Catalogs Streamline the Print Workflow
Catalog print production has never looked so good.
The past few years — actually, the past decade since computer-to-plate came on the scene — have been replete with technological improvements to the print production workflow.
Gretchen Peck, a contributing writer for Catalog Success, spoke to four catalog creators to find out what their crowning achievements have been in the realm of print production workflow, the strategies they’ve put in place, the technologies they’ve embraced, as well as new challenges. The discussions revealed that, indeed, there’s been great progress in the areas of content capture and prepress, but there’s still room for improvement in the process.
art director, PetEdge
Merchandise: pet products
Catalog Success: What has been the single most important technology for streamlining your catalog print production workflow?
McGlynn: Digital photography. It not only saves us money, but allows us to have a quicker turnaround time — from the photo request to when the image is placed in layout. Previously, we had to schedule a studio and photographer … and wait for film and files to be processed, which could take days, at the very least. Now, we can have an image photographed, proofed and in the catalog, on a package or on our Web site in an hour.
CS: How have you ironed out the digital workflow between catalog creation, prepress and printing?
McGlynn: We supply PDF/X-1a:2001 files to our printer, Perry Judd’s. We do our color corrections and separations, create FPOs, do our own proofing, and create PDFs that we FTP to the printer. I rely on my printer’s expertise, and if that’s the file format they say is best, that’s what I deliver.
CS: It sounds as if your workflow is completely digital — from content capture through to plate-
setting. Do you see any room for improvement to your processes?
McGlynn: We’re looking at workflow tracking and automation systems. We’re a small company that is experiencing rapid growth. We need to keep better track of the hundreds of elements that go into creating copy, photography, packaging, catalog, Web site, e-mail newsletters, advertising, PR and many other types of projects. We need to centralize information in a workflow that allows all parties access to up-to-the-minute information.
catalog manager, Edmund Industrial Optics
Merchandise: optics and optical instruments
Catalog Success: How important has digital image capture been to your workflow?
Morris: Our photographer is entirely digital. We use a local photographer, who gives us pretty much immediate turnaround. We go to his studio in the next town over, and we can come back with shots on a CD the same day. … This whole digital workflow has really sped things up for us.
CS: Why did you choose PDF as your exchange format?
Morris: We have little or no issues with PDF, and we’ve been using it for five years. Before we start a job, we contact the technical people at the printer to be sure we have all the right job options loaded in the Distiller. We do a couple of test files, and we’re on our way.
CS: You produce several versions of your catalog. How does that complicate your workflow?
Morris: We have our domestic version, but we also have global offices that serve international territories. We also produce their catalogs here, but they’re printed closer to their destination.
For example, we have a sales office in Singapore, so we do a catalog in which the text is in English, but the pricing is in Singapore dollars. We produce it here and send it directly to the printer in Singapore. We do the same for our European editions.
We work with an R.R. Donnelley facility in the U.K. to process the files, but they’re printed at an R.R. Donnelley plant in Poland.
CS: That’s a lot of versioning information to keep track of — both content-wise, as well as job information. How do you manage it all?
Morris: We desperately need a digital asset management solution, especially since we produce many foreign language catalogs. For example, we did a French catalog for the first time this year, and we’re looking into producing a Korean version next year. We need a content management system, because every time we make a correction, we’re making it in six or eight outputs — our Web site, domestic catalog, overseas versions, etc. We need something to centralize that data.
CS: Have you found the type of asset management solution you want?
Morris: We know we need a centralized database that will help us cut some of the redundancies from the workflow, but we’ve really just started to investigate solutions. … We realize it’s going to take a significant amount of customization no matter what solution we choose.
art director, The Baker’s Catalogue
Merchandise: professional quality baking ingredients and equipment
Catalog Success: How have you been able to optimize the front of your workflow? What’s been the most important technology you’ve utilized to streamline the content-creation process?
Matz: Virtually all of our photography anymore is digital. It’s really most impressive when you’re in the studio, when you’re art-directing the shots, and you see them in front of you, instantly, on the screen. If something’s not working with the shot, you have the opportunity to make an adjustment right then and there.
CS: Many catalogers resisted digital photography because of concerns about quality. How did you approach it?
Matz: In the initial stages, we still produced film for our cover shots, but today — several generations of cameras later — everything’s done digitally. There’s no film, no processing. Just take the shot, and you’re out of there.
CS: If there’s one area in the print production workflow you’d like to see improved or enhanced, what would it be?
Matz: In about a year, I’d love to be at a point where we can do soft proofing, but I’m not quite ready yet. If I can drop a round of proofs, that’s expensive material and labor. There’s no question in my mind that our per-page costs would go down significantly.
creative director, Focused Image Team, Automation Direct
Merchandise: automation and industrial control products
Catalog Success: Your print production workflow largely is based on the creation and exchange of PDF pages. Why PDF? Did you, or do you, have any concerns about the file format?
Hipple: Four or five years ago, we went looking for a new printer, and when we decided on one, we discussed the workflow. I remember, they asked if I would [implement] a PDF workflow. I said, “No way! I don’t want to do PDF. I’ve had nothing but problems with PDF!”
CS: But you did agree to send the printer PDF files, at its request. How come?
Hipple: There was one condition. They had to show me how to set up the PDFs for their presses, and they did. I was very apprehensive, but it was because of my own naiveté about PDF.
CS: So you’ve been happy with the PDF workflow your printer designated. Would you recommend it to other catalogers who are, perhaps, still sending their printers native application files, such as QuarkXPress files?
Hipple: It’s not brain surgery. It’s just prepress. It’s been a very smooth transition for us. We haven’t had any rejected files in the last few rounds of catalogs.
CS: What’s your take on soft proofing? Is it something you see as potentially being beneficial to your workflow?
Hipple: On our next catalog, we’re going to try soft proofing. Color has already been settled at this end, before we send anything out.