A shrinking market for document printing and tightening margins have made productivity and efficiency more important than ever, and for printers testing new opportunities in package printing, decorative and industrial applications and the signage markets, the principle of avoiding wasteful repetition or trial and error work processes holds equally true.

The past decade has seen a transition from what began as islands of activity strung along the chain of front office, prepress, printing and finishing, to a more seamless approach that takes its inspiration from the best paradigms of manufacturing.

A great example is Revolution Print in Ballarat, Victoria (formerly Kingprint), where a Printworxs cloud-based Dolphin Worxs MIS has been integrated into EFI’s Online Print Solutions platform, the web to print (W2P) end of the operation. The new MIS generates content for a press fleet which includes a Konica Minolta B2 AccurioJet KM-1 acquired this year, two Xerox presses –  an iGen 150 and Color 1000 –  and to its offset complement, a Shinohara A2 five-colour press and a Heidelberg Speedmaster two-colour (for PMS work).

The workflow forms the backbone of Revolution’s expanded footprint across Victoria and southern NSW, with recent acquisitions of printing businesses in Echuca and Goulburn.

When orders arrive

Management information systems (MIS) – recording jobs as they enter then proceed through the workflow – are the gatekeepers of a print business, and increasingly their migration to the cloud has allowed clients to be included in the progress of the job.

Yves Roussange of Australian integrator Soltect Solutions Architects notes his company has implemented seamless integration solutions for over a decade, with nearly 50 installations under the brand SwitchBox. Soltect uses Enfocus Switch as the central component of an open ecosystem to automate printing production.

“In the last four years, Soltect has installed XML integration to five MIS systems, four W2P solutions, two online approval technologies, as well as creating two web portals for specific industry needs,” he notes. “As solution architects, our philosophy is to work with technology that is open to integration and to collaboratively exchange information. This ultimately creates a simple solution and leads to an improved customer experience.”

Roussange says that, to be able to navigate current and future trends, the print industry needs to be able to rapidly adapt to changes in the market. He says, “Soltect recommends flexible technology where you are able to pivot and rewrite workflows in short timeframes to be able to retain competitive advantage. The ‘all in one’ vendors can be too restrictive, and are now a thing of the past.

“Fifteen years ago, 75 per cent of printers’ investments were in machinery and equipment but currently, printers should invest 60 per cent of their budget in software technology and innovative design thinking, driven by the end customer.”

Mick Rowan, director of printIQ, says the main differentiator between printIQ and some other W2P solutions is that it is more than just a shopping cart. He says, “It combines the power of the printIQ pricing engine with an integrated online ordering process to give customers an online experience specifically designed for the complexities of print.

“With printIQ, the online order hits production as soon as the order is confirmed by the customer. This is a smart move, given that integration is rated as one of the biggest frustrations with IT systems. The portal is built to make it easy for customers to engage over the web, on their phone, or on a tablet, and comes without the baggage of many standalone, or bolt-on, digital storefront applications.”

The IQconnect-API module offers a series of comprehensive APIs that expose many of the workflows in printIQ, allowing customers to produce their own custom printIQ integrations. It can extend a product offering beyond a customer’s own factory walls and into the plants of other printIQ users, connect directly with third-party web applications or provide self-contained widgets that allow customers to expose all the features of the printIQ simplified ordering process directly on their SEO website.

Rowan notes that printIQ also has APIs that are published in Zapier so that customers can use a third-party tool to simplify the integration.

Tresta Keegan, managing director of Tharstern ANZ, which supplies the Australasian market, explains that its MIS product’s integration with W2P and the cloud minimises the number of touchpoints required to process each order, thereby lowering administration costs and increasing efficiency. It also affords 24/7 self-service access improving the overall experience for customers and revenue stream for the printer.

“The functional depth of integration varies between the respective solutions, but Tharstern does have standing integration with Vpress, Infigo, Pressero, XMPie and ROI360. With Infigo, print buyers can create their own estimates, place orders and check inventory balances from within a personalised online portal.

“The orders sent from the web to print platform are production ready for an automated workflow and come with preapproved artwork, which significantly increases the opportunities for automation,” says Keegan. “Sales teams also have the power to create their own estimates and secure orders whilst onsite with the customer. The overall integration with W2P is enriched with Enfocus Pitstop, which forms a part of the automated workflow.”

Tobie van Dyk of South African-based MIS developer Dolphin Worxs says that when printers look at the integration between their online storefront and MIS, there are just two questions they need to ask. First, can they automatically update their online product prices straight from accurate estimates done in their MIS? Second, can the orders they receive from their W2P system automatically generate jobs in their MIS and flow straight through into production?

She says, “At Dolphin Worxs, we have solved both these issues with a seamless integration between our MIS and W2P front end and also by sending print ready PDFs and JDF files straight to press with no human intervention required.”

Van Dyk says Dolphin Worxs integrates with thousands of cloud-based services including Gmail, Google calendar, Mailchimp, Twitter, Slack and Trello, to name but a few, via Zapier. She says, “We have chosen to do our integrations via Zapier because it allows customers to create and modify their own integrations and it supports literally thousands of cloud-based systems.”

One of the best profiles of web to print humming along in the Australasian print marketplace is Melbourne trade printer Whirlwind Print, which offers its clients a design rich next generation service it markets as ‘W3P’.

Working with exclusive Australian rights to British graphics design tools developer Grafenia, Whirlwind offers services such as w3client, which enables print buyers and ad agencies to create customer specific, editable templates from Adobe InDesign in 10 minutes. These orders can be completed with print ready PDFs. And w3shop enables SMEs to process online orders from a library of over 80,000 design templates and 25 million photos from Grafenia’s Fotolia image collection.

Managing customer files

Once inside the door, the serious technical stuff needs to kick in. Client files come in all shapes and sizes and a lot money is made and lost at this critical point, as prepress departments either overwork or underwork colour management in relation to the requirements of their customer.

More than 10 years ago, the Australian TC130 committee adopted an Australian standard, AS/ISO 12647-2 for accurate, repeatable colour. Colour Graphic Services’ David Crowther, notes the latest ISO 12647-8 validation print processes work directly from digital data.

He says, “This standard only specifies tolerances. Therefore, you can use this standard for digital or wide format, based on colour characterisation data for the colour space you wish to simulate.”

He gives Fogra 51 or PSO Coated v3.icc or Fogra 39 or ISO Coated v2 ECI.icc as examples. He adds, “This works well in accord with 12647-2 offset and 12647-7 digital proofing.”

Additionally, there is ISO 15311, parts 1 and 2, covering measurement methods, reporting requirements, and print quality requirements for printed matter (which includes digital print).

“I have worked with a few printers that have implemented digital procedures, measurement, training and records, following the ISO 9001 QMS outline,” says Crowther. “We provide Mellow Colour ISO 12647-8 Proficient Printer (validation print for digital and or wide format) to those that meet the requirements of the assessment based on periodical audits.

“This is not a simple ‘print once and you are passed for 12 or 24 months’ type of certification. Printing organisations achieving this put in a lot of work and can provide evidence of continuous improvement, measurement, and colour analysis for reporting, maintenance of equipment, with a colour champion and team overseeing a colour quality management system.”

He adds there are always new advances in colour measurement across all print processes. He says, “A lot of print equipment now includes an inline measurement system by way of a spectrophotometer or densitometer or even a digital camera.

“The purpose of these systems is to provide colour process control over the print run. This means the inline measurement system does its best to maintain consistency and accuracy of colour as set up by the print operator and or the colour print device settings used for that job. You still need to confirm the print result to an ISO or in house standard by an external validation or certification measurement.”

Jason Hall of CMYKit says colour consistency is rarely a priority consideration in the purchase of either offset or digital presses. “When commercial print shops started adding digital, and then wide-format digital output devices, they looked at the usual criteria of print size, speed, number of colours, and so on — never considering colour consistency or how to manage colour. There are no ink keys or plate curves to tweak on the fly while running a job on a digital device, so how do you control colour?”

Process control seems like something all printing companies should be doing, but very few actually do, says Hall. “I’ve personally sold printing customers the tools and performed the training, only to see the process abandoned because the culture didn’t change. Buy in needs to start at the highest level of management.”

Hiring a professional can be the most cost effective way to get started with managing your printing devices and creating a consistent printing environment, says Hall. The basis for process control is writing the documentation (rules) and involving all relevant personnel. Each department needs to measure, monitor and manage their printing devices to the specifications in the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) document.

Troy Neighbour, Fujifilm Australia’s senior product manager, Graphic Systems, describes Fujifilm’s ColorPath SYNC as a cloud-based subscription solution aligning offset and digital devices to a range of standards. He says, “It can also check against the chosen standard and if results fail, provides the tools to easily re-optimise without going back to square one. Additionally, it provides the tools to easily create new press curves, for a new stock, based on re-targeting from already certified print conditions.”

“Meanwhile, ISO 12647-8 for use with digital devices has greater built-in colour tolerances to allow for typical results from many digital colour printing devices. In Fujifilm ColorPath SYNC, we have the option to be able to validate to a range of standards including ISO 12647-8 and have had customers successfully implementing this for some time.”

“A more recent development with ColorPath is greater support for flexographic printing. Whilst it could always generate flexo curves, there are now some metrics available specific to this application. Additionally, ColorPath SYNC can build Device Link Profiles to take care of process colour on the digital side of a hybrid scenario, be it flexo or labels.”

Prepping for the pressroom

Whether the job will be a high volume order on an offset press; or a short run of on demand or VDP; or wide-format work of varying magnitudes, files need to be prepared for the print department.

The major vendors offer an array of workflows that can be customised to the print environment. Fujifilm’s XMF workflow now offers significantly quicker ripping, says Troy Neighbour.

Currie’s Bernie Robinson says its ElecRoc workflow from Founder Electronics is a fully integrated JDF/PDF prepress workflow with new system structure to achieve greater stability and processing efficiency.

According to Screen’s Peter Scott, its EQUIOS workflows, which have evolved from its Trueflow product, provide seamless interchanging between CTP and digital production.

Heidelberg’s Dierk Wissmann explains that its Prinect workflow outputs to CTP and digital from one workflow, whether printers produce for commercial or packaging market segments, using CTP plates, inkjet or toner-based output devices.

Agfa’s Mark Brindley says Apogee now automates all prepress tasks, while integration with PressTune supports Agfa Graphics’ ECO³ market approach focused on economy, ecology and extra convenience.

Kodak’s Prinergy workflow uses Maxtone SX screening for four-colour jobs, providing higher resolution.

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