Pre-press: the last chance for printing?

19 July 2018

Pre-press represents the last chance saloon of printing; with the rising demand for more versatile, personalised and custom packaging that requires short runs and faster turnarounds, pre-press needs to present a united front to wheedle out weaknesses. Ceri Jones speaks to Oliver Peitzner, product manager at EyeC, to find out what’s new in pre-press technology.

Accuracy is of utmost importance to sustaining brand integrity. However, in March this was turned on its head when clothing retailer ASOS accidentally printed 17,000 shipping bags with a spelling error. The usual tagline ‘discover fashion online’ was printed with the typo ‘onilne’. Not intending to waste the bags or a chance for public engagement, the brand’s social media department shared a photo of the misprint on Twitter, wryly telling people to look out for ‘limited edition’ packaging.

The blunder was embraced by the public, racking up almost 50,000 likes on Twitter due to the quick-witted social media front that took the lead on admitting a mistake, while also using the opportunity to spread the message that ASOS’s plastic shipping bags are all recyclable.

But not everyone is so fortunate or forgiving and in a different sector it could have been a PR disaster. On the whole, even a minor error in print quality or spelling can damage a brands reputation, undermine integrity or, in some sectors such as pharmaceuticals, even lead to misinformation and endanger health. With pre-press and quality assurance, systems are growing in sophistication, but they are only as good as the information supplied. So how can we close the margins for human error? By removing humans?

Automating workflows

Germany-based inspection software developer EyeC creates intelligent packaging inspection tools for content and artwork. “From the beginning – from pre-press, up to the end where you make incoming goods inspection or warehouse outgoing control – we supply products for the complete supply chain,” says EyeC product manager Oliver Peitzner.

“Our Proofiler Graphic is a comparison tool. We compare PDF files pixel-by-pixel and all deviations which are found that are displaced are displayed on the screen so the operator can judge if that's okay or not. The Proofiler Graphic allows the possibility to choose different parameter sets, depending on the accuracy of inspection requested from the customer side. There are also different modules available, you have the possibility to check only the artwork, all the content which you have on the paper or on the PDF file, then you have the possibility to check 1D and 2D codes and also the braille and different other options.”

“We see a big demand for automisation,” Peitzner confirms. “This is the reason that we have put a lot of effort into the development side. For example, the Proofiler Graphic is a multifunctional tool which you can use in most of the workflows available on the market. So our target is that, if our customer has a workflow system like Esko, or a similar system, then it's possible to integrate the Proofiler Graphic.”

According to Peitzner, this is a rapidly spreading trend, where the large majority of converting and printing companies are turning to automation of processes in order to optimise workflows and reduce to-market times. But is full automation of the entire pre-press stage possible? “From the view today, you can reach automisation,” says Peitzner. “I have seen customers where a lot of orders go automatically up to the printing machine, but this is the one big challenge on the market on the moment – all the customers and all the printers are handed PDF files and there are no real standards behind this. So, for example, if the printer receieved different standards of PDF files from all of his customers, it is not possible to have 100% automation rate.”

Setting a standard

“There has to be a good quality PDF for the printer,” Oliver reiterates, and ironing out this stage is not impossible, but it would take buy-in from all customers and for some pre-press departments, plus investment in new software and practices. Peitzner believes this is manageable and that it has been achieved, though it is a rare demonstration of the ideal.

“I have seen a printer who has a very good relationship with his customers. He very successfully implemented a PDF standard and there you can see very well that if you have a standard of what the customer is shipping to the printer, then automisation is possible up to automatically controlling the inspection in the background. But there you have the issue where 80% of the jobs go automatically to the printing machine and only 20% of all jobs are checked again in the pre-press department.”

“All other printers have the problem of different standards of PDF files, but if there is some solution on the market, then automisation is possible. You have different opportunities to put content in the PDF file, such as layers and spot colours. The PDF file allows different possibilities for the pre-press department. It is necessary that it is handled as standard in the future, in which the department would put their stuff in separate layers and not in spot colours.”

“In the workflow systems, all the orders go automatically to the inspection software. If you have good PDF standards then you can create the inspection on a fast lay. In EyeC’s software, we have implemented improvements to speed up the inspection and are now three times faster than before. The argument for the workflow system is that you can do more inspections in the same time, but this comes from the demand of digital printing.”


Esko is storming ahead in terms of integration, releasing a stream of high-end tools, including its 64-bit ArtPro 18.0 in November 2017. To keep it in-line with Apple Mac’s latest operating system, Esko has adapted their plug-ins to be Adobe Creative Cloud 2018 compatible and have relentlessly improved its ArtPro+ offering with faster features and improved communication streams. Each of these elements make the pre-press stage as easy and swift as possible, while crucially, working towards standardisation of the PDFs.

Integration appears to be an inescapable necessity for printing businesses, as more and more pre-press technology tools are emerging, each offering specific, valuable functions, upping the pressure to find a way to combine these benefits. For instance, in addition to supplying a vast range of pre-press applications, Esko recently announced a collaboration with AVT’s camera inspection and X-Rite and Pantone’s colour management products. By linking the separate hard and softwares, manual setups of inspection, colour and production are removed and accurate information is assured at each point, saving time on every job. 

Equally forward-thinking is Germany’s HYBRID Software, a digital first firm which aims to provide the ‘missing link’ between MIS systems, web-to-print portals and pre-press workflow. Its products tackle the issues raised by Peitzner, with PACKZ providing a sophisticated PDF editing suite created for the labels and packaging sector, and the PACKZalyzer, released in March, which allows users to correct file-related issues in PDFs before they are sent to pre-press.

As the company said, “PACKZalyzer is based on the powerful tools for PDF analysis and correction from HYBRID’s PACKZ PDF editor, which have been paired with an intuitive and easy-to-use cloud-based application to prepare label and packaging files for production. PACKZalyzer will correct common file-related issues that occur in many package designs and will give the PrintOS community an integrated web-based file inspection tool for additional areas of concern, such as barcode information.”

The second product line, CLOUDFLOW, is built on Native PDF and HTML5, and regardless of where a file is actually stored, it is accessible via The Cloud, making it secure but available to all users at any point in the run. The company says of its modular workflow system, “By adding the orchestrator module, it can integrate and interoperate with all contributors, IT services and equipment of the entire value chain from initial order to final delivery, providing flexible interfaces and powerful process engines.”

Accuracy and speed

“We have a new solution in the pipeline which started in the pre-press area,” Peitzner says, confirming that more details will be revealed at the launch, scheduled for later this summer. “There's been a big demand from customers for servicing software and now we've got more, small requirements from customers with small modifications.

“For example, we have customers who are using a workflow system and they are not printing in a digital way, they're printing on plates that go to the machine. On the plates, there's not only one job on them, they have different items on one printing plate for different customers. This workflow offers the information regarding which sample is at which position of the sheet, so that we can inspect with the correct PDF every item on the plate. That is just one improvement in the workflow.”

EyeC has a stream of new pre-press improvements underway, including upgrading the company’s scanner-based systems, streamlining how information is passed between the inspection scanner and the workflow system, in order to help integrate it with different systems, as well as other, more elusive innovations. “It's not only about speed,” Peitzner concludes, “It is about making less mistakes”.

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