A Fast Track for File Prep

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

Does any of this sound familiar?

A few times each week a customer shows up or sends in a file that needs a lot of love. It’s usually work they don’t want to do (or can’t do) themselves and involves making sure a stack of pages will be professionally printed. Those pages may be a mix of original files, scans from who knows where, and a cover that needs to be updated, along with the titling on the spine. Then there are colors that need to be changed, titles adjusted, maybe some personalization added, an imposition layout to create, you know how this goes.

So you take the job, because pre-press is one of the things you do, and your team goes to work. A lot of the labor is manual because things like de-skewing and de-speckling take time and getting the color and personalization right will keep your pre-press people busy. “There must be,” your production manager mutters, “a better way to do this.” And there is.

Faster and more Profitable
I began thinking about all this a few days back when I came upon the handouts and a presentation I did years ago to a group of small commercial print shop owners. The job included most of the items above and had enough challenges to make some business owners run screaming from the room. I’d done all the clean up on that one, know what is involved, and how much of a time sink it can be. Now, though, there are ways to simplify and automate many steps and processes, making what was once a tedious, labor-intensive job easier, faster and best of all, more profitable.

Since then, I’ve looked at ways of handling this, thinking about the labor needed versus the profitability potential. One solution that stood out was PRISMAprepare from Canon. I liked it because it hit on so many issues printers have in preparing files for digital printing and have asked me about over the years, but also because this tool can fit into both commercial and in-plant operations. It will even fit into quirky environments like college and university bookstores where “coursepacks,” —combining multiple documents into single volumes— are created to meet the needs of professors. These invariably include scans of pages from books, magazine and newspaper articles, and other sources, but still need to look like a single, cohesive document to justify the mega-dollar price. Professors, their assistants, and average office workers, for some reason, never seem to bother making sure a scan on a hallway MFP (multi-function printer) is straight and clean. Go figure. But with PRISMAprepare work by others doesn’t constitute a problem in the print shop. It just makes your team and your business look like miracle workers.

I’d seen PRISMAprepare in the past and thought it was OK, but having seen many jobs that land in print shops that needed off-line finishing, the more I thought it needed additional capabilities to support this workflow. . The latest release, version 7.1, seems to be a big step forward. The new production-space viewing and layout of documents may be worth a look, especially for those pre-press jobs in your shop that make your team eager for happy hour.

Six features really stood out to me. What’s ironic is that even though these all make the difference between a job looking amateurish and professional, many are difficult if not impossible to bill for because print shop customers don’t always attach value to these tasks. So the easier (and cheaper) it is to do them the better it is:
  • Document-level editing so things like page numbering of the newly combined document, or setting consistent margins can be done quickly for the entire document.
  • Document compilation to let you quickly pull pages, images, text files, and scans together from different sources to create a new document.
  • Automated preflighting of incoming files to check for and for common issues before a job reaches prepress or even the press operator.
  • Streamlined image cleanup to reduce the time spent correcting skewing and unwanted artifacts on a page, including things like stapled or punched gutters and random marks.
  • Simple variable data programming that can be used for adding variable data text, images, and barcodes to PDF documents.
  • Advanced color splitting to help reduce manual labor from hours to minutes by identifying the color and mono pages in the document. Color pages can be printed on a color digital press and inserted into the document when printing the black only pages, saving time and expenses of printing the entire document on a color digital press.
Nice, you are thinking, “…but we can prepare anything a customer gives us in tools like Acrobat, Photoshop, InDesign and so forth.” And you absolutely can, but to do so, your team has to open and use multiple programs and do jobs that can’t be automated on a page-by-page basis. They may also have to spend time on tasks like combining a Word file, an InDesign layout, a few scans, and half a dozen PDF pages into a single document. Take a moment and ask them to describe these apparently simple tasks. “Painful,” and “time-consuming” are the terms I’ve usually heard, with production managers also adding “high quality expectations for zero revenue.” Meanwhile, commercial shops with offset prepress systems may claim they don’t need a make-ready tool. But under the hood, their vaunted systems are unable to accommodate complex digitally-printed documents with tabs, handle mixed media within documents, and accommodate inline finishing commands for subset finishing within a document.

PRISMAprepare also allows various make-ready tasks to be automated by recording the process and applying these automation templates to future jobs. With Version 7.1 the automation templates can easily be edited to accommodate similar jobs with different parameters.

So here’s the thing: I thought back to some projects I do today and others I’ve done in the past. I’m pretty good in InDesign and can combine documents from multiple sources. I take time to get scans straight on the platen. None of this is an everyday thing for me so it’s exception processing. It takes time, but I get it done and deliver jobs to my local printer so they are pretty much ready to go. But for someone who needs this kind of support every day, especially for jobs from “certain” customers, a faster, simpler and easier path makes a lot of sense, especially when you can bill for it. Now I just have to get my local print shop to get PRISMAprepare 7.1.

PODI (a non-profit Industry Association) has released a product briefing on PRISMAprepare V7.1 that provides an overview of the latest version of PRISMAprepare along with highlighted demonstrations.
Great insight. And a wonderful solution for Canon customers. Lots of other possibilities... including FreeFlow Core from Xerox. Amazingly easy to learn and use. In less than an hour I was building workflows that Work! Me, a complete novice to such tools. Other great tools are available from press makers and from independent developers... including Enfocus & Ultimate. But I’ve not seen anything as simple AND powerful as FreeFlow Core.
THANKS Noel for painting a picture of possibilities!
PRISMAprepare sounds great. I would like to purchas but when I went to the site & put in my zip code there was'nt a location within 50+ miles. Is'nt there a place where you can just order online


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