Category: Production

The Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics: Optimizing Substrates

Ryan McAbee
Oct 4, 2017

In this blog series, we have been exploring ways shops can automate their workflows. One of the goals of any workflow is to increase efficiency and, in doing so, reduce costs from the operation. Labor, however, is rarely the biggest cost component of any wide format graphics job. The ink and materials are the big ticket items, so any way to minimize the amount needed will improve the operation.

Optimizing substrate use through combining and batching jobs for output is a good start. The next level is to optimize the amount of work, from one or multiple customers, that can fit on the same material through nesting. What once took an operator significant time to move and duplicate images within a creative layout program, like Adobe Illustrator, can now be done in seconds. The nesting software uses the true size of each shape, factors the quantities needed, and then fits them into a tight pattern that minimizes the amount of material needed to print. Below is an example of regular versus a nested layout.

Regular Layout


Nested Layout


Most nesting software provides additional controls, such as locking rotation or allowing objects to be placed within the white area of other images, for the user to fine tune the layout. As a last resort, users can manually manipulate any object after the initial optimization if it still needs to be tweaked.

Nesting is not unique to wide format graphics and is routinely used in labels and packaging production. The difference is that layouts for those applications usually start with a computer aided design (CAD) file where the nesting pattern is already set to match an existing dieline pattern. Wide format can combine a greater number of unique shapes due to the use of digital cutters instead of diecutters.

Nesting optimization software can be sourced from either the RIP/DFE vendor or from an independent vendor that specializes in impositions and layouts. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • RIP/DFE-based: Caldera, Ergosoft, SAi
  • Independent: Tilia Labs, Ultimate Technographics

Mileage will vary for the cost savings gained through nesting based on the volume of work using a common substrate, the shape complexity, and quantities being produced. Some report materials savings of up to 50%. Considering the costs of many of the substrates used in wide format graphics, any percentage saved will lower production costs and improve profitability.

Read more in the Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics blog series.

Have stories to share or questions to ask, then reach out to @mbossed on Twitter, or LinkedIn, or good ole e-mail.

Take the 15 Page a Day Challenge!

Eve Padula
Oct 2, 2017

The proliferation of social media makes it possible for consumers and businesses to spread the word about events, causes, and pretty much anything faster than ever before. Over the past few years, we’ve seen quite a few social media challenges. Back In 2014, the Ice Bucket Challenge increased awareness about ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) while also raising $109 million for the charity. During 2016, the Mannequin Challenge became a social media sensation. Not to be outdone, the Paper and Packaging Board issued its own How Life Unfolds challenge of its own over the summer. This 15 Pages a Day Challenge is a paper-based reading program that’s great for people of all ages and literacy levels.

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Happy Birthday KBA (now rebranded to Koenig & Bauer)

Ralf Schlozer
Sep 27, 2017

The oldest press manufacturer celebrated its 200th anniversary on the 21st of September 2017 at the founding site in Würzburg, Germany.

In November 1814, the first newspaper was printed utilising machine power, using a steam-powered press invented by Friedrich Koenig for The London Times. Not willing to grant exclusivity rights for the printing press to The Times, Koenig relocated to Germany and found a new factory site in a disused monastery in the Bavarian town of Würzburg. In 1817 the company was finally founded by Koenig, as the world’s first printing press factory. To this day the company is partially family owned and is headed by Claus Bolza-Schünemann. He assumed a leadership role in the company in 1989, as the sixth generation of the family to lead the company.

In contrast to the other major German offset press manufacturers, Koenig & Bauer stayed profitable in most years since 2000. Through organic growth and acquisitions a revenue high of around €1.7 billion was reached in 2006 and 2007. In the aftermath of the financial crisis and within two years revenues dropped by 40% and hovered just above the €1 billion mark since, with a slight upward trend recently. More consequently than other press manufacturers, Koenig & Bauer exited unprofitable markets and focussed on new areas. For example, the once leading web offset press business has been scaled down a lot as demand and prices (and profits) plummeted. Koenig & Bauer is also active in many niches that larger offset press companies were not able to address profitably. This includes presses for currency printing (almost all are Koenig & Bauer built), presses for metal print, glass and container print as well as the largest format sheet-fed offset presses.

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The Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics: Confounding Color

Ryan McAbee

Color is one of those things that everyone knows and has an opinion about, but very few understand how it works. We all understand reference colors. We expect the sky to be blue and grass to be green. Getting that grass to be the same green across different print technologies (analog vs. digital), types of ink/toner, substrates (paper vs. vinyl), and lighting conditions (daylight vs. fluorescent bulbs), is the confounding part. Getting consistent color requires commitment, the right tools and people to execute a process, and diligence to repeat and monitor the process.

Color is important to your customers and your operation. In a InfoTrends 2015 study, print-for-pay print service providers indicated that 55% of their work required accurate color matching and expected that requirement to grow to 64% of work this year. Printers cited the benefits of a successful color management program including less rejected/reprinted work, better equipment utilization, and reduction in ink costs. Despite the benefits, color management is not without its challenges. A lack of dedicated staff, time, and skillset were common obstacles but the highest response was due to changing print conditions. To minimize those challenges, it’s important to dedicate the resources to succeed and develop a program that addresses the 5 C’s of color management.

InfoTrends 5 Cs of Color Management

  1. Calibration ensures the printing device is at its optimal printing condition and establishes a baseline for repeatable output. Manufacturers of the equipment provide a recommended calibration schedule but tightly controlled shops typically calibrate a minimum of once per day.
  2. Capture and quantify the color using a color measurement device, typically a spectrophotometer.
  3. Characterization relies on the data from the capture stage and characterizes the color capabilities of the printer using a specific ink/toner and substrate pairing. A color management system (CMS) is software used to create profiles during this step. If variables change, most notably substrates, then a new profile needs to be created for those new print conditions.
  4. Convergence is the interplay between color spaces and how the printer will output the print. For example, a brand color like Coca-cola red is converted from a device-independent color space into the color space (gamut) the printer is capable of reproducing.
  5. Conformance of the printing conditions to the pre-determined color specification or standard, e.g. G7. Measuring the output checks if the printing is within tolerance of your standard, usually viewed as a simple pass/fail report form the color management system (CMS).

While the capture and characterization steps can be time intensive, the good news is that the other steps require less time and can often be automated. If this is your first attempt at developing a program to manage color, then hiring an independent industry consultant or someone certified from your preferred vendor is highly recommended. These experts can guide you to the best process, create a plan of execution, establish standard operating procedures, educate staff on those procedures, and develop a plan for continued implementation. You’ll also need a measurement device and software to create the ICC profiles.

Tools to get started:

  • Spectrophotometer, like those offered by Barbieri, Konica Minolta, and X-rite.
  • There are numerous software packages that can create ICC profiles, but fewer that also offer ink optimization and quality control features.
    • All global equipment manufacturers have their own or license color management software.
    • There are independent vendors including, but not limited to, Alwan, CGS, Chromix, CMI, gmg, and X-rite. There are also many regionally strong vendors.
    • The RIP/DFE vendors usually offer color management capabilities or, at minimum, the ability to use ICC profiles.

Now that you are armed with a basic understanding, it’s time to rally your staff, engage your vendors and experts, and get started! With implementation and practice, what was once confounding will become routine, increase automation, and improve the operation.

Read more in the Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics blog series.

Have stories to share or questions to ask, then reach out to @mbossed on Twitter, or LinkedIn, or good ole e-mail.

Print17 – First Take

Pat McGrew
Sep 21, 2017

by Marc Mascara and Pat McGrew

PRINT 17 made timely return to Chicago as multiple hurricanes impacted the southern United States. Roughly 20,000 attendees had the chance to learn from this year’s display of innovation and technology from over 450 exhibitors. The top five vendors remained the same, with only slight changes in booth sizes and rankings, but there was a renewed excitement with more hands-on equipment demonstrations and theatre presentations.

Print 17 Size Table

While PRINT is not a packaging, label, or wide format show, all major vendors were talking about these applications alongside solutions for enterprise and commercial print. It is a big decision to bring hardware to a show, yet a significant number of presses, toner and inkjet, along with finishing solutions were on the show floor.

A focus on print quality resonated throughout the show floor with announcements of new and improved inks, color management and automated calibration systems. Exhibitors such as SCREEN and Xerox are bringing to market ink formulations that enable offset-like quality on standard paper stocks, broadening the debate regarding pre-treatment of paper for InkJet presses. The emergence of inksets and priming solutions for offset stock continues to grow causing end users take note of potential lower costs that give them alternative paths to the print quality their customers demand. While not yet a trend, it will be interesting how ink and priming options play out as a factor in the overall equipment purchasing decision.

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The Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics: Stop it at the Door

Ryan McAbee
Sep 20, 2017

Spend any amount of time around a prepress department, and you will eventually hear “garbage in, garbage out” followed by a few choice words. Some design flaws, such as using Pantone 180 C to Pantone 180 U, can be easily addressed. Other design issues, like low image resolutions, cannot be corrected. The quality of the files that customers provide has a tremendous impact on the speed and accuracy of producing that work.

A robust workflow identifies the issues, automatically fixes as many as possible, and then reports the remaining ones for the operator to inspect. Print shops need to stop problem files at the door or the point of onboarding the job. The further downstream in the production process an error is caught, the costlier it becomes to correct and, in the worst of cases, leads to redoing the entire job.


Where the preflight check occurs and by whom depends on how the work comes into the shop. Work entering the shop from a web-to-print solution can be automatically preflighted and pushed back to the user to correct or approve existing issues. For most other file submission paths, someone in the shop will need to submit the file into the preflight software and check the results report. The first line of defense for retail shops is employees at the counter or customer support representatives (CSR) for shops without walk-in service. The first pass will identify any major issues that would involve notifying the customer. The second preflight point, focused more on prepping the file based on the job specs and production plan, is performed at the prepress department. These are the folks that can work on and solve the hard-to-fix issues.

What common issues can preflight software identify and correct?

Identify Fix
Low resolution images No
Color spaces (RGB, Indexed, CMYK, etc.) Yes, conversions
Color name remapping – renaming or consistently naming spot colors Yes
Rich black Yes
Ink Coverage/Total Ink Limit Yes
Overprint/knockout controls Yes
Transparency settings Yes
Page geometry/dimensions Yes
Page bleed – image/object extension Yes
Font embedding Yes
Object manipulations Yes


There are several options for preflighting in wide format graphics, all with varying degrees of sophistication. The best approach is to test existing files with known problems against each preflight solution in addition to reviewing its technical capabilities.

  • Independent preflight software solutions, such as Callas, Enfocus, and Markzware. These solutions support all segments of the print industry which make them robust but more complex to setup. There are usually options for automation, e.g., hotfolders or APIs.
  • Included or add-on modules at the RIP/DFE. This option is best as a late stage check before production.
  • As part of a workflow management solution. These offer similar capabilities to the independent preflight solutions and, in many cases, are licensed from those same vendors.
  • Preflight as part of the web-to-print solution. Usually a limited check for image resolution and color space, i.e., RGB.

Preflighting, just like the pre-flight checklist for pilots, is required to ensure everything is in proper working order for a safe and successful journey. Without it your workflow is headed for a bumpy ride.

Read more in the Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics blog series.

Have stories to share or questions to ask, then reach out to @mbossed on Twitter, or LinkedIn, or good ole e-mail.

The Landa Digital Press – It Is Here and Printing

Ralf Schlozer
Sep 13, 2017

September the 12th and coinciding with Print 17 Landa Digital Printing invited selected prospects and press/analysts to their VIP event in Israel, to witness the first Landa Press to go into operation at the Israeli packaging printer Graphica Bezalel.

Landa made a big splash by announcing their nanography technology at drupa 2012. Almost everybody in the printing industry eagerly awaited to see the first installation. Without doubts, the start has been bumpy and the date of the first install has been moved several times, but that can be said about almost every piece of truly new technology in the graphic arts industry. Finally, the day arrived by shipping the first Landa S10 press to Grapica Bezalel in July 2017. After a month of installation, the press has been in operation for two weeks at the date of this event.

Landa S10 at Graphica Bezalel

Landa S10 at Graphica Bezalel

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The Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics: Managing the Work

Ryan McAbee

Managing the diversity of work possible within a wide format shop is challenging. Quotes must be created for customers from estimates based on as-accurate-as-possible costs. Once the order is placed, materials need to be ordered and/or staged for production. The job needs to be scheduled, costs tracked, and deadlines met. Oh, let’s not forget these tasks are multiplied by every job received which is enough to cause panic in the most stoic of managers.

With so much to manage, one would expect that every wide format shop would own a print management software solution. According to the FESPA 2015 Census, only 17.7% of shops owned a print MIS compared with 72.7%% of general commercial printers from that year’s InfoTrends US Software Investment Outlook. While adoption rates have likely increased over the past couple of years and will be reflected in the upcoming FESPA Census, it is unlikely that wide format shops have closed the gap. One reason most print providers avoid changing their existing or adopting a new print MIS solution is the complexity involved which equates to time and cost. Most print MIS solutions need over 6 months to fully implement but the core system of estimating, quoting, and job ticketing can go much faster, so view it as a journey not a sprint.

Print MIS Adoption for Wide Format and General Commercial Printer

Sources: FESPA 2015 Census, 2015 InfoTrends US Software Investment Outlook

Print MIS solutions can also act a central record of truth for the work. If all jobs are entered in the system, then the order’s production status can be tracked, production costs assigned, service level agreements met, and data captured to provide real-time insights or post mortem analysis, i.e. estimate versus actual costs reporting. Having the data in one system unlocks the potential for customizable dashboards to track performance indicators for true business intelligence.

There are many types of solutions that can be used depending upon your situation:

  • Wide format-specific print MIS solutions like Clarity and ShopVox are browser-based solutions that were specifically designed for the needs of sign and graphics.
  • General print MIS solutions, that often started in commercial printing, have subsequently added capabilities for wide format production. Examples include, but are not limited to, solutions from Avanti, EFI, IQ, Optimus, and Tharstern.

The pressure to manage more jobs and increase efficiency is increasing due to customer demands. Shops responding to the FESPA 2015 Census cited shorter turnaround, just-in-time requirements, and shorter runs as the top three trends from customers. The speed of business has changed and seems to get faster each passing year. What might have been possible to manage through manual processes, like creating estimates in a spreadsheet, won’t suffice going forward.

Read more in the Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics blog series.

Have stories to share or questions to ask, then reach out to @mbossed on Twitter, or LinkedIn, or good ole e-mail.

The Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics

Ryan McAbee
Sep 7, 2017

Today’s print service providers know that their bottom line is less about the equipment and more about how fast they can get work to the equipment and on to delivery. That is why automation and efficiency have been at the top of strategic initiatives for commercial printers in our annual software investment surveys for the past several years. Leading commercial printers view the intellectual property around their workflow processes as a distinct competitive differentiator and make investments in software and staff to grow that advantage. In general, wide format sign and graphics isn’t there yet.

The wide format sign and graphics market has some distinct workflow challenges. First, equipment choice still has great influence on what types of applications can be produced and so carries more mindshare. Second, there can be more finishing variables, such as lamination, mounting, stitching, and adding grommets. Then there is still the last mile of installation. Last, sign and graphics is rooted in a RIP-and-print type workflow where the operator still performs many tasks using the RIP software attached to the printer. Here’s a typical workflow for sign and graphics (not all steps are required for every type of product):


Source: InfoTrends

A good place to start is to audit your workflow and identify all your current processes. How many of your workflow steps require an operator? Do those steps have options for automation? The good news is that several of the workflow steps for sign and graphics have many paths to automation because those steps are common to other types of print production. For now, let’s start by looking at ways to automate customers submitting files.

Unless you design all work in-house, most jobs start with receiving the customer’s file. Solutions to automate this process range from simple online file transfer to more complex web-to-print. The advantage of online file transfer is that almost everyone knows how to use it without explanation but the downsides are that files usually require an operator to push the file into the next step in the workflow and the job specifications are unknown. There are solutions, such as HP’s PrintOS and Enfocus Switch, that can take files from online transfer and route them into the next step of production, normally preflight. Talk to your preferred vendor to see what similar solutions they may offer.

If you have already been using online file transfer services or simply want to enhance the automation, web-to-print is the next logical step. The advantage of web-to-print solutions, such as Caldera’s Webshop or EFI’s Digital StoreFront (just to name a few), is that the customer’s intent is captured during the order process which can enhance the downstream automation. Getting customer’s trained to use the site and integrating it with the rest of your workflow require time and effort to get in place.

If you are still using FTP, e-mail, and hard media to receive files, there’s opportunity to improve!

Read more in the Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics blog series.

Have stories to share or questions to ask, then reach out to @mbossed on Twitter, or LinkedIn, or good ole e-mail.

A New Development in the Cut-sheet Monochrome Digital Printing Market

Jim Hamilton
Aug 30, 2017

With Canon’s announcement this week of the Océ VarioPrint 6000 Titan it is a good time to revisit the size and scope of the cut-sheet monochrome digital printing market. Despite competition from electronic delivery methods, monochrome digital print volume will remain large for the foreseeable future. Black & white documents are the workhorses of the production world because they provide the needed information without requiring the full marketing push of color print. InfoTrends estimates that monochrome documents produced in cut-sheet production environments will account for nearly 360 billion A4/letter page images in 2017 in the US and Western Europe. This is about 63% of all cut-sheet production digital print volume (color and monochrome) so of course it remains an area of vital importance. A cut-sheet monochrome breakout combining US and Western European data is shown below.

Cut-sheet Monochrome Application Volume by Major Category (U.S. and Western Europe)

Cut-sheet Monochrome Application Volume by Major Category (U.S. and Western Europe)

The monochrome production digital copier and printer market drives large volumes of print for applications like books & manuals, transactional documents (bills & statements), direct mail, reports, forms, and sell sheets. Though the production color digital print market will see higher page growth, and in some cases monochrome applications will move to color, not all applications require color. Therefore, the user requirements of the monochrome market remain important and Read more »

2016 InfoTrends, Inc.

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