New tools now available (and affordable) to help small printers who need powerful front ends
Big workflow products get broken apart into mini workflows
By Ron Ellis
There is a full slate of PDF products available to high-end users. Products such as Kodak Prinergy, Agfa Apogee, and Heidelberg Metadimensions have been available in the marketplace for some time and have proved their worth. There have also been some lesser-known PDF products such as Artwork Systems Odystar and EFI Oneflow. Both of these products are powerful PDF workflow products in their own right. Both of these products are also PDF front-end only versions released at a price point of less than $10,000.

Why these are worth a look
What can you do with a PDF-only front-end from either of these vendors? At a minimum, they all can take and create PDF files, check them, and then process them based on a conditional check of the file. They are designed to sit in front of a screening RIP such as a Harlequin or Nexus system and provide clean bulletproof files to the RIPs.

There are several important functions these products provide. For creators, they can create solid PDF files that have been preflighted and corrected. More importantly for small printing plants, especially those with a Harlequin, these products can give them workflow capabilities at a large price. For example, with Oneflow Workflow, a customer could add preflight, trapping, and imposition capabilities to their Harlequin-based workflow for under $10,000. No products that offer this amount of power have been available to Harlequin users in this price range before.

A look at the specific products
What specifically are the products? EFI Oneflow Workflow is based on an EFI product called Oneflow. The Oneflow product is composed two components. The first is a PDF Workflow product that includes trapping, imposition and preflight capabilities, as well as other features. The second component is a RIP, that screens one-bit TIFF files for output to computer-to-plate (CTP), drives a proofer, and, and contains a one-bit TIFF viewing utility. The Oneflow product is a full PDF workflow that can drive platesetters, proofers and other devices. In contrast, the Oneflow Workflow product contains only the PDF portion of the full Oneflow product.

While this may not sound like much, appearances can be deceptive. The Oneflow Workflow product has configurations that include trapping and limited imposition and lists for less than $10,000. Besides Pitstop automation, Oneflow and can trap and impose PDF files.

What does this mean for smaller printers? It means that for a small amount of money, they can have Adobe trapping and imposition, as well as the numerous other features. Some of the other features included are Pitstop preflighting and automation (preflight and actions), the ability to map and join spot colors, the ability to create and trap a composite PDF from a pre-separated PDF or Postscript file. All of these are major functions that are lacking on the Harlequin. (For example, once you send you cannot modify the file, and must resend to change separations, traps, imposition.)

In addition, the Oneflow Workflow can copy, e-mail files, and branch the resulting files back to multiple workflows. The 2.5 version of the product provides the ability to print the resulting PDF file, or to export it back to Postscript. Imposition features allow you use an existing Preps or Dynastrip Adobe .jt imposition file, and the product also includes a simple Imposition Module for creating impositions from scratch.

For those using Fiery RIPs, Oneflow Workflow can send the corrected file directly to any Fiery RIP. OneFlow PDF Workflow is an excellent solution for anyone with an older RIP version like Harlequin or Brisque and would like to have a PDF workflow. “It can also fit perfectly in front of digital presses or color copiers that are Fiery driven,” said Bernard Laroche, EFI Oneflow product manager. Oneflow runs on the Windows platform. While the RIP product required a powerful PC, the workflow product has much less in the way of system requirements. The product is available now, and the full product has been out for several years.

Enfocus Pitstop Automate
The other new product that is similar is Enfocus Pitstop Automate. Pitstop Automate lists for $6,000 and is a subset of Artwork Systems Odystar. Odystar is a powerful PDF based workflow that can perform automated Pitstop functions as well as trapping, screening, imposition and other advanced workflow functions. Although Enfocus has a similar product called Pitstop server, Pitstop Automate provides many additional functions.

For example, Pitstop Automate can make a PDF from a Postscript file rather than simply processing files that are already PDF files. It can perform conditional checks on files and decide which path to send the file on. Pitstop Automate can also send files down multiple paths.

Instead of creating one file, Pitstop Automate can create one higher file for use with the RIP, and then scrub a file down to low resolution and e-mail and send the file for preview purposes. The software can also print a file to any supported printer.

Unlike Pitstop Server, Pitstop Automate can also split PDF files, which is an important function for many facilities using high-volume PDF workflows. Running on Apple’s OSX, Pitstop Automate has speeds that are much faster than the typical Pitstop Server, and appears to much more productive. “Automate will be a solution used for inexpensive do-it-yourself workflows,” said Lisa Thostenson, from Enfocus. There will be an upgrade path provided for new and current users of Pitstop Server.

Enfocus is owned by Artwork Systems and the Pitstop Automate product is the first obvious collaboration between the two companies since their merger. The Pitstop Automate version of the product will be released in the first quarter of 2006.

Odystar powers Pitstop Automate
Odystar, mentioned above, is related to Pitstop Automate and is the core technology that Pitstop Automate is based upon. The full version of Odystar is a full workflow product that rivals Printergy and Apogee. For a product that offers more than Pitstop Automate, and for features that are more on par with Oneflow Workflow, users will want to consider Odystar Connect.

Odystar Connect, used by major publishers and content producers, differs from Pitstop Automate by having a client and additional modules that provide load balancing, compression and file transmission capabilities. For those who need to do more than just distill and certify files, Odystar will be a product they will look at.

“The benefits of PDF are evident in any prepress workflow, but automation is still an area of improvement for many users of PDF,” said Artwork Systems’ Mike Rottenborn. “Odystar offers full automation of PDF workflows for packaging and commercial customers and can be configured for both large and small operations.”

At this time there is no upgrade path available from Pitstop Automate to Odystar, but it will be under consideration. The Odystar product has been quietly shipping for the past several years, and is available now. Odystar Connect lists for $15,000. The full version of Odystar sells for $27,500.

Oneflow Workflow and Pitstop Automate are new tools for the small printer needing a powerful front end, as well as content producers using a do-it-yourself workflow. More information on EFI Oneflow Workflow is available at www.efi.com. More information on Enfocus Pitstop Automate is available at www.enfocus.com. More information on Artwork Systems Odystar is available at www.artwork-systems.com.

About the author: Ron Ellis is a prepress consultant specializing in workflow training and integration. He worked in the commercial printing industry for 18 years and brings a strong background to all aspects of prepress. He has consulted on numerous CTP installations and he provides color management, integration, training, workflow development, and troubleshooting solutions to the graphic arts community. He can be contacted at 603-498-4553 or through his Web site at www.ronellisconsulting.com.