Key Steps to Workflow Automation


Well-known member
By Noel Ward, Editor @ Large

What works and what doesn’t? What is making you crazy and keeping you up at night? Where is the money going? And how about the profits?

One of the best parts of the work I do is getting inside printing operations, learning about the different issues print providers are facing, and how they deal with them. And as different as the shops I visit are—from commercial shops to transactional service bureaus to direct mail operations—pretty much everyone is facing different flavors of the same issues.

One of the issues that rise to the top almost everywhere is workflow. There is a (fortunately) shrinking group who still think of workflow as a physical process of picking up a physical object and moving it across the floor to another device where something else is done to it. Other times it is accepting a job on a thumb drive and walking it from the CSR to prepress and even to the production floor. I’ve talked with business owners who think this is just ducky, insisting they have a great workflow. They usually don’t realize how much money they are leaving on the shop floor. A few are Luddites and a bit afraid of technology, while others simply don’t realize the world is moving on and passing them by. I’m not sure which is scarier.

So I ask questions, and the conversations tend to be a bit less tense than they would were I were in a sales capacity. One of the first questions is whether a company has lost business to a competitor who has an advantage related to the time required to take in, process and deliver a job. Many—often grudgingly—admit their business may have some shortcomings. I usually follow up with a couple more questions.
First, what do they think (or know) a competitor is offering (or promising) that shows up as a challenge for their company, and second, what can they do to match or exceed that capability? Most often, they are somewhat uncertain of what a competitor is doing differently and as a result don’t know how to counter it. This lack of awareness is not good news, but the upside is that the problem or challenge is very fixable.

How automated are you?
What I’ve found is that some of what these companies’ competitors are offering has its roots in workflow automation, especially a process called web-to-print. Web-to-print seemed a bit like magic when it was first showcased a few years back and was an area many printers were reluctant to delve into. But now, with cloud-based software offering high levels of efficiency and cost-effectiveness, the time to make a change has arrived. Workflow automation begins with how jobs come into your operation and how they are handled from receipt through shipping. The more the steps involved can be automated, the faster they can be processed and the less time a job spends in your shop. Done correctly, you can produce more billable jobs in a given shift or day or week, providing a better bottom line. This can be done without increasing headcount or overhead and can even decrease costs. In today’s dynamic and fast-moving market the time has come to up your workflow game with automation. And it doesn’t have to be expensive or complex.

Key Steps to Workflow Automation
The first resistance I hear is that just about any shop’s workflow is fairly complex, so automating it seems a little intimidating. So don’t think about taking on the entire process all at once. Start small with the larger goal of using several steps to streamline the whole process over a few months. Here are some ways to begin the processes and start making the changes that can make your business more successful and profitable.
  • A digital storefront accelerates and simplifies job submission and pricing. New jobs arrive over a secure portal on your website. The software used can span a full range of job specs, convey pricing back to your customer and produce a job ticket that follows the job through production and shipping. Depending on the job, applications can automate such job requirements as variable data printing, customization and online design.
Once there’s a job ticket, jobs can be electronically handed off to prepress for any fine-tuning, correcting or editing needed before moving to production. Customers can be involved as needed for changes and approvals, often without production of physical proofs.
  • MIS and ERP are critical parts of many jobs today, especially for marketing and direct mail. This includes quick processing, ease of navigation, inventory tracking, instant pricing, and placing of orders from any device. A rock-solid, cloud-based MIS & ERP solution ensures your customer can work without worry, knowing every content communication is completely accurate. Ensuring all these steps are done consistently for every print or mailing project must be tightly integrated into your operation.
  • Leverage your variable data capabilities with cloud-based personalization and customization. For example, an online design tool can let customers create personalized and customized documents that connect seamlessly to job submission, prepress and production operations. This provides you and your customers optimal control while helping ensure the VDP documents landing on your servers will work as intended.
  • Automate prepress. In an automated environment, the file is opened and examined by prepress software instead of a prepress person. Based on the job ticket, each job is immediately pre-flighted to ensure colors are set to the appropriate color space, fonts are embedded, images are of sufficient resolution for printing, and other requirements. The entire automated pre-flighting process may take several minutes but is usually much shorter. By comparison, a manual pre-flighting and inspection process can easily eat up 30 minutes to an hour or more, sharply limiting the number of jobs that can be handled and sent to a press in a single shift.
  • Print ready jobs arrive at the press, already color managed and ready for the press operator. They enter the print queue and can be moved based on scheduling needs or the substrate required, but are ready to run, subject only to any final adjustments by the press operator. And when the job is complete, the same job ticket travels with it to shipping and to your accounting department for billing.
Throughout the process, a job is physically untouched until its pages come off the press, saving time and money from receipt through shipping.

Follow the money
The value of a web-to-print automated workflow comes from integration of the moving parts. In short, the business benefits of an automated print production workflow include:
  • Simplified and streamlined job submission with reduced manual touches and errors
  • Faster prepress and accelerated customer approval
  • Increased throughput for both standard and custom jobs
  • Seamless and accurate invoicing to streamline cash flow
  • Enhanced customer relations and retention
For a more detailed look at a powerful and economical workflow automation solution, please read the new Aleyant white paper, Is Your Print Shop Automated Yet? What Are You Waiting For? available exclusively from Print Planet.


New member
Thanks for the interesting piece. Please can you explain the acronyms used such as MIS and ERP, VDP. Also what kind of system to you use to automate the prepress as described in your write up.


Much of the automated prepress functionality described above can be achieved with Enfocus Switch. We have also developed an integration for Switch that includes the ability to add automated variable data printing capabilities with our DesignMerge software. If you care to see a quick video of Switch and DesignMerge in action, please visit

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