*This article is the fourth in a seven-part series on the print ecosystem. To read the fifth article, click here.
Now that you’ve properly onboarded your orders and managed their timelines, you need to prepare the files for printing. If you’ve made it to the Prepare phase of the print software ecosystem, you’re rounding the curve toward the finish line and need to start visualizing what the end result looks like. This is an essential step toward avoiding costly obstacles and pitfalls that can hinder your bottom line.
What it Means to Prepare Through the Production Process
Preparation is all about understanding each job’s requirements and the variable management that will lead to successful production and delivery. It entails tasks like pre-process color management, workflow automation, variable data versioning, and personalization.
Every order has its own specifications. Understanding what each job requires is vital to successful preparation. For example, thousands of copies of static forms must be prepared differently from tens of thousands of targeted or personalized content pieces driven by data. With so many potential variables per job, preparation is the key to delivering quality goods that meet customer intent.
If you’re at the stage of preparing your documents, you’ve reached the heart of your printing software ecosystem. Now is the time to start digging heavily into the process and actually prepare files for printing. At this point, you’re gliding past the halfway mark in your process and can start sprinting toward the finish line.
It’s All About Pre-Production
A robust prepress process will set every single print job up for success and prepare you to produce top-tier output for your clients. But how can you stay competitive in your prepress? The answer is a bit different depending on what industry you’re in. The key is understanding your business’s capabilities and ensuring they’re streamlined for peak performance.
Print Service Providers (PSP)
Some PSPs offer design and composition services where they create production files, maintain versions, and store photos and graphics for each project. Other PSPs may only accept print-ready files that are compatible with their workflow. No matter the process you use, preparation does not end when the file is created.
It may need additional preparation. This critical stage involves preflighting, color management, imposition, and batching. To learn more about prepare stage for PSPs, download our fourth eBook Commercial Printer’s Ecosystem eBook series.
In-plant printers may offer design and composition services as a PSP does. An in-plant printer, however, must focus on storing different versions and maintaining photos and branding for its client. For the in-plant printer, preparation is much more than file creation. It's also brand development and protection, consistency, and position.
Prepare is a seven-step process that covers everything from file retrieval and conversions to batching and imposition. To learn more about prepare for In-plants, download our fourth eBook In-Plant Printer’s Ecosystem eBook series.
The 7 Steps to Successful Preparation
- File retrieval. Online portals and web-to-print (W2P) solutions can push files uploaded by the customer into the workflow management software for further processing.
- File conversions or data stream transforms. Files submitted in different formats must be converted, often to PDF, before the following workflow steps.
- Preflighting and file optimization. All files should be inspected to catch any structural or other elements that could impact printing.
- Color conversion and management. Since artwork files are often supplied by customers and created in various design tools, the color may need to be converted and managed.
- Proofing and approval. Part of the workflow process is to gain the customer’s approval that the processed file matches their original intent and expectations.
- Batching. Combining multiple jobs into a single print run can increase efficiency and save material costs.
- Imposition. Although files can be imposed with design applications like Adobe InDesign or composition tools like Quadient, a dedicated software solution is preferred over an ad hoc or fractured process.
Where Things Go Wrong
Now that you know how to prepare, understanding what’s at stake is key. After all, how can you ensure everything goes right if you don’t know what can go wrong? The biggest thing for a printer to remember is that mistakes in the preparation phase can be incredibly costly. If you get it wrong here, you can lose the profit on an entire job. Unfortunately, this can happen more often than you’d like without suitable systems in place.
- Someone clicks the wrong button
- An order gets ticketed incorrectly
- The layout is accidentally set too wide
- Addresses are printed incorrectly on pre-paid envelopes
- Untrained staff don’t know how to use the software
All these mistakes can and do happen, and they’re primarily caused by human error. You can wipe out your entire profit margin if your staff doesn’t know how to preset templates. Moreover, silly mistakes – like clicking the wrong button – can be just as damaging.
The Bottom Line
Preparation is a critical phase in your print ecosystem. It’s certainly not a place you can afford to make mistakes. Since most mistakes during this process are caused by human error, you must find ways to avoid manual touchpoints where possible. The best practice is to create an automated workflow where jobs can move quickly through production without interruption. The key to a successful preparation stage is understanding job variability and building an automated workflow to minimize human touchpoints and maximize efficiency.
To browse each of the seven blogs in The Ecosystem series, click here.
Meet the Author
Linnea is Ricoh’s Director of Global Marketing, Alliances & Operations. She is responsible for growing the worldwide awareness of and demand for the production workflow software and solutions portfolio. Linnea is a brand specialist with more than 25 years of experience, having previously held key leadership positions at Hunter Douglas, Qwest, and PepsiCo. Linnea holds an MBA from Hoffstra University and Bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration and International Affairs from the University of New Hampshire. Linnea manages global strategic partnerships and marketing operations for Ricoh, giving her a comprehensive view of the business, customers, and markets. An accredited global marketing leader, Linnea is passionate about small businesses, even volunteering her marketing communications, social media, and digital marketing expertise to small businesses and associations. Her goal is always to help other businesses thrive. She authors many Ricoh blog posts to this end.
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