The Manufacturing and Technology Committee of Magazines Canada wanted to find a way to relieve some of the production nightmares plaguing prepress departments and printers. So I was hired to write this lavish 80-page booklet, called Look Like a Hero, giving art directors the information they needed to negotiate the ever-changing print production process. By successfully translating what they create on computer into print, the art directors could become a hero to their bosses or clients.
Here’s sample text from the booklet:
The future of magazine publishing is digital. In fact, the future is almost here. A 2003 survey of 268 Canadian magazines, conducted by Masthead, reveals that nearly 80 per cent of these publications had embraced computer-to-plate (CTP) technology, cutting the need for film as they moved toward an all-digital workflow. For art directors the shift means that an increasing number of tasks once handled by dedicated specialists are now devolving to their computer desktops. “Over the last 10 years, typesetters have gone,” says Georges Haroutiun, publisher and art director of Applied Arts Magazine in Toronto. “Now ADs are doing more and more things once handled by colour separators – everything from doing some of their scans to bringing proofing in-house.”
Whether or not this trend is desirable is beside the point. Money and time savings – allowing for later ad closings – will drive the evolution. Of course, any seismic change to an industry is accompanied by trauma.
The Proof Is the Problem
Magazines feel the pain most keenly when it comes to conflicting standards, especially with proofing and file formats. Masthead reports that 32 per cent of all submitted ad files don’t meet publication standards, requiring a substantial investment in labour to fix them – work that is rarely charged back to the client. “A lot of people are giving us laser proofs from improperly calibrated printers,” says Maria Mendes, manager of print production at Transcontinental Media in Toronto. “Or they give us RGB proofs or no proofs at all. There’s no way we can match a lot of these proofs on press. You need to have a good-quality contract proof that has been certified to standards set by Magazines Canada.” (See “Supply a Proper Contract Proof” on p. 16.)
The Future Is Soft
While there is a strong industry push to create universal standards for hard-copy proofs from digital files, there’s also a major move to leap-frog this stage altogether and go to “soft proofing.” This is touted as a “paper-free workflow” in which colour-accurate proofs can be viewed on calibrated monitors. An image that an AD sees on-screen would have two colour profiles attached to it: an input profile (that takes into account the characteristics of the specific image capture device, such as a digital camera) and an output profile (that takes into account how it will be printed, including type of press, stock and printing inks). With the attached profiles, the process of proofing layouts, even in remote locations, becomes fast, easy and inexpensive, or so the argument goes.
That is the theory. In practice, however, few Canadian publishers have adopted soft proofing, despite the putative benefits. While most publishing experts believe soft proofing is a great way to check file content, they disagree on its viability for proofing colour. “We don’t want ads submitted to us with attached profiles, because there are no proper standards right now. Everybody does their own thing and we find it hard to control,” says John Hall, vice-president, production at Rogers Publishing in Toronto.
Even so, there have been some major moves to adopt soft proofing in the United States. TV Guide, for example, is published with a soft proofing process, speeding up its weekly turnarounds.
Key to the acceptance of soft proofing is the emergence of high-quality, high-definition SWOP-certified monitors, such as the Apple HD Cinema widescreen display and the Sony Artisan. But even with such advanced monitors, care must be taken to keep them properly calibrated.
“ADs have to keep in mind that no matter how good a monitor is, as it ages it becomes more difficult, if not impossible, to calibrate correctly,” says Steve Manley, AD and president of Overleaf Design in Toronto. “And I don’t know of any AD who works in proper lighting conditions to view a balanced monitor. Your overhead lighting, outside lighting and even the colour of your walls will affect what you see on-screen.”
The Changing Workflow
Dealing with layout applications, with their separate font and graphics files, is one of the banes of a prepress department’s existence. Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to receive files in a locked format, with essential elements embedded, and portable so it can be opened by almost any computer system? These are some of the benefits of using the PDF/X–1a format, the Magazines Canada standard for ad submissions that is being adopted by an increasing number of publications. A subset of the Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF), the standard ensures that a graphic-arts file reproduces on press the way the creator intended, restricting the file to content that directly relates to high-quality print production output. PDF/X-1a reduces the potential for error by making sure that all fonts and images are embedded, all graphics are encoded as CMYK or spot colour, the file is identified as trapped or not trapped, and the type of output is specified.
Not Your Type
Embedded fonts in a fixed-file format will go a long way to resolve some of the current type issues, such as conflicting or corrupt fonts. ADs won’t have to worry about having a different version of their font used, causing reflow problems, or engaging in the legally questionable practice of sending copies of their fonts to the prepress house.
Another development designed to reduce font headaches is the new OpenType cross-platform file format developed jointly by Adobe and Microsoft. Not only is the new format compatible with both Macintosh and Windows computers, it uses a single font file for all of its outline and metric data, simplifying file management. It also has an expanded character set and layout features, providing broader linguistic support and more precise typographic control than current PostScript fonts.
Get the Digital Picture
The adoption of digital images has made enormous headway among magazines. While digital images save time and scanning costs, they do present some problems that are already making prepress professionals nostalgic for the days of transparencies. Still, the genie cannot be put back in the bottle. Publishers are scrambling to establish guidelines for using digital images, covering resolution, compression and formats for supplied files. ADs are also learning through painful experience that it is not enough to demand that photographers turn in images of adequate resolution. Their digital cameras need to have the same bells and whistles as a traditional single-lens reflex camera, including high-quality lenses.
Manley points out that magazines need to rein in their enthusiasm for the cost-savings of digital images. “Publishers are winning again with all sorts of digital images that don’t require colour separations,” he says. “They have got to realize that not everything is a savings. If they want to continue to have a quality product, they will have to reinvest in top-notch scanning equipment and the expertise to use it.”
Hall of Rogers Publishing agrees with this sentiment. “Technology has changed the responsibility for who does what,” he adds. “It has thrown more and more on the creative side and is cutting out the middleman.” But as ADs are discovering, it is good to have the expertise of the prepress “middleman” to draw upon, to help them learn new tasks, to take over critical work, and to act as trusted guides in the quickly changing digital landscape.