market customers manage rights, distribution and control.

    With VDP already a reality in the print world and “automated workflow” the uber theme at Print 18, the ascendancy of data driven printing environments appears to be inevitable. The winners will be those who can integrate their printing businesses into the automated future. The intelligent human will figure out how to harness artificial intelligence for their business.

    The rest, as they say, will become history.
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