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Commentary & Analysis

Web-to-JDF-to-Print

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By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: May 29, 2007

--- Special Feature Web-to-JDF-to-Print By Lonn Lorenz May 29, 2007 -- Internet storefronts for printers (often called "Web-to-print" systems) have become hugely popular. Once the exclusive domain of on-demand printers, more and more commercial printers are realizing that their customers are eager for an easier, faster, and more methodical way to buy print. Customers themselves are driving this process, much as they did in the 1980s when they demanded that their printers adapt to desktop publishing and adopt PostScript. Corporate customers have not been on the sidelines either. Large corporations are looking in every department for improvements in productivity. Not surprisingly, they have found waste, bureaucracy, and inefficiency in the print buying process, and are looking for ways to cut costs and turnaround times. More and more enterprises are mandating that their print suppliers install Web-based ordering systems -- proven in practice to save huge amounts of time and money. Looking in every department for improvements in productivity, large corporations have found waste, bureaucracy, and inefficiency in the print buying process, and are looking for ways to cut costs and turnaround times. Widespread print buying over the Internet is an idea whose time has come. According to the December 2006 survey conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 70 percent of American adults use the Internet--about 141 million people. Of those, 78 percent research a product or service before buying it, 71 percent buy products, 63 percent make reservations or buy tickets for travel, and 43 percent do online banking. From the consumer's perspective, why should ordering print be different --or any more complicated-- than ordering a book from Amazon? For the customer, ordering print online only makes sense and saves time, for all the same reasons that ordering airline tickets online has become routine. Remember travel agents? The fact is that print "on demand" has acquired a much broader meaning than was perhaps originally intended. We are moving toward the day when the vast majority of print products will be produced "on demand" in small quantities --as needed, and not before. The ideal infrastructure While more and more printers jump on the Web site storefront bandwagon, some have been taken by surprise at the sudden growth in orders after roll-out, reflecting the pent-up demand of their rapidly expanding customer base. If their system lacks the proper infrastructure, they can find themselves inundated with orders they cannot fill, or cannot fill profitably. But what is the proper infrastructure? PostScript describes pages. PDF describes documents. JDF describes jobs. The ideal infrastructure must be flexible, efficient, and a facilitator of automation. Above all, it must be built on standards, in order to ensure the utmost compatibility. Though proprietary and home-grown solutions can work for a time, without adherence to standards, they can falter and fail when changes are made to a single link in the chain. Printers are on the receiving end of a dizzying array of applications on multiple computer platforms. Only a standards-based system is able to adapt to changes in the market and advances in technology, without stifling growth and development. PDF is about to be formalized as one of those standards. Adobe announced in Jan. 2007 that it intends to release the full Portable Document Format (PDF) 1.7 specification to AIIM, the Enterprise Content Management Association, for the purpose of publication by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The vast majority of printers large and small, commercial and digital, already accept PDF files from their customers as the de facto standard for file exchange and print production workflows. Most of the online print ordering systems generate print-ready PDF files. Adobe's PDF JobReady, as an example, automatically creates a PDF on the customer's desktop according to the print vendor's requirements, resulting in a print-ready PDF. Adobe PDF JobReady, along with other solutions, goes a step further than PDF: it generates a JDF (Job Definition Format) file, a print industry standard that enables information exchange between different applications and systems. Other industry standard formats have enabled information exchange -- but whereas PostScript was used to describe pages and PDF describes documents, JDF describes jobs. PDF, on the other hand, describes the document contents, the number of pages, the inks used, and so on, but was never intended to, and does not, describe the binding style nor the run length; this is where JDF comes in. Beyond the job ticket JDF is most often described as an electronic job ticket -- and while JDF can be used for much more than that, it is an apt description in this context. The JDF sent from the designer's desktop might contain the total number of pages in the job (perhaps in multiple PDF files), the stock to be used, the run length, client contact information, and delivery details. Further downstream at the print production site, the JDF would be used to gather manufacturing details as the job goes through the workflow --it might, for example, contain the guillotine setup based on the number and location of cuts-- an incredible time-saver when jobs are ganged, as is more and more the case for this market segment. In the fast-paced world of online printing, automation is a must-have, not a nice-to-have. A Google search on the words "business card printing" yielded 574,000 hits. One printer was offering 100 business cards for $1.00 plus shipping! While this is clearly a "teaser" rate, others were quoting 250 cards for $3.99, still others 1,000 for $25.00. How is this possible? Are these printers on the fast track to bankruptcy? In the fast-paced world of online printing, automation is a must-have, not a nice-to-have. That is far from the case. Many of these operations are incredibly profitable. As profiled in Bootstrapping Your Business, PrintingForLess.com, a pioneer in Web-to-print implementation, reached sales of $17 million in 2004 after only eight years in operation. Most importantly, however, annual sales at PrintingForLess.com have grown on average by 40 percent per year. Success in this environment would be impossible without automation. Customer information and job instructions must be captured up front in an electronic job ticket --there is no margin and no time to support phone calls back and forth to clear up misunderstandings. JDF fills that bill and then some. JDF not only serves as the electronic job ticket, but can be used to enable other types of automation as well. Unifying workflows David Minnick, Chief Technology Officer of Consolidated Graphics Group, Inc. (CGG) of Cleveland, Ohio, considers JDF the key to unifying previously separate workflows and "managing a job as a single project instead of separate pieces." CGG captures job information during online submission and then uses this information to generate the JDF job ticket that streamlines the print process. The JDF file subsequently accompanies the job through every stage of the workflow, avoiding the need to re-key the project information at each stage and also helps to eliminate misunderstandings as a job progresses to the next stage. The JDF standard was initially developed by Adobe, Agfa, Heidelberg, and MAN Roland, but is now owned by CIP4, a not-for-profit association based in Switzerland. CIP4's membership, currently standing at over 300 members, is comprised of print industry vendors, consultants, and end-users. CIP4 develops and publishes the JDF specification, which is now moving into its fifth iteration, version 1.4. The genius of JDF is that it is flexible and adaptable --changing and growing to accommodate new realities-- without sacrificing the systematization required to automate print workflow. For more and more printers of all stripes and sizes, the key qualifier has become "JDF-enabled," in much the same way "PDF-based" became the crucial and indispensable condition for selection of a prepress workflow. While we are still a ways off from automating the entire print workflow, this goal is not pie in the sky --islands of automation have been cropping up for the past 20 years. Consider trapping. The vast majority of printers now set up their in-RIP trapping preferences and go. Another example is ink key setting files generated by the RIP and consumed by CIP3-enabled presses. (CIP3's Print Production Format -- PPF --and Adobe's Portable Job Ticket Format-- PJTF -- served as the foundation of JDF, which built on and extended these partial solutions.) The JDF Marketplace, a compendium of JDF-enabled products and services published by CIP4, has grown to 212 pages and counting. Adobe's JDF-enabled products include Creative Suite 3, Acrobat Professional, the PDF Print Engine, and PDF JobReady. Other vendors are unveiling JDF-enabled products and equipment at each trade show. Drupa 2008 will feature the "JDF Experience Parc" -- to be sure, JDF-enabled products, including numerous online print systems will be there -- but the JDF logo will also be ubiquitous in every hall throughout the massive show. Quite apart from any trade show buzz, printers are today implementing JDF, first in one production process and then another, and reaping the rewards of reduced turnaround time, increased throughput, and cost savings that significantly improve the bottom line. Please offer your feedback. Lonn may be reached at llorenz@adobe.com. See More Exclusive Articles Lonn Lorenz is a senior product manager at Adobe Systems in San Jose, working across the Adobe Creative Suite product line, especially focused on print, publishing and PDF workflows. For more information about the Adobe Creative Suite Family, visit http://www.adobe.com/products/creativesuite/.

 

 

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