At Graph Expo 06, A “Prepress” Company Called Heidelberg Showed Strength in CtP, Color Management, and Workflow
By Patrick Henry,
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: October 30, 2006
By Patrick Henry, WTT Executive Editor October 30, 2006 -- Heidelberg USA no longer gives out dollar figures for product sales at trade shows, but it couldn't resist dropping a hint about how well it did in CtP and Prinect—Heidelberg’s brand of automated and integrated workflow—at Graph Expo 2006. Ray Cassino, director of Prinect and CtP product management, confirmed that the company sold a record number of CtP devices at the show—a feat that reminded those who needed reminding of Heidelberg's considerable strength in Prinect and CtP overall. Heidelberg prefers to talk about what other vendors call "prepress" in the context Prinect because it regards Prinect as the harmonizing link that ties all of its various prepress capabilities together. Semantics aside, Graph Expo 2006 was an important show for Heidelberg because of the attention it focused on Prinect, CtP, and other non-press elements of the company's business. Heidelberg used Graph Expo as a launching pad for a pair of brand-new thermal platesetters for small and medium-sized commercial print shops, the Suprasetter models A52 and A74. Accompanying the A52 was a new PDF workflow, MetaDimension 52i, featuring an equally new imposition program, Prinect Imposition Editor. The addition of these entry-level devices completes Heidelberg’s thermal platesetting portfolio, which now includes a thermal CtP unit for every press size that Heidelberg manufactures. The company similarly covers all of its press-size bases in visible-light CtP with the Prosetter family for violet silver halide and photopolymer plates. Cassino acknowledges that because Heidelberg is so strongly identified with sheetfed press manufacturing, its Prinect and CtP offerings sometimes “can be dwarfed in the shadow of the big Speedmasters.” Nevertheless, the company has managed to develop what Cassino calls a world-class portfolio of integrated workflow and CtP products that aren’t overshadowed by anything else in their categories. On the contrary, he says, the Heidelberg Prinect and CtP line is in a class by itself because of the breadth of solutions it offers. It starts with the aforementioned array of violet and thermal platesetters supporting Heidelberg press formats from the 20" Speedmaster SM 52 to the 41" Speedmaster XL 105. Cassino says that because both exposure methods are "very viable" for high-quality CtP, the choice between the two is dictated by the type, volume, and turnaround requirements of work that the customer intends to put on them. Small Shops Warm to Thermal Heidelberg's record turnover in CtP devices at Graph Expo was about evenly split between thermal and violet units, an outcome that Cassino calls "very healthy" for Heidelberg because it indicates penetration of all segments of the platesetter market. And while it remains true that thermal sells best in 40" environments and that two- and four-up violet units are the preferred solutions for small shops, Cassino thinks that part of the truism could change as small shops discover the advantages of thermal. Small printers, he says, are particularly drawn to the convenience of chemistry-free platesetting, which currently is possible only with thermal systems. The appeal of small-format thermal CtP was evident in the fact that Heidelberg wrote more show orders for the new Suprasetter in its A52 configuration, the smaller of the two formats in which it is available. Heidelberg also supports small-format customers who have very modest or transitional direct imaging requirements with the Quicksetter 300 E and 400 E devices. These units expose polyester plates, film, and RC paper for its Printmaster PM 46 and Printmaster GTO 52 presses, respectively, Label It "JDF Inside" Central to Heidelberg's approach to prepress is workflow automation. Achieving this is the objective of the prepress-dedicated software modules in Heidelberg's Prinect family of workflow solutions. Cassino contends that when most other vendors speak of workflow, they really are talking about individual segments, not a unified whole. Prinect, he says, is unique in providing a fully automated, seamlessly integrated solution capable of linking business systems to prepress, press, and postpress production workflows using only industry-standard protocols. Foremost among Prinect's components for prepress, says Cassino, is Prinect Printready System, which he calls "the world's only fully automated prepress workflow, automated by JDF." "If there was a 'JDF Inside' sticker for workflows like the 'Intel Inside' sticker for computers, Prinect Printready System would be wearing it," Cassino says. The Printready module is an integrated output management system for processing PDF and PostScript files with functions that include normalizing, preflighting, color management, trapping, and proofing. Its JDF (Job Definition Format) architecture lets Printready connect to other Prinect modules such as Signa Station, which handles the impositioning. JDF also is the common denominator that will enable Heidelberg to make Printready compatible with widely used print MIS packages like Hagen, Logic, PSI, and Hiflex. The effort to link Printready with these products is in progress, according to Cassino, who adds that Printready has new options that enable it to drive digital presses as well as platesetters and proofers. Xerox and HP platforms can use Printready in this way now; implementations for Canon and Kodak equipment are being developed. Heidelberg also has made Printready one leg of the stool in an integrated, JDF-based production management system that it launched at Graph Expo with the release of Prinect Integration System and Prinect Pressroom Manager. Prinect Integration System, used in combination with Printready for prepress and Pressroom Manager for presswork, links both functions on a job-by-job basis by means of a central JDF job ticket and a common user interface. This linkage, says Cassino, creates a seamless JDF workflow between prepress and press. Pressroom Manager makes sure that all data entered into the central or master JDF by MIS and upstream production processes is available everywhere in the pressroom. With its help, data required by a given print job can be sent directly to the press or presses scheduled for that job. Control Issues? Absolutely! Cassino says that Heidelberg has put 21 years of continuous technical refinement into its quest for that Holy Grail of prepress—automated color management. The result is a suite of CM solutions for the fundamental task of generating ICC device profiles and color matching modules that assure correct mapping of color values from proof to press sheet. This in itself isn't distinctive: many vendors offer software tools for profiling and color mapping. But Heidelberg, according to Cassino, is the only vendor that provides a fully integrated workflow for color management both in the prepress loop and on the press itself. Color management is yet another aspect of Prinect. Cassino says that Prinect Prepress Interface serves as an "independent database" containing, among other many other kinds of CIP4/PPF data, profile information for setting ink keys in support of specific ink-paper combinations. Prinect's Image Control and Axis Control solutions keep color stable and accurate on press by measuring entire printed images, noting deviations from predefined values, and making the necessary adjustments in all ink zones. At Graph Expo, Heidelberg took on-press color management to a new level of scrutiny by introducing Prinect Inpress Control, an inline spectrophotometer that reads color and register values in the control bar while the press is running. The readings go directly to the Prinect CP2000 Center press control system, which then makes whatever corrections may be needed. Cassino points out that everything Prinect does in prepress automation, color management, and production control is the result of "bidirectional JDF": an integrated process of system-to-system information exchange in which the JDF stream is continuously enriched with updated data as the job progresses. Bidirectional JDF in Prinect is different from simple, one-way networking routines such as routing files to a RIP: "Integration with Prinect uses the JDF format not just to make the front-end setup for the job, but also to read data from the run back into the JDF, telling the JDF what it did," Cassino says. Screens, Plates, and You-Name-It Heidelberg rounds out its prepress offerings with screening technologies and consumables. Electronic screening is available from Heidelberg in Prinect-branded conventional (AM), stochastic (FM), and hybrid varieties. Users of the hybrid AM-FM screening solution can define the dot percentage below which imaging will be stochastic for accurate reproduction in highlights while keeping the shadow dots open at the same time. Heidelberg’s consumables portfolio is another complement to its hardware and software offerings. The Saphira plate family includes standard and waterless polyester, thermal, chemistry-free thermal and violet materials. Proofing papers, offset blankets, and many other prep and press items also can be supplied. Cassino adds that Heidelberg's Prinect and CtP capability isn't limited to selling products: the company also is ready to furnish practical advice to any customer with a workflow or color management problem. For example, he says, "We can show you how to use your inkjet printer as a proofer. We'll show you how to calibrate your plates to your proof and press sheet and how to maintain that consistent color on press as well. We don't stop with just plates." About the only area of prepress in which Heidelberg does not play is scanning, a market it prudently exited about five years ago when inexpensive CCD flatbeds and digital cameras started to lower the boom on high-end image capture. And even if Heidelberg's Prinect and CtP capability remains an unintentionally best-kept secret to some, the word clearly has leaked out to the people who count—printers with money to spend. At Graph Expo, one of them purchased the 1,500th Prosetter CtP unit in a transaction that prompted Cassino to declare, "Violet technology is alive and well." He could say, and undoubtedly does say, the same thing about every other product category in Heidelberg's end-to-end prepress portfolio. Please offer your feedback to Patrick. He can be reached at Patrick.Henry@WhatTheyThink.com.