Disciplined File Creation – A Win Win For Both Printer And Print Buyer

Indeed there’s no shortage of workflow tools used to create, color correct, optimize, verify and exchange content bound for print. The print industry certainly isn’t lacking in technology to support the all-digital workflow. But what may still be missing is a commitment to better educate the customer-teaching them how and why they need to create “good files” for print-and a willing shift in responsibility.Ask most any printer supplier-commercial, publication, book, large-format or otherwise-about the number of digital content files they receive from clients that are flawed, in some way incomplete or ill-prepared, and you may be surprised to learn just how many “bad files” are being circulated in the market. Even with the advent of the Portable Document Format (PDF), which promised to resolve some of these problems for printers, the old industry saying, “junk in, junk out” holds true.For printers whose customers are willing to pay those extra prepress charges to fix bad files, it doesn’t seem as though it would be a big problem. But those print buyers are few and far between these days.Joe Hall, owner of Visions Unlimited, Carlsbad, CA, has a special appreciation for both sides of the “accountability” issue. He’s both a content creator-a professional photographer and graphic artist-and print supplier.”We opened our doors 15 years ago,” Hall recalls. “We started out, in our garage, as a commercial photography studio.”
Hall’s expertise in photography and color provided the perfect platform upon which to build the business, growing it far beyond its menu of photographic services. “We had a handful of clients who were really responsible for pushing us to become a full-service advertising agency,” Hall explains. “They began coming to us for everything: brochures, direct-mail pieces, catalogs, trade-show graphics, and other very large graphics.”Today, Visions Unlimited is one a one-stop shop for its clients, providing photographic, graphic design, Web development and print services. Most of what the company is asked to print is created in-house, which gives Hall some advantage, because he can control the content.”When we create something for a customer, we realize that it’s probably going to be used in many ways. It may be printed; it may be used on a Web site. We start every job by shooting any image at a high-resolution. Every shot is about 50 MB in size. That gives us a solid foundation. That way, when the customer says that he wants a logo, for example to be printed on a banner for a trade show, we don’t have to step back and re-shoot, because we didn’t have enough resolution,” Hall confides.Hall admits, however, that in an ideal world, he’d be able to exert control over all the content he’s responsible for reproducing. But he doesn’t do business in an ideal world; he works in the world of print.”We are preparing an online order system for some of our products, mostly banners,” Hall notes. “Our customers will be able to go on the site and upload their files, and we’ll print and ship the product within three or four days. We expect that will really up the volume of work being done on our large-format inkjet printers, and eventually, we’ll expand that program to include more than banners-for example, jobs that may be printed on canvas or art papers.”But I know, when we launch the new service, we’re probably going to get a lot of junk [files]. So, one of the things that we’re doing is to integrate an automated preflight capability online that’s going to check every incoming files against the specifications we adhere to.”The technology Hall plans to use is Markzware’s FlightCheck Online, which checks digital files against customized preflight rules defined by the printer. When the customer submits a file electronically, preflight is automatically initiated, and the send is immediately notified of any required corrections before the job is approved and submitted, enabling the content creator to fix the file and then resubmit it. Once a file is approved by the system, FlightCheck Online will automatically collect all the necessary elements, including fonts and images, and transmit them to printer’s FTP server.Having a quality-control buffer between the customer and the print supplier is one way to ensure that files coming into prepress are properly prepared and complete. Another way, Hall suggests, is to take time to provide customers with some basic file-setup instructions and to encourage them to use their verification solution. A preflight program, such as the desktop-level FlightCheck Professional, is inexpensive and easy to use.”The best way to get your customers-whether we’re talking about an agency or a single designer-to supply good files is to encourage them to do what we’ve done here: Create a simple set of disciplines to follow from the start, as you’re creating the file. For example, if you know that a job is going to go to print, check to make sure that all your images are CMYK right from the beginning,” Hall suggests.”And then, recommend that the designer use a preflight application, because it can actually teach the designer everything he or she needs to know about printing. This can be very helpful for all those designers who have started their careers designing for the Web, but now finds that their skills are quite useful for print. There’s a lot of money to be made in print. But if he doesn’t have any basic knowledge of the printing process, the preflight application will virtually teach him how best to set up a file for that intention. It’s a great workflow-and educational-tool,” Hall advises.