Need An Image Transfer Solution?
Pick Your Poison.
When it comes to digitizing the workflow, graphic arts professionals now have a myriad of options to choose from. Find out which solution best suits the stakeholders in your community of interest.
By Franky McCoy
In the print industry, a plate can be generated in less than five minutes. But the proofing process has traditionally taken 48 hours or longer, when sending hard copies from one location to another via courier. Even years ago¡ªwhen digital documents and "fat pipes" were the rage¡ªproofing cycles were inefficient and supine compared to the rest of the production process. Unfortunately bandwidth could not ensure that data would arrive timely or unbroken. Therefore, data transfer bottlenecks became all too common, and shrinking file sizes only resulted in reduced image quality.
Today fat Internet pipes are still the rage, at least to some degree. Vendors and service providers are trying desperately to further expedite the production process, amend workflow inefficiencies, and enable collaboration. But few have similar solutions. In fact, from File Compression technologies to DSLs (Digital Subscriber Lines), Pixel on Demand technology, Hosted Community Platforms and Resolution-Independent Plug-ins, stakeholders in the graphic arts industry now have more options than ever before.
Compressing Proprietary and Standard Image Files
With the emergence of the digital document came FTP (File Transfer Protocol) sites. To transfer large volumes of data via this method, the user logs in and manually selects the files for transfer. The files then reside on the FTP server until the recipient downloads them. But delivery is only as fast as the recipient¡¯s modem connection. For this reason, we¡¯ve seen an onset of compression technologies.
With typical compression solutions, files are compressed using proprietary technology at an average of 25:1. At this rate, recipients with a 56k modem can download a 25 MB image in less than three minutes, and there are no limitations on the size of file being delivered. Compression bypasses tight email restrictions and enables entire folders to be sent in a background operation that is similar to moving files to a network server. Sent files are typically protected by a 2,048-bit encryption during upload and download, and most service providers do work with firewalls and proxy servers as long as they are configured properly. In rare cases, users may have to set the firewall to recognize the service provider as a secure site.
CVISION Technologies in Queens, N.Y. (www.cvisiontech.com) for example, offers a suite of products called CVista. Where most service providers compress and send already created and manipulated images, CVista can be used to create CIF (CVISION image format) images, which have a 20-times greater compression rate than TIFF and PDF. Users can also create PDF images that are up to 10-times smaller than the typical PDFs created with Adobe Acrobat, yet are still viewable in Adobe Acrobat Reader. The CVista suite also comes with a CVista Viewer (either Web-enabled or standalone) for viewing the CIF images.
The Lossless Resolution-Independent Plug-inThe perfectionist will argue that although most compressed images are visually lossless, they still have mathematically lost some quality. The difference in the original image and the compressed image can be seen in the Histogram option in Adobe Photoshop. For these graphic arts professionals, there are now Resolution-Independent Plug-ins available.
LizardTech in Seattle, Wash. (www.lizardtech.com) for example, offers Genuine Fractals, plug-ins for creating high-quality images within Adobe Photoshop. Users start with a low- to medium-resolution image and, when they're done retouching or color correcting, they choose File>Save As to encode the image in LizardTech's resolution-independent format. Also when saving an image, the user can choose the Lossless option, which creates a file that is half the size of the original but can be opened exactly to its original size without any loss. Additionally, users can own the plug-ins for less than $300¡ªwhich is lower than purchasing compression tools or subscribing to compression services.
Pixel on Demand: From LAN to Browser
At this point, File Compression may sound attractive due to the simplicity in sending the file. But when data is compressed, there will be data lost¡ªeven if the loss is not visual to the naked eye. At best, stakeholders will be working with only a simulation of the production file, and for this reason Resolution-Independent Plug-ins may sound more attractive due to the high quality and lossless nature of the file transfer. However, these plug-ins save the file in a proprietary format, and stakeholders wanting to view, change, or print the file will need to invest in proprietary software enabling them to do so.
So what¡¯s a graphic artist to do? Consider Pixel on Demand. Pixel on Demand is a technology offered by RealTimeImage in San Bruno, Calif. (www.realtimeimage.com) through its RealTimeProof Classic software application. Instead of compressing the image, RealTimeProof streams the actual, full-resolution (up to 2480 dpi) production file, extracting and rendering key elements of the image, then successively adding image detail. RealTimeProof streams the image from the users LAN (local area network) to the viewer¡¯s browser with no visual loss, compression, or artifacts. This allows direct viewing of remote full-resolution images. "In the past, users traded data for the ability to transmit a file; meaning they accepted compressed files because their need for speed and delivery was greater than the need for highest quality," says Yehuda Messinger, executive vice president of the graphic arts division at RealTimeImage. "This is a compromise professionals do not have to make with RealTimeImage."
Mix In DSL for More Efficient Transfer
As an alternative to (or more often used in conjunction with) creating, compressing or manipulating actual images, graphic artists can create more efficient transfer lines, such as DSLs. DSL is a broadband technology that takes advantage of an already existing infrastructure. It provides high-speed data communications (such as Internet access) over existing copper telephone networks while simultaneously maintaining voice service. DSL delivers data rates in excess of 6Mbps and as high as 12 Mbps, compared with dial-up modems that offer speeds up to 56 Kilobits per second.
Aware Inc. in Bedford, Mass. (www.aware.com), a DSL technology provider for semiconductor and equipment manufacturers, estimates that residential Asymmetric DSL (ADSL) service will increase to 18 to 20 million subscribers this year. However, the company¡¯s Worldwide ADSL Subscriber Report indicates that while end-user demand for ADSL service remains strong, suppliers of DSL chipsets and equipment have experienced a challenging market environment. In addition to a global telecommunications slowdown, significantly more ADSL chipsets were sold in 2000 than were required by new subscribers. (30 to 34 million chipsets were sold versus approximately 10 million required for new subscribers.) Aware believes the chipset/subscriber imbalance was due to two principal reasons:
¡ñ Service Provider Deployment Patterns
When service providers begin to deploy ADSL in new geographies, they generally install more lines of capacity in their central offices than are required by initial customer demand. They do this because it is operationally efficient and economically beneficial to do so. Since 2000 was the first year of mass rollouts, service providers ordered significant quantities of equipment as they commenced service across their territories. Despite strong end-user customer demand in 2001, service providers¡¯ ADSL equipment orders have slowed as they use the lines of capacity they purchased in 2000.
¡ñ Optimism By ADSL Equipment Companies
ADSL equipment suppliers purchased chipsets and manufactured equipment in 2000 with the expectation of capturing market share in this emerging market. Unfortunately for some of these companies, their actual sales have fallen short of expectations. Sales shortfalls by unsuccessful equipment companies have resulted in excess inventory, which in turn has led to inventory write-offs, and, in some cases, decisions to exit the ADSL business. As consolidation continues among ADSL equipment companies, Aware believes that the remaining suppliers will be in a better position to forecast demand and purchase chipsets in a pattern that more closely reflects new subscriber additions.
Hosted Services Enable Remote Collaboration
"To send a file from one place to the other, whether over fat pipes or dial up connection, is one thing," says Messinger. "It¡¯s quite another thing to allow all workflow participants including printers, prepress agencies, and creative and corporate marketing departments to contribute to the file once it reaches its destination." The workflows associated with the production and distribution of digital content often involves collaboration between the client and its community of interest. To increase efficiencies within these workflows, graphic artists are looking towards remote collaboration technologies, specifically Hosted Community Platforms. "Why would you want everyone in your project workgroup to make annotations and changes on separate file copies?" asks Messinger.
RealTimeImage offers customers a hosted version of the RealTimeProof application, called RealTimeProof.com. While using the same Pixel on Demand technology, all participants can manage their proofing workflow through any web-enabled Mac or PC, without additional IT infrastructure¡ªwhich makes the service ideal for those who prefer not to invest time or money in systems integration. Files are uploaded onto the user's private workspace on the RealTimeProof.com site.
Similarly, WAM!NET Inc. in Eagan, Minn. (www.wamnet.com) recently introduced its Direct!IP (Internet Provisioned) service that works conjunctively with its Virtual Direct! and Direct! applications. The Direct! services provide organizations with several points of connectivity. Virtual Direct! is a combination of the WAM!NET Internet Gateway (the file transport application) and WAM!NET WorkSpace (the file server, or disk storage service). Particularly useful in remote geographies or in environments where organizations already have in place the required bandwidth, Direct!IP enables content distribution via a virtual private network (VPN) between the local Internet circuit and the WAM!NET private network.
WAM!NET¡¯s John Jebens, director of workflow solutions, explains the importance in hosted applications. "Rather than investing in, building and supporting certain business technologies (then tying up the IT department resources) businesses can find value in a service model. It¡¯s like building layers of a cake¡ªsome technologies you will purchase and some you will build. If the cake is sliced, the entire integration of layers will be supported by the IT group¡with the help of outside service organizations." Jebens also illustrates the reliability of the WAM!NET services by noting "Companies such as Time Inc., Reader¡¯s Digest, JC Penney, Albertson¡¯s, Forbes, and Sears entrust their mission critical publishing, storage, and file sharing demands with us."
Like RealTimeImage, WAM!NET provides both monthly subscription fees as well as those based on a per use basis. "Typically, Virtual! IP costs between $300 and $650," says Jebens. "Direct! IP costs approximately $650 and the user is required to provide a broadband, such as DSL, or T1 line. With Direct! WAM!NET provides the entire last mile of cable to the facility¡ªwhich usually costs between $1,300 and $3,000, depending on the traffic load." WAM!BASE, WorkSpace, and other services cost extra and are based purely on contracted storage.
Printers Simplify Processes With Transfer Technologies
Though proofs are approved, image files are not out of the loop just yet. The final stakeholders in the production process¡ªthe printers¡ªstill need to receive them as well. For this reason, printers are trying to work with a wider range of graphic arts professionals as they digitize their workflow. They are trying to adopt technologies that will enable them to operate with customers of varying technological expertise. Thankfully for them, many of the aforementioned technologies will help to simplify the final processes in production.
Take for example, Resolution-Independent Plug-ins. After the graphic artist has increased the size of the digital camera or desktop scanner output, he or she can print the results on a desktop or wide format printer, or even on an offset press. Here, the megapixel digital camera images can be enlarged from a 4x5 to an 8x10 or 16x20, and a 15-18MB digital camera or desktop scanner capture can be output at 200-300MB or larger.
CVISION Technologies on the other hand, offers CBatch, CVista's module for remotely printing scanned documents, which streams TIFF, CIF, and PDF documents to the client printer. These images can be Bates Stamped on the fly, as well as collated and duplicate copied. The CVista.cpj extension (CVista print job) allows for additional control over a batch print job, such as the addition of slip-sheets containing document data exported from coded database fields and the ability to print a page range on a multipage document.
Additionally, RealTimeImage offers its RealTimeProof Partner application that gives third parties the ability to plug RealTimeImage's image-streaming engine into any digital production solution. RealTimeProof Partner allows streaming of large files directly from a digital asset management system, database or other application.
Transcontinental Printing (Brampton, Ontario) uses RealTimeImage because one of its major clients, a North American real estate and tourism publisher, creates its own content. The publisher sends Transcontinental (via FTP) hundreds of PageMaker files that have to be amended and proofed for content. Matt Pugliese, manager of imaging technology at Transcontinental says that from the time pages were received to the time film or CTP files were sent to the printer was about seven days. Today, with RealTimeImage, the efficiencies gained in the approval cycle account for a two-day reduction in the whole process. And while Pugliese says that the manual process of emailing PDFs "is fine for certain applications, when we're talking about the production of large weekly projects involving hundreds of pages for one client, the novelty of creating, organizing and tracking PDFs wears out quickly for both us and the client."
Sept2002, Digital Publishing Solutions