Commentary & Analysis
Waiting for the Tipping Point Part 2
By Michael Josefowicz See Part 1 There a few things as difficult to produce quickly as a high-
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: July 6, 2005
By Michael Josefowicz See Part 1 There a few things as difficult to produce quickly as a high-quality illustrated book. If you can do that, you can probably do any of the less complicated jobs. July 6, 2005 -- In last week's column, I suggested some of the last remaining blocking points for digital printing to tip in the world of professional creatives. The primary requirements are acceptable quality, routine and well-defined production procedures, And most importantly, reliable, repeatable output. The press proof has to look like the final product. After thirty five years in the industry, I'm a very strong believer in "I'll believe it when I can routinely buy the service in the open market." My own rule of thumb is that labs and trade shows are great for what's going to be available 1, 3 or 5 years out. but my job for thirty years was to satisfy clients, and for the last five years, my job is to teach production to communication designers and prepare them for an industry that is still being defined. If a tech or a service can help me do that and is affordable, I will find it and use it. If it can't help me today, it's interesting, but not compelling. Digital printing has become compelling. For Parsons Communication Design 2005 Senior Thesis Exhibition, 22 of our graduating seniors produced single copies of beautifully produced full-color, edition-bound books, ranging in page size from 4" by 6" to 13" by 19" and in page counts from 24 to 260. I acted as their production manager and moved over 12.5 gigabytes of student-produced files through the Internet. Not a single one failed at the RIP. My feeling is that there a few things as difficult to produce quickly as a high-quality illustrated book. Since our students were the writers, editors, art directors and document creators, they had an huge investment of time and energy. Since it was for their final Senior Thesis exhibition, these were most definitely mission-critical projects. Few printed artifacts require the wealth of detail that goes into a well produced art book. My contention is that if you can do that, you can probably do any of the less complicated jobs. We used Adobe CS to produce RGB, color-managed PDFs. Students were encouraged to see press proofs before sending their final files. Not one student who saw a press proof was disappointed with the final result. Not one book was delivered late. ( And thank goodness! You don't have a real idea of a mission critical project, until you've worked with a young artist producing work for a graduating exhibition). "I can design, proof, order, get delivery and afford to pay for my own hardcover book, all from my computer--how cool is that?" All the books were printed at Toppan America and all the production management lived on my 12" G4 PowerBook. Thankfully, we have a good high-speed internet connection at Parsons. From submission of final files to delivery of final product was two weeks. I did not preflight or do any document creation for the students, The students paid for the production costs out of their own pockets. I think I made a total of 8 or 10 phone calls during the entire process. All other communication was email. (Although the four weeks leading up to production time, was filled with lots of meetings and over 300 emails). After it was all done, three or four students reordered up to 10 copies of their individual title. And I heard from one particular student, "I can design, proof, order, get delivery and afford to pay for my own hardcover book, all from my computer--how cool is that?" Within about two weeks, she submitted a completely different project that she has wanted to publish as book for years, but couldn't figure out a way to do economically. And since the show, three other students and faculty have had their books printed. From my point of view, the promise of desktop publishing has finally come true. It's literally true that a designer can publish a real physical product without leaving the desktop. I appreciate that Parsons is a special context. The unique advantage of my position is that I have talented and completely engaged "clients," I have the authority to set standards for a PDF only workflow, Some students decided that they would rather send application files and pay for the printer to set them up. It was time consuming and cost them more, but at least six decided they would willingly pay the extra price. Students can be as independent-minded as any creative in the workforce. Most of them care about production only when it gets in the way of them producing what they what to produce. I don't think this is ever going to change, and am not even sure it should. These students signed up to be creatives, not document creators. The more they push, the more we all learn about what's possible. At any rate, the good news is that like most creatives, the prospect of imminent publication wonderfully focuses the attention.. If the production director is ready with clear, easy to follow instructions for success, my experience is that creatives will work very diligently to get it right. Why now and not two years ago? Stable and repeatable. This is the magic bullet for eliminating fear and uncertainty for professional creatives. Digital printing on the iGen3, at least as practiced by Toppan America, is stable and repeatable. This is the magic bullet for eliminating fear and uncertainty for professional creatives. Once a press proof really looks like the finished product, everything changes. The entire pre-press proofing debate becomes irrelevant--lighting conditions, emulating different papers, dots or no dots, etc. While still critical for offset, it's irrelevant to well-controlled digital. The press proof is the contract proof, and there's no excuse for not getting very close. But until that expectation is an agreed upon routine, digital printing remains an inexpensive solution to very specific problems. Even the addition of variable possibilities is interesting, but it's still a niche technique -- to be used only in the exactly right circumstances. Once it's both beautiful AND predictable, then it can legitimately be welcomed as a new designer's tool, to be applied as appropriate, with little fear of failure. Preflighting and Job tracking The other enabling technology for me was Certifyle. It's an internet-based service that preflights the file on the way up. PDF standards are set up in advance with the printer, and any file that does not meet those standards, is never delivered to the printer's FTP site. But it's much better than that. The service also automatically emails a message to whomever I, as production manager, enter. If a file fails, a report detailing what is wrong, is emailed to the designer. What this means to me is that I don't have to hunt down the designer to tell them there is a problem. When they are committed to getting it done right and on time, it's extraordinary how they read those error reports, fix the problem, and resubmit. The other neat thing about Certifyle is that it automatically sends me a message telling me the file has been submitted, then another saying it has either passed or failed certification, and a third telling me that it has been delivered to the FTP site. This usually takes about 5 minutes. From the same interface, I can also send production information to the printer with the specs of the job delivery instructions, etc. The really cool thing is that all communication is date and time stamped, so my email inbox functions as the tracking database to find any job and reconstruct it's traffic. In the interests of full disclosure, Toppan America and Xerox were primary sponsors, and Certifyle was a supporting sponsor of this year's Communication Design Senior Thesis Exhibition at Parsons. I don't mean to imply that these organizations are the only ones that can deliver what I, the production director for a large group of creatives, needs. I mention them as sponsors and because of my direct personal experience with them. I would welcome hearing from vendors and manufacturers anywhere in the country that are delivering the same kind of functionalities, and promise to publicize that information, both in future ODJ columns and in my work at the Parsons Communications Design Publishing Center. The more centers of excellence we can identify, the faster we solve this problem for creatives and move on to the next stage.