Prepress Workflow

Marketers are increasingly taking an omni-channel approach, broadcasting their messages across multiple media channels simultaneously. For printers, this means workflows must be flexible enough to meet the needs of their clients while maintaining an efficient operation. This article discusses the philosophy behind workflow systems, how prepress workflows are evolving to incorporate new types of inputs and outputs, and new tools available for workflow automation.

Defining a workflow
Workflows are derived from the set of standard procedures followed in a production environment. The number of different inputs and outputs will generally determine the complexity of a given workflow. For example, if a print shop only accepts files in the X-1a PDF file format, and only does sheetfed offset printing, its workflow will obviously be less complex than another shop accepting five different files types and outputting to sheetfed and web offset, digital presses, and wide format inkjet.

Workflow solutions consist of tools that help printers produce high quality work quickly and cost effectively. How are efficiencies made? The answer: allow customers to submit files online; automatically preflight and normalize input files; eliminate the rekeying of project and client data throughout different stages of a job; employ rules-based automation to speed-up scheduling and approval cycles; and simulate output ahead of time to reduce rework onpress.

My workflow is not your workflow
Just as the service offerings vary from shop to shop, the workflow technologies employed will also vary. There are different opinions regarding best practices for workflow solutions. For example, should a company invest in a complete software suite from one vendor? Or should they take the ‘do it yourself’ approach and hook in discrete pieces of software?

Complete software packages have much higher price tags, especially because some require the use of proprietary hardware. They often require a high level of expertise to configure and maintain. They are very robust though; they are scalable, well documented and tested, and will generally provide a better operator experience since there will be more interface consistency and integration possibilities between each tool.

On the other hand, smaller stand-alone applications (sometimes called DIY workflows) each handle one specific task. The workflow will involve jumping in-between each of the pieces; operator experience is less fluid as a result. Printers need to analyze if the cost savings for a DIY system weigh up against the lack of integration and the possible extra work involved in moving data around.

Factors like the size of the enterprise, the processes completed in-house vs. being outsourced, the age of the equipment, and the available investment dollars will probably get you to a decision pretty fast. If they don’t, though, workflow specialists can analyze your current setup and provide recommendations.

The evolving types of inputs and outputs
Digital and ancillary services have gained a greater share of the printing market at the expense of offset printing. Primary reasons for this gain include improvements in digital technologies, the increased targeting and personalization of printed material, and the expansion of the typical printer’s business model to include additional related services.

On average, 14.4% of Canadian printers rely on non-print value-added services, like studio photography, creative design, digital asset management, and cross-media marketing services, for at least 20% of their sales (source: Industry Canada). As such, prepress workflows are converging more and more with digital workflows. They need to be better able to integrate with other communication mediums.

The term ‘pre-media’ is largely accepted for defining workflows that are no longer just for prepress, but for multiple communication media. Pre-media workflows include the processes involved in preparing visual messages for the medium that best suits the demographics for that message. Standard specifications, best practices, as well as automation and integration tools are all part of pre-media workflows.

Picture this: A client is running a national sales campaign for a line of their products. They need to produce materials across print, television, and online. An integrated pre-media workflow could help bring consistency and efficiency to the campaign. It could serve as a centralized project management hub, streamlining asset management, project tracking, approval cycles, and publishing across multiple media.

Keep a flexible mindset
With more and more marketing dollars being spent on non-traditional media, having a flexible mindset and a flexible workflow system can keep printers prepared for the future. Printers can leverage existing client relationships to facilitate an open dialog about the future of each client’s communications plans.
Examples of additional roles printers can add to their service offerings include upstream content development, like photography, creative design, copywriting, language translations, digital asset management, and cross-media marketing services (e.g. email marketing, social media marketing, website development and hosting, and digital signage). Printers can also explore adding downstream solutions like mailing management, kitting and fulfillment, warehousing, and logistics management.

Trends and standouts
An example of a full-fledged multichannel workflow solution is Dalim Software’s suite for marketing and media services. It offers a collaborative process for agency-to-client communication, asset management for a wide range of files types (e.g. files for print, video, and web), and APIs so you can integrate project data with existing business systems.

Incorporating URLs into print and ePublications, especially for larger publications, is a mainstay nowadays. Most, if not all, calls to action within a commercial printed piece include a URL; therefore, there’s lots to manage in terms of keeping the right links in place. Enter InDesign’s Hyperlinks panel. It includes traffic lights to indicate URL availability, page numbers, and a refresh button. It’s a nifty tool that will help large publications manage URLs, and a great addition to any workflow!

Next up…

Check back next month as I switch gears and discuss the latest developments in HTML5.