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

Ryan McAbee
Sep 27, 2017

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.

Stop-it-at-the-door-image

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.

Prepare for the Fourth Imaging Wave

Ed Lee
Sep 14, 2017

DIR-State-of-Industry-2017-Banner

Excerpt from Digital Imaging Reporter’s State of the Industry 2017

Analog film, the first wave of photography, lasted more than 150 years, with over 1.5 trillion photos captured worldwide during this timeframe. In the 1990s, digital cameras kicked off the second wave: digital photography. Smartphones were introduced in the late 2000s, marking the third wave: mobile imaging.

Always-connected smartphones and social networks have changed how people take and share photos and videos. Mobile imaging is led by companies with no background in photography, such as Apple, Samsung, Facebook, Instagram and Snap.

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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.

Quadient: A New Ecosystem for Customer Experience

David Stabel and Pat McGrew
Sep 12, 2017

Today, Neopost announced the introduction of a newly created business division: Quadient, replacing its Enterprise Digital Solutions (EDS) business division. With Quadient, Neopost combines three companies that operated independently under EDS into a new division focused on digital communications and customer experience solutions:

  • Satori Software. Acquired in 2009 and a provider of mailing and data quality solutions. Satori software allows mail senders to validate addresses, correct them, update them in real time and remove duplicates.
  • GMC Software. Acquired in 2012. Today, GMC Software is considered a leader and innovator in the customer communications management (CCM) solutions space.
  • Human Inference. A data quality solution provider focused on master data quality improvement. Neopost acquired this Dutch based company in 2012.
The New Quadient Logo

The New Quadient Logo

These past acquisitions fitted into a bigger strategy. To leverage the power of that strategy, it makes sense to reorganizing into Quadient. By doing so, Neopost is repositioned to focus on offering enterprise solutions for customer experience management (including CCM), mobile application development/digital experiences, and data management. The logic is simple: as customer experience becomes a strategic component for businesses, businesses need ways to quickly implement and personalized these experiences along the customer journey. Tools for managing this process as well as the data (quality) required for personalization are key.

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HP Announces New PageWide Devices, Workflow Scanners & Solution Services @ Reinvent – World Partner Forum 2017

Barbara Richards
Sep 11, 2017

HP Reinvent World Partner Forum is a reinvention of their annual global partner conference bringing together 1400+ global partners, including channel partners and system integrators. At the event, HP announced several new products and solution services.

New PageWide Devices

HP announced several new contractual and transactional PageWide printers and MFPs rounding up their 2017 spring product launch portfolio. The new products range in speeds from 45ppm up to 80ppm in general office mode and will feature the same low cost per page, best in class energy efficiency and full enterprise capabilities as the Spring launch  of LaserJet products. http://client.keypointintelligence.com/bliQ/InfoCenter/Document/Item/b275b875-af12-461a-b78b-adeb4737eac6

The A3 launch will be supported by the Smart Device Services Ecosystem (SDS), an “Internet of Things” (IoT) solutions toolset that funnels information via the cloud from devices to service partners aiming to lower service cost and provide more device up-time. Product availability is scheduled for this fall.

Figure 1 – New HP PageWide Printers & MFPs

pagewidedifference

Workflow Scanners

HP also announced the latest ScanJet portfolio of single function scanners, comprised of a wide range of products. The device groupings consist of Small Work Team, Document Management (Workgroup), and Document Management (Departmental). The newly announced Flow 8500fn2 Digital Sender boasts a fast 100ppm scan speed; 10,000 page a day duty cycle and HP technology such as WebJetAdmin, FutureSmart, EveryPage and HP scan software.  In addition to the 8500 fn2 Digital Sender, HP announces the new Flow N9120 fn2 A3 scanner.  At 120ppm scanning speeds, this device is suited towards sophisticated departmental scan and capture environments with needs for more volume and large page/document sizes.

HP Solution Services

In addition to the new product announcements, HP is introducing new compatible solutions to capitalize on the trends of “mobile,” everything as a service, “smart” devices, and security.   According to HP, their portfolio of new solution services will “reinvent the power of print” aimed at addressing customer’s path of work. With this in mind, HP announced several new innovations at Reinvent World Partner Forum 2017.

Figure 2 – New HP Solution Services

HPSolutionServices

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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):

InfoTrends-WideFormat-Graphics-Workflow

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.

Bright New Horizons for Memjet DuraLink Integrators

Pat McGrew
Sep 6, 2017

Pat McGrew & Bob Leahey

It’s here! We’ve been waiting for it and now it’s here – Memjet pigment ink and second generation print heads. This introduction starts the path to new generations of Memjet-enabled devices arriving in the market.

There were some interesting changes to the Memjet go-to-market that emerged from the announcement of DuraLink technology at the Memjet Analyst Day in August. DuraLink, the second-generation print platform from Memjet, supports aqueous pigment inks through newly designed print bars that form part of an integration kit. Memjet General Manager for Commercial Presses Eric Owen compared the new platform to a Blue Apron Box, where integrators take the modules they need to integrate the technology into their platform, as opposed to the first generation VersaPass which was delivered as a self-contained print engine supporting dye-based inks. The new technology uses pigmented inks, new heating technology, and 70,400 nozzles that enable up to 1600 x 1585dpi printing up to 2.5 meters wide. DuraLink joins the first generation dye-based technology which is now branded as VersaPass. The addition of the DuraLink solutions gives existing and future OEMs an important new option for print engines.


DuraLink Technical Specs

  • Configurable up to 100.9 in / 2.5 m wide
  • Up to 1600 x 1585 dpi resolution
  • Up to 668 fpm / 203 mpm
  • Print heads 8.77in/222.8mm width
  • Aqueous pigment inks
  • Sold as components to be integrated

For existing OEMs that want to replace VersaPass heads with DuraLink heads, Duralink is expected to take nine to 12 months to integrate. For new OEMs the Memjet team expects it to take 1-2 years to do the needed Mechanical Engineering. Memjet expects the first DuraLink-based products to enter the market in 2019.

DuraLink - Images

Printhead Maintenance Module Ink Supply Waste Ink Management Aerosol Management Print Engine Supervisor Print Bar Interface Dongle Dock

An important claim for Duralink is the reliability of the print heads. According to Memjet, with Duralink printheads and inks, nozzle-out conditions will go unnoticed due to the 5X nozzle redundancy of the new head design. The new 2.2 pl drop weight aqueous pigmented ink with its more limited dot gain is also expected to provide crisper images. Memjet also makes important assertions about the DuraLink’s pigmented inks, that they are water-fast, fade resistant and environmentally friendly.

The inks’ gamut is broader than GRACoL for coated papers, compared to Memjet’s dye based inks, with noticeably smaller ranges on plain papers. There is still testing to do on a broader range of substrates to codify the best substrates for the new technology, but over time OEMs should have the tools they need to target a broad base of applications, from transaction and commercial to labels and packaging.


Resolution Meters per Minute Feet per Minute Inches per Second

1600 x 1585 74.5 m/min 244.5 fpm 48.9 ips

1600 x 1260 93.7 m/min 307.5 fpm 61.5 ips

1600 x 790 149.5 m/min 490.5 fpm 98.1 ips

1600 x 580 203.6 m/min 668.1 fpm 133.6 ips


What does it mean?

While the technical details of the technology are interesting, the challenges that face Memjet and their integrators are also worth mentioning. The first generation of Memjet heads, VersaPass, was dye-based and found acceptance in transaction printing, office products, tabletop and high-speed label printers, and some wide format applications. With the pigmented inks and the new head technology, Memjet says that DuraLink is designed both for simplicity and for greater utility. Memjet’s management expects OEMs to take the new DuraLink technology into a wider range of applications, expanding in wide format, growing in transaction and commercial printing, and adding packaging applications over time. Much of where the technology goes will depend on Memjet’s OEMs. In the Memjet business model, the OEMs are responsible for all warranties, head life claims, and customer engagement, not to mention their marketing skill and overall support.

We know from watching other inkjet manufacturers that there is often a disconnect between the capabilities of the technology and the training provided by the vendor who directly engages with the end customer. The Memjet DuraLink technology will be capable of excellent print quality under the right circumstances with the right preparation, right substrate selection, and right decisions about print speeds and drying methods. The burden is on the OEMs to build a value proposition, match capabilities to markets, and deliver on the promise of a new generation of Memjet technology.

If you have stories to share reach out to me! @PatMcGrew on Twitter, on LinkedIn, or Pat.McGrew@KeypointIntelligence.com all reach me.

 

 

 

 

2016 InfoTrends, Inc.

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