By John Giles A digital audit of top customers allows the printer to prepare for the files before they arrive with another one of those impossible due dates. December 13, 2004 -- Printers need to take a close look at their prepress departments and make sure they have the proper operating systems and software. There have been some changes during the past year and you want to make sure you don’t lose opportunities because your prepress department isn’t ready. You will want to audit your own company to make sure you have the tools to meet customer demands. Operating Systems Are you using OS X? It might have been easy to get by with OS 9 in 2004. In 2005, you’ll have to bite the bullet and move up to OS X and the faster computers. OS X is working well and the software companies supporting it have applications available. Apple's newer models take advantage of speed enhancements in OS X and the company no longer sells a dual-boot computer (one that will run OS 9 or X), so if you have to buy a new computer, your only choice will be OS X. Printers who have avoided the upgrade and continued to use OS 9 will soon find themselves at a competitive disadvantage in the market and will find prepress production becoming a problem. For example, QuarkXPress is now at version 6.5 and a new version 7 is expected early next year. Adobe is upgrading Acrobat to version 7 and is expected to upgrade other products in 2005. None of these programs will run under OS 9. To continue to support native applications from customers, you will have to upgrade to OS X. Let you think not being on a Mac saves you from operating system changes, you’ll have the same situation with Windows XP. The newer versions of Windows applications require using a PC that supports XP. Application Programs Can you handle Quark and InDesign? Many printers are reporting an increase in customers using Adobe InDesign. Adobe has no plans to upgrade Pagemaker and is trying to get Pagemaker users to move to InDesign through a special upgrade program. In a similar vein, Adobe is still offering a upgrade to the entire Adobe Creative Suite (InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, GoLive, and Acrobat) from full versions of Photoshop. Be sure to read the review of Creative Suite that ran here on ODJ. In addition, Adobe has prepared a guide to help XPress users make the leap. As customers migrate toward the new offerings, printers must be able to support the new versions of Quark and InDesign. Quark seems to be feeling the competition from InDesign. Quark is presenting a series of seminars in an attempt to get closer to its customers. The “Let’s Talk” road show is giving customers the opportunity to ask questions about service, technology and Quark’s plans for the future. The Quark Web site will have the latest list of events and registration information. Quark has also announced free technical support for its English-speaking customers. According to the company, Quark made the decision as part of its new customer-centric vision for today’s creative productivity. As customers migrate toward the new offerings, printers must be able to support the new versions of Quark and InDesign. Both Adobe and Quark continue to offer special support programs for printers that take the bite out of the high costs of keeping applications current. How about PDF? Can you handle PDF files? Customers are becoming savvy and understand how the PDF format can benefit their own companies. This is putting pressure on printers to take PDF files from customers. But unless you have standards for accepting PDF files--such as providing customers your preferred Job Options--the customer may be disappointed with the output. Printers who refuse to accept or work with PDF files will find themselves losing work to printers who use PDF files to make it easier for customers to buy printing. In 2005, printers will see an increase of special print drivers that automatically create print-ready PDF files. Major corporations are integrating the drivers into their internal print operations. Some printers are using the special PDF drivers as marketing tools to make print buying easier. The PDF format is also allowing printers to easily support Microsoft programs such as Word and Publisher. Because all these PDFs are not created equal, printers will have to invest in Acrobat plug-ins such as Enfocus Pitstop to edit the PDFs for press output. The increased focus on PDF will mean your staff will have to be PDF-competent to help you compete. Some printers report their prepress staff refuses to take PDF file and require customers to submit native application files. Printers who refuse to accept or work with PDF files will find themselves losing work to printers who use PDF files to make it easier for customers to buy printing. Don't Kill the Messenger Printers often complain that their prepress are constantly asking for new software and upgrades. Don’t kill the messenger. You’ll have to continue to invest in your prepress department if you want to compete and keep up with customers and your competition. It is getting easier. In 2005, you’ll have to: Have computers fast enough to run OS X so you can support the common graphic software. Support both Quark and InDesign. The page layout battles aren’t over yet (and my never be) so you’ll have to work with both Quark and InDesign to meet your customer’s needs. Support PDF files. Printers will have to become PDF experts. With customers creating more files for output, PDF has become the standard format to solve the customer-related print problems. In 2004 you were able to put off buying prepress equipment and software. In 2005, you’ll have to get out your wallet. You have to pay to play. Make sure you have the right computers and operating systems. Get the applications your customers are using. Get the training your staff needs to keep ahead of the customers.