I just finished a conversation with a longtime public relations representative for vendors in the prepress and workflow space. I contacted her for an article I’m writing on prepress trends, and we were sorting out exactly what “prepress” meant in the context of her clients.

Over time, the discussion got philosophical, and she made a great point that I have wrestled with for years. Do we need new, more precise terms for describing these processes? The industry has grown in complexity, but our nomenclature really hasn’t.  Is that hampering effective industry discussion?

The issue arose because I had originally requested information on workflow trends, then realized I misspoke. I emailed a correction that it was really “prepress,” even as I wondered whether the distinction was really necessary. For many, workflow and prepress are largely interchangeable. Indeed, of all of the two dozen companies I had contacted, the distinction only seemed to matter to one of them.

When it comes to trend discussions, is there really a meaningful distinction between the two?  The source list I was given included everyone from ArifiQ, which offers software for analyzing the contents of a PDF file to create accurate job estimates and deliver imposition and imposed PDFs, to PagePath and Printers Plan for template-based job submission and management, to HP, Epson, and Mimaki.

Because the terms “prepress” and “workflow” are so broad, to really understand what is being discussed, we must follow up with another question: “Which type of prepress/workflow are we talking about?”

My friend agreed. “In one form or another, I have been working in this industry in since Linotype,” she said. “In the beginning, we knew what workflow meant. We were dealing with fewer major processes, so it was okay to use broad terms. Then, as the process got more complex, we started saying ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream.’ ‘Front end and back end.’ Now we are breaking it into even more categories.”

Historically, prepress and workflow have focused on production processes, and most people do not consider them to include estimating or sales. But what happens as workflows continue to become more integrated and complex? What do you do with companies like ArifiQ, which focuses on both business (estimating) and production (imposition) processes?

“When you give a quote on turnaround, are you taking into consideration the time it takes to get a quote, approve it, and then get a job into the system?” my friend asks. “You can’t overlook the time it takes to get the quote and the job approval and how that adds to the overall turnaround time. That is part of the workflow as far as I’m concerned.”

When it comes to estimating turnaround times, she says, “We have to be honest about that.”

This is why she was so excited when research companies like InfoTrends started considering onboarding its own category. It is part of prepress and workflow, she argues, but needs to be discussed separately—just like all of the other discrete elements of workflow. It is part of the much needed improvement in the “specification” of industry nomenclature.

This specificity is particularly important when printers are looking to buy workflow and prepress software. “When printers get the quote back or after the installation, you’ll see them come back and say, ‘That’s not what I was expecting. You didn’t consider onboarding [or color management or finishing or whatever].’ We need to break up these terms and better define exactly what elements of the process are being covered.”

I don’t have much to add to that. These comments speak for themselves. Your thoughts?