By Frank J. Romano June 13, 2006 -- Print that requires a static image carrier is not a real time process. Real time means immediate. Once it was a matter of months, then weeks, now days, and in some cases, hours to get print from the time a file was print-ready until the time reproduction was completed. Maybe we will see minutes within a few years. Print is certainly compressing the time for its production, but there is that plate (image carrier) preparation phase and that makeready phase that are the antithesis of instantaneity. We have cut the time it takes to prepare a job for print, and the time it takes to get a job to the printer. In the old days, typesetting, stats, and color separations were separate services. Text and graphics were separate workflows. Desktop scanners, software, and computers made many of these areas almost instantaneous. Messengers and overnight delivery services yielded to ftp and Internet delivery. Proofing is also immediate in many cases with soft and remote proofing. We have collapsed most of the steps on the road to print. By the way, creativity and finishing have not really changed. Tools for creatives may help to accelerate their processes, but ever since Pope Julius tried to get Michelangelo to speed up that ceiling job, creativity cannot always be rushed. It is never real time unless you use pre-designed templates. Inline and automated finishing systems have helped on the back end. This leads us to digital printing which is almost real time. No plates, no makeready. Some folks say there is makeready but I do not see it. Print is a linear process--you cannot easily interrupt a running job with a different job. You spend time setting up the press and then run the job. If you want to interrupt that job, you must re-set the press run, and then set the press back for the original job. Print jobs run one after another. Digital print jobs are variable and thus you can stop one job and start another without any new set up. Digital print is interruptible. We have all heard about how print buyers now want and will want their print faster and faster. At HP, for instance, the average product is on the market for six months. This says that they will probably not buy as much promotional material as they once did. Over half of all printing is now in runs under 5,000 pieces. It is truly an on-demand world and offset presses are feverishly being advanced to reduce makeready and waste. The DI press once held the promise of the one-minute makeready, but that may not be the case. DI presses still hover in the 10-minute makeready range and for some users, they can achieve that makeready time with CTP and an automated press. VistaPrint does makeready in one to five minutes on highly standardized materials. Some commercial printers are pushing 15 minutes on a 40-inch press. Even if you add inkjet or toner at the end of an offset press for variable data printing, it does not change the equation. Offset print is not real time and real time may be a key to the future of the printing industry.