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Commentary & Analysis

What's a Pre-Press Service?

By Frank J.

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: September 8, 2006

By Frank J. Romano August 8, 2006 -- There was a time when pre-press services abounded. There were typesetters and their highfalutin' cousins, typographers; there were engravers who evolved into color separators; there were platemakers who made offset litho and flexo plates and gravure cylinders; and there were the imagesetter service bureaus who output PostScript files to film in the early days of desktop publishing. Then I saw a recent list of the top twenty pre-press/pre-media operations in the U.S. and I only recognized a few firms with historical roots in the field. All of them, including the few I knew, were also into printing, half into offset litho big time, and almost all into digital printing. The biggest change in pre-media services was caused by publishers. Almost every printer has prepress—from preflighting to platemaking and everything in-between. True, a few printers still buy traditional plates but their number has been dwindling since the advent of CTP. I met someone from a 14-person printing company who told me that they were buying plates outside and would soon install a new 8-up thermal CTP at $150,000. At this level of pricing, CTP will permeate the last of the small printers with bigger presses. Also true, packaging companies deal with pre-press services that understand their needs and can prepare materials for flexo and gravure printing. But flexo CTP is moving slowly but surely into the flexo printing company. Gravure cylinder-making may stand alone as a pre-press company function. There are still typesetting firms that prepare files for book, directory, and catalog production. They add XML tagging to files so they may be re-purposed across media. Much of this type of work has moved offshore, mostly to India. The biggest change in pre-media services was caused by publishers. Advertising agencies distributed ads as film and pre-press services output literally tons of film and proofs. Then one day Time magazine went with a PDF workflow and said no more film, and now they are going with a soft-proofing approach and saying no more physical proof. These decisions ripple through the industry and affect all of us over time. Over time technology allows purchased services to move in-house. So when I see Quad Graphics listed as the second largest pre-press service, I ask why Donnelley or Quebecor or Banta are not also listed. All large printers perform extensive pre-press and pre-media services for a majority of their clients. My son met his wife on the night shift of a Banta operation in Needham, Mass., where they assembled books and catalogs. I thought they would name my new granddaughter "Banty." This is vertical integration. Over time technology allows purchased services to move in-house. When color scanners were $500,000, they naturally wound up in dedicated services. When they dropped to $50,000, printers could justify them. And when they dropped to under $1,000, anyone could afford them. Thus, a list of pre-press and pre-media services should include every printer, because such services are an integral part of who and what we are.

 

 

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