The processes involved in pre-press can be very complex and it is at this stage that costly mistakes can be made.
EVOLUTION OF REPRO AND PRE-PRESS PROCESSES
The term pre-press describes all the activities involved in setting up and preparing packaging and labels for printing. The key components that make up pre-press activities can be seen in the flow chart below (Figure 1.1).
Figure 1.1 - The key components of pre-press
Design and origination – includes all aspects of the label/pack design and the creation of the artwork (finalising and converting a design).
Preparation for printing – features all repro activities including the process of finalising and optimising artwork and color from a production brief.
Proofing – occurs throughout design to print as a means of pre-viewing designs before printing and underpins approvals at each phase.
Output – production of films, plates and other components required for the final print stage.
EARLY PRE-PRESS ACTIVITIES
Traditionally most pre-press operations were based on photographic processes and involved highly skilled manual input.
The following processes and activities were typically part of traditional pre-press operations.
Typesetting – the manual arrangement of text elements (often moveable type) completed by typesetters.
Artwork preparation – the manual creation of artwork onto boards using a combination of images and text.
Proof reading – laborious reading of text and content by a proof reader in order to identify and correct any errors.
Copy-editing – a skilled and manual activity that improved the accuracy, structure and style of content often using a system of annotations (mark up language).
Proofing – the time consuming reproduction of the artwork, often using actual materials and production equipment to be used in the actual production of the job.
Screening – the skilled adjustment of continuous-tone images such as photographs.
Separation – separating the original artwork using a filter for each color (CMYK). This required photographing the target for each color using a large format camera. Also the specifying images or text to be put on the printing plates.
Inspection – viewing of films and transparencies with the aid of an illuminated light table.
Retouching – hand retouching of films and plates to rectify imperfections.
Manufacturing – of plates for printing requiring a high level of manual input.
Today most craft based processes in the pre-press arena have been superseded and have dramatically reduced the need for skilled operators.
A key transition occurred in the mid-1980s. The introduction of the Apple Macintosh and PC along with page makeup software (eg Adobe InDesign, QuarkXpress and the Adobe PostScript* page description language) facilitated the digital manipulation of content on-screen, as well as the output of film and proofs.
It is these developments that are largely responsible for the increase of computer-aided pre-press techniques.
By the early 2000s computers became part of the mainstream for pre-press operations with traditional techniques using photographic techniques, dark rooms and light tables overtaken by more efficient digital processes.
More recently, the implementation of page description languages (such as PostScript and Adobe Portable Document Format known as PDF ) has provided a standard for document exchange within the industry.
*Adobe Postscript – A page description language created by Adobe Systems for defining the content and layout of printed documents in precise detail, so enabling a computer to communicate with a printer.
NEW ERA OF DESIGN
Today the combination of the computer, internet, scanners and imaging units, enables the designer to perform the whole operation from a location almost anywhere in the world.
In addition to assembling graphics and text gathered from a wide variety of sources, due allowance can be made via the computer for the printing process to be used and even the individual press.
Proofing by ink-jet, thermal dye sublimation, etc. provides virtually press quality proofs prior to film or plate making, at any remote location away from the design office. Last minute changes in color or layout may be incorporated easily and re-proofed without delay, often at the customer's site.
By using this modern technology, fast job turnarounds, design flexibility and production oriented layouts are now the norm, with the resulting reduction in costs.
The introduction of the digital printing process is having an important impact on the speed, efficiency and management of the design to print process.
The design to print process overall is however still very complex and costly mistakes can be made, if care is not taken at each stage.
OVERVIEW OF THE DESIGN PROCESS
Most of a typical design project’s costs and time are incurred before it enters production. The planning and creative phases of a job are equally as important as its production, as most of the problems can occur during these early stages (see Figure 1.2).
Figure 1.2 - A diagramatic overview of the activities involved in the early planning and creative phases of a project
The fundamental need for pre-press is to anticipate the influence of the printing process to be used and to prepare all data so that its appearance, when printed, meets customer needs.
The above diagram shows how a project evolves through the planning, creative and production phases with the key steps involved.
An important part of pre-press activity is to understand, quantify and document customer needs and expectations. This challenge will be explored in some detail in this book.
The next page shows a more comprehensive overview of the many steps undertaken in the transition from design to print (see Figure 1.3). This chart shows 35 typical steps in the design to print process. It is important that each of these elements is dealt with in the correct way, as it is quite common for considerable costs to be incurred when one of the elements is incorrect.
Figure 1.3 - An overview of the steps involved in the design to print process
A thorough understanding of these steps will go a long way to minimising these errors. Most of these steps will be dealt with in this Module.
At this stage it is important to note that it is the printing process which will ultimately determine the detail of the pre-press procedures adopted.