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Lessening the Hype of JDF

Orlando VUE/Point Conference stresses workflow, variable data, and more.

This year's VUE/Point Conference took place for the first time in Orlando, quite the change from its previous years in Washington, DC. Not only could attendees be found poolside soaking up the rays during session breaks, but many also brought spouses and children with them to enjoy Disney, Universal, and the other nearby entertainment venues"?two major changes in the conference's feel and tone.

Another major change in the conference, this in its content, was that JDF took a back seat to other topics. Last year, JDF had two daytime sessions devoted to it (including the leadoff session on day one), and was the item of discussion, even when it wasn't on the docket. This year, JDF was demoted to a night session, one that wasn't all that well attended.

Why the change? Says Mike Vinocur, Vue/Point's conference organizer, "We deliberately did not run a JDF session, per se, because we felt it's been overhyped and isn't really 'there' to the extent we've been promised. The evening roundtable was attended by maybe 75 people, but disproportionately by vendors. It would have been really interesting if we had had more printers there. Jim Harvey [executive director of CIP4] really made the focus more on 'automation' than 'JDF' and barely discussed current interoperability capabilities "?a sign to me that he realizes they need to pull back a little on their promises. It was a fun, animated discussion/ debate, but in many ways it further supported just why we didn't do a 'JDF session.' We try to focus on today's reality from the perspective mainly of midsized printers, and in that marketplace the JDF story is still a bit limited I think."

Beyond the absence of JDF, this year's conference offered, as always, some solid advice to print providers on a variety of topics.

Is soft proofing practical?

One of the things that sets Vue/Point apart is the likelihood that its panelists and attendees will talk specifics and name names. During the "Proofing Today" session, for example, all of the panelists indicated which specific system they were using, why they had selected it, what other systems they had looked at, and what they did or did not like about those systems. What you gain from this is the realization that not every product fits every situation. For example, while two of the vendors on the panel were using Creo InSite for soft proofing and collaborative editing, this product would probably be impractical for small companies (or, for that matter, any company that did not already use Creo products).

Panelists also bring up real-world practical comments that speak to issues vendors and salespeople will never talk about. For example, panelist Dave Koteski, director of color science for Arandell Group, pointed out that his company began soft proofing only in-house, and gradually brought customers on board. He said the biggest plus as customers began soft proofing is that they immediately bought the proper lighting for viewing the proofs. He also said that, for many of his customers, a monitor proof will never be practical because five or six people need to sign off on the same proof. It's much easier to hand off a hard-copy proof than to either buy everyone a monitor or have them all stand around one monitor.

Another panelist mentioned that his company had come up with the bright idea of mounting its 30-in. Apple Cinema Display horizontally into the press-viewing console so the operator could look at the sheet and display at the same time. They quickly learned, however, that the monitor was not designed to operate in that position and Apple said it was likely to cause serious problems. So they wound up ripping it out of the press console and remounting it in the normal upright position. It's nice to be able to learn from someone else's rather costly mistake.

Meanwhile, the surprise of the "Holistic Workflow" session was that the chief complaint is no longer the bad files that come in. Although it's still true that a majority of incoming files are still not "plug-and-play," prepress technicians have become adept at using work-arounds and a host of tools such as Enfocus PitStop, Callas PDFColor- Convert, and tools within the RIPs to get the files to image.

But what seems not yet to have been solved is the proofing conundrum. People are still not comfortable with color matching across the workflow. Panelist Jimmy Proulx, technical services director for Impressions Inc., believes there is a tendency to "over-proof," and said that hardcopy proofs are not needed in many cases. This theme was carried over to the aforementioned proofing session, where two of the panelists use monitor proofs in the pressroom, displayed on a 30-in. Apple Cinema Display in both cases. Two of the panelists also said they use soft proofs for 75% of their color-critical proofs.

There are definite downsides to soft proofing, panelists indicated, including: Customers must obtain a high-end monitor; the eyes get tired faster; giving up the hard-copy proof and the half-tone dot; bandwidth problems for customers; a lot of customer hand-holding, at least initially; and, the cannibalization of hardproofing revenue, which some shops depend upon.

Managing and marketing Variable data

In the "Variable-Data Printing Workflows" session, the basic point was that the tools are there, but knowing how to wield the tools is a very different matter. One suggestion was to nurture partnerships.

If you do decide to take VDP on in-house, keep in mind that what you'll be doing will likely be driven by customer requests. Dave Minnick, CTO of Consolidated Graphics Group, reported that his company's VDP work has been driven in just that way: "It becomes a 'Can you do this, can you do that?' kind of thing," he said.

Other VDP pointers:

  • Design has become more crucial to Minnick's operation as a result of VDP, he said, "Because if a customer delivers a design and says, 'We want to do this,' but the design doesn't work, we have to redesign it in-house to accommodate the VDP."
  • "Once you have a customer's data from one VDP job, they will rarely take that data"?or those jobs"?elsewhere," said Tim Tyler, manager of DocuLink International.
  • The most successful VDP jobs are the most creative jobs, said David Rosenquist, president of Creative Type.
  • Keep in mind that some VDP software is geared to larger jobs and operations, while some VDP software is geared toward smaller jobs and operations. There is no need to over-buy.

Loving' that RGB

At the "How I Learned to Love RGB" session, there were clearly some naysayers in the audience who opined that RGB color management was more myth than reality. The panelists however, strongly maintained that an RGB workflow can indeed lead to great efficiencies without sacrificing quality and control.

In fact, they agreed that an RGB workflow allows greater control over color rather than less. Although color retouching with RGB files did require operator retraining and some operators have trouble making the transition, they said, their own experience was that once operators became comfortable working with RGB, they preferred that color space. Panelists also pointed out that many retouching techniques can be done only in RGB.

Miscellany

These points on a variety of topics stirred some interest:

  • Sales: Dave Harding, CEO of SPG Graphics, advocated that shops should have customer focus groups to get their input as to what services to offer. In addition, he said, in-person visits to clients are invaluable when it comes to ensuring that your clients know the entire range of services you offer. Don't leave it up to marketing materials, no matter how good these may be.
  • Adding technologies: When it comes to bringing on additional digital profit centers, one way to determine which digital technologies to take on is to evaluate how it will "solve customer pain," as one panelist said, in the "Transitioning to Digital" session.
  • "Soft" printing aspects: When looking at which print shop to contract with for jobs, said Charles Richard, Kodak's director of imaging services, he often analyzes the "soft" sides of printing, not just the printing numbers themselves. In the "What's Driving Print Customers" session, he pointed out that a US print company now does a job Richard had previously sourced from China because the US company researched the entire job"?not just the printing itself"?and showed him how he would save on shipping and other costs that weren't quite so apparent.
  • Fulfillment: Considering taking on fulfillment as well as the actual output of a job? Be wary, said Al Kennickell, president of Kennickell Print, in the "What Kind of Business" session. His company is now storing and shipping a variety of items for clients, including leather bomber jackets, air purifiers, and more. As a result, he's had to look closely at insurance issues and costs, and add extra space to handle larger items like these.
  • PDF: In the "PDF Today" session, Benson Young with Knight Abbey Printing indicated that it's sometimes a good thing when clients believe that your shop is the only one that "can do the magic" when it comes to delivering PDF files. If clients feel that they can do their own PDFs or any other shop can deliver PDFs, they won't see your shop as so integral to their own operation. In addition, he said, using a PDF workflow will only save you time if you only have to deal with a customer file once; if you have a lot of back-and-forth to adjust and correct a customer-provided PDF file, you're not truly saving any time.
  • Finally, one of our favorite audience quotes: "We don't call our prepress department 'prepress' anymore"?we call them 'forensics'.
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