With the introduction of the M measurement modes, the past couple of years have brought a range of incredible new measurement devices that can change the way any commercial printer approaches their pressroom (originally publshed in PrintAction's October 2015 issue).
An in-depth test review of Affinity Photo v1.3.5 (available from the Mac Store for $57.99 or as a free trial) to better understand if Serif Software can continue to shake up the graphics software market with its inexpensive applications.
Within a span of 12 short months, UK-based Serif Software has turned the Mac graphics software market on its ear! Its first salvo – Affinity Designer – was released in October 2014 (reviewed in PrintAction February 2015) and cut a broad swath into the design, pre-media and prepress software market with powerful and useful features aimed squarely at graphic arts professionals. And instead of exacting a monthly toll from its users, Serif chose to sell perpetual licenses of Affinity Designer through Apple’s online store for a fraction the cost of competing applications.
Now Serif is poised to disrupt the image-editing and photography market with its next product for graphics professionals and amateurs alike – Affinity Photo. As with Designer, Serif has engineered Affinity Photo as a Mac application from the first line of code instead of porting their popular PhotoPlus application from the Windows side of its business. And based on my initial impressions and early industry buzz, Affinity Photo is a strong sophomore effort for the company as it courts the Mac design, photo and graphics pro.
Personas for the people
When first launching Affinity Photo (AP) the default user interface opens in an application window and presents a familiar looking array of image-editing tools and panels that are relatively easy to navigate for both experienced image pros and amateurs. As with Designer, Affinity Photo groups tools and functions into task specific workspaces called Personas – good for those keen to organize their workflow. Initially, Photo opens with the Photo Persona active, presenting a familiar looking Tool Dock on the left chock full of the usual (image-editing) suspects including: Move Tool; Selection Brush; Cropping; various paint brush and fill tools; dodging and cloning tools; as well as a few mystery tools.
Mystery tool #1: The AP Flood Select tool enables users to select pixels by colour similarity. As you drag the tool across a range of pixels, the selection size grows to encompass a wider range of colour. Flood Select is especially useful in isolating shadow areas in high contrast images. Mystery tool #2 is the Inpainting Brush, another tool unique to AP that can be used to identify damaged areas within an image, and then used to paint over the missing data with new pixels reconstructed based on image information from the surrounding pixels. It sounds complex, but is really just a new and innovative approach to content-aware restoration.
The toolbar running horizontally along top of the Photo Persona application window houses auto levels, contrast, colour and white balance buttons in addition to selection and quick mask tools. In particular, AP’s Quick Mask feature enables users to easily build masks to isolate key elements within their images, then toggle how the selection is displayed. Other toolbar inhabitants include a nifty Force Pixel Alignment tool that will snap vector objects or pixel selections to full pixels – very useful for Web graphics – as well as a full range of arrange, insert and alignment functions.
A full range of filters can be found in the Photo Persona menubar, including the varied flavours of Blur; Sharpen; Distort; Noise; Edge Detection; Shadows/Highlights and so on. When launched each Filter pops up in its own window with all the appropriate controls and parameters for the user to adjust. Split Screen, a feature borrowed from Designer, is built into the filter window and enables users to view images in full screen, split screen or mirrored screen to preview the effect alongside the original image in real-time.
As you might expect, the right side of the default AP workspace contains a familiar set of panels relevant to the Persona that the user is working in. For example, the Photo Persona includes essential panels such as Layers; Effects; Swatches; Brushes; Histogram; Navigator; and so on. All panels can be rearranged to suit individual preferences within the application window to create a customized workspace. The chaotically minded can opt to do away with the window altogether by choosing to work in Separated Mode, which breaks all the aforementioned toolbars and panels into free-floating elements that can be placed anywhere on your screen.
Using Layers, AP provides a comprehensive non-destructive editing workflow allowing users to apply any adjustment or effect to underlying Layers. Colour images can be converted to greyscale using a B+W adjustment layer similar to a channel mixer you might find in other photo-editing applications. Unique to Affinity Photo, Live Filter Layers can be applied to any layer and modified in real-time.
Portrait photographers and prepress techs dealing with a lot of headshots will appreciate AP’s Frequency Separation filter which enables users to correct texture and colour independently – great for blemish removal and smoothing coarse skin textures without affecting skin tone.
Liquify & Develop
Affinity Photo includes three additional Personas for users: Liquify; Develop; and Export. As the name implies, Liquify Persona is the workspace for distorting pixels in images. When switching to the Liquify workspace, a grid is immediately applied to your image showing brush size and distortion effect. The Toolbar displays a selection of distortion tools, such as Twirl; Pinch; Liquify Turbulence Tool; as well as a Freeze Tool that creates a mask to protect an area in your image from distortion, and a Thaw Tool to remove it.
Opening a Camera RAW file in Affinity Photo automatically defaults to the Develop Persona – AP’s robust RAW editing workspace. In addition to RAW, the Develop Persona works with other standard image formats and Photo’s tabbed UI means that users can work with RAW images alongside other files. Develop enables users to apply multiple adjustments to images encompassing exposure; white balance; and black point along with a variety of other professional-grade adjustments. The AP Scope panel shows users the distribution of chrominance and luminance within their image – a capability I have not previously seen in an image-editing application.
I was particularly impressed with the powerful lens correction features in the AP Develop Persona, including notable noise reduction for high ISO images. That said: Affinity Photo has the ability to create and save presets for rectifying lens distortion, but this version does not appear to include profiles for specific lenses. Hopefully, some popular lens profiles will show up in a future version. When finished perfecting your RAW image, Affinity Photo prompts you to ‘Develop’ before changing Personas in a nod to the analog roots of darkroom wizardry.
The Export Persona affords users very precise control over getting an image out of Affinity Photo in a variety of formats. At this point, I should mention that AP has its own propriety file structure for saving files you are actively working with. The .afphoto file type contains all layer, filter, mask and effect information in addition to the pixels in your image. Although this format is both efficient and convenient, users will still need to export more common image formats for prepress use. Fortunately, the Export Persona makes short work of this task with all the options necessary to export SVG, JPEG, TIFF, PNG, GIF, EPS and PDF available in one convenient workspace. Interestingly, I saved the same test image in Photoshop and Affinity Photo – the Affinity Photo file was about 70 percent smaller while maintaining the same pixel density.
Under the hood
It is easy to get wrapped up in all the bells and whistles Affinity Photo provides for image-editing pros and overlook a few other pretty remarkable attributes. Under the hood, AP uses a 64-bit architecture and harnesses every graphics advantage the Mac ecosystem has to offer, such as: Support for Open GL; Grand Central Dispatch; Core Graphics; and the Retina display UI. In plain English this translates to fast, live processing and instantaneous previews of a huge range of high-end filters and effects; masking effects and advanced adjustment layers as well as live blending modes. Affinity Photo is very fast, even on modestly configured equipment such as my aging 2012 Macbook Air.
Prepress pros will be glad to hear that in addition to support for RGB, Greyscale and LAB colour spaces (both 8- and 16-bit), AP provides users with a start-to-finish CMYK workflow, something of a rarity in image-editing applications within this price range. Add to that a multi-document tabbed interface, support for unlimited layers and impressive live preview performance even when applying effects to massive layered images and its pretty tough to see a downside to working in Affinity Photo!
That’s not to suggest Affinity Photo provides everything a photographer, designer or prepress pro wants or needs. A few useful production capabilities are missing in action with this version, including support for scripts, HDR image compositing and panorama stitching. Also, minor conveniences such as the application recognizing the pixel dimensions of an image in the clipboard when creating a new file have been overlooked – in this version at least. The good in Affinity Photo’s imperfections is that Serif has fodder for future updates – something they have established a good reputation for with Affinity Designer.
Elephant in the prepress department
“Gee, Affinity Photo sounds an awful lot like Photoshop! How does it compare?” Google “Affinity Photo” and you will see “Photoshop Alternative” or “Photoshop Challenger” as the headline or opening stanza in dozens of articles. When assessing Affinity Photo, I tried to put more than two decades of Photoshop experience on the back burner and take an unbiased look at this new application instead comparing the two programs feature-by-feature. As a result, I have concluded that Affinity Photo is the first image-editing application I’ve worked with that can meet the day-to-day production needs of most designers, photographers and image-editing specialists that didn’t have an Adobe logo on its welcome screen. This application provides all tools needed to work with CMYK images with full Photoshop import (.PSD and .PSB) and export capability (.PSD) while maintaining layers and effects.
Does Affinity Photo do everything Photoshop does? Of course not! Photoshop benefits from more than 25 years of development and includes arcane features such ad-hoc video editing and 3D model rendering and printing – neither which might be relevant to many designers, premedia and prepress specialists.
And if, like myself, you have been working with Photoshop on a professional level for more than 20 years you have also likely memorized plenty of key commands and know where to access every single function with a flick of the wrist. With that level of muscle memory dedicated to working in Photoshop, you will have some re-learning to do before becoming as effective in Affinity Photo. The key takeaway here is that in most cases you can eventually be as effective once you are on the downhill side of the Affinity Photo learning curve… a pretty big accomplishment for Serif’s new kid on the image-editing block.
For three days in March, some of the brightest technological minds in print gathered in New Mexico to discuss RFID, Ultra Violet, omni-marketing and colour management
The Technical Association of the Graphic Arts held its annual conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in late March. As is tradition, the conference, focusing on the newest technological developments in printing systems kicked off with four high-profile keynote speakers.
The first keynote came from Chris Travis of KBA North America. He talked about many advances still being made in press technology, with more sales of complex machines, combining different printing features and more automation. Presses are being ordered with double coaters for spot UV, spot matte and special effect coatings. Sometimes the coating units are before the printing units for laying white down first, to print on foils and for the application of sizing. The goal of all these various press configurations is to get everything done in one pass.
Travis also points out that the decision to print a job digitally or offset starts at a relatively low good-copy count. He says any job with more than 191 good print copies is more cost effective when the job is printed offset. UV technology is also changing, as the light tubes change from the standard mercury vapour to iron-doped mercury vapour light tubes. This little change results in higher gloss levels for UV coatings. The coating manufacturers have to adjust the phot0-initiator mix so it will work with the iron-doped UV light tubes and UV LED technology is gaining more of a foothold in the print industry. Travis also points out that flexographic printing is growing and holds the most potential in the print industry. The industry overall is finally growing again even as a lot of mergers and acquisitions take place.
The second keynote was given by Patrick Younk from Los Alamos National Lab, introducing conference attendees to some of their incredible work. Many fundamental research projects are carried out by this research institute. Younk talked about the High Altitude Water Cherenkov observatory for the detection of gamma rays originating from the sun. He also talked about an ultra-fast optical ranging measurement system. It is a non-contact position measurement system that works with a 1-micron accuracy and it could be used to measure ink film thickness or colour registration.
Michael Van Haren from Quad/Graphics presented the third keynote on omni-channel marketing. He began by describing the differences between multi-channel and omni-channel marketing. Omni-channel marketing is the same message on all media. Print of course is still the main driver of this. Why – because it works. It delivers the right message in the right place at the right time.
With the emergence of high-speed inkjet printing it is possible to personalize the message and with full colour inkjet the message to the consumer becomes very personalized. A highly targeted variable data print uses personalized URLs or PURLs. Through QR codes and image recognition apps, the printed piece has some augmented reality to it. For all this technology to work well, data is needed to drive the campaign. The contact strategy needs to be build with print being in sync with digital channels. Any digital tools that interact with the customer need to be tested over and over again to make sure they all work as intended.
The fourth keynote was given by Bruce Khan from Clemson University and his topic was printed electronics. He said that print is and will be the manufacturing method of choice in this area, because it is fast and produces the electronic components at a relatively low cost. Khan also says that false hopes had been given by nanotechnology and RFID technology. The most successful printed electronic component is the glucose sensor strip for diabetics. Many obstacles still need to be overcome to successfully print something like flexible hybrid electronics.
Colour and optical brighteners
On the second day of the TAGA conference, the series of presentations started with a diverse range of topics. John Anderson from Kodak talked about the Flexcel NX flexographic printing plate that allows the manufacturing of plates with flat top dots. The Flexcel NX plate is coupled with DigiCapNX technology to achieve higher solid ink densities than with conventional plate technology. This technology allows for creating halftones from a 0.4 to a 99.6 percent tint. Through Hyperflex NX technology, the floor of the flexographic printing plate gets extended to support low tint value halftone dots. This presentation was an example of the advances that are currently made in flexography that allow the printing of finer details and more vibrant solids.
Don Schroeder from Fujifilm was one of the first speakers to talk about the influence of optical brighteners in papers and that proofing papers have no or very little optical brighteners in them. This discrepancy causes colour differences between press sheet and proof, especially if the paper has a very blueish white colour. The new measurement conditions M1 as outlined in ISO 13655 requires a light source with UV component, so the optical brighteners in the paper get excited and influence the measurement of the printed colours. The standard datasets that many colour management solutions are built upon were created in 2006 and they have been measured under the M0 measurement conditions, which are without a UV component in the light source. The new dataset created in 2013 use measurements taken under the M1 conditions.
Many other presenters talked about the new M1 measurement conditions and how they will influence the printing industry, but there is a drawback to this new measurement condition. An extreme example is that two M1 compliant light sources can have 50 and 150 percent of UV component in them and this results in a b* difference of 7. This can be quite significant for the overall colour difference and can result in a pass or fail of a colour. In conjunction with ISO 13655, for the measurement conditions of light booths, ISO 3664 has also been updated, so that the light source in the viewing booths also has a UV component in them. The compliance of a viewing booth with this updated ISO standard can be verified with a measurement device from GL Optics. Overall there were six presentations about the new M1 measurement condition and how it influences measured colours, the proofing stage and also the colour management part of any print job.
Although the DE2000 colour difference equation is not (yet) part of an ISO standard, work is being done to develop a colour space that is based on DE2000. John Seymour from QuadTech presented his advances in this project. His goal is to create a colour space with modified L*a*b*-axis that allow for the use the DeltaLab colour difference formula.
A presentation was given on the strategies of managing spot colours using traditional metrics and how to predict the colour outcome using simulated colours on screen. Research is also being done regarding working with expanded gamut printing using 7 colours (CMYK plus orange, green and violet). The use GCR and optimized colour sequence (KOVCGMY) are instrumental to more stable and predictable print results.
Raia Slivniak-Zorin from HP in Israel talked about the work she and her team did with regard to digitally printed flexible packaging. The work was done on an HP Indigo and the prints were also laminated. One of her main findings is that a primer needs to applied to the flexible substrate first, so the ElectroInk will adhere properly. Also an adhesive has to be applied first, before the printed material can be laminated. A corona treatment of the substrate greatly enhances the bonding of primer and ink.
The 2015 TAGA conference was a very high profile conference with many cutting-edge research presentations that will have an influence on the print industry in the coming years. The fact that the M1 measurement condition received so much attention during the conference shows that the new ISO standard requires more investigation.
Makers of electrophoretic ink discuss how technology that began life as an MIT Media Lab research project is transforming information consumption
Simple demographics are one of the biggest threats to the viability of print. Younger generations consume more and more media with little need for the printed page. Digital display companies are keenly focused on the functionality of their user interfaces, but readability remains an allusive metric for most.
From consumer reports it seems the tablet reading experience on devices such as Apple’s iPad or Samsung’s Galaxy leaves something to be desired. The tablet’s glossy backlit LCD screen is great for watching videos, but reflections tire the reader’s eye and the words are difficult to read outdoors. Emissive displays also draw a lot of power causing tablet batteries to fade after only a few hours in many cases.
On the other hand many avid e-book fans will tell you that a Kindle or Kobo with crisp black type on a paper-white background provides a much better reading experience. Though by no means a replacement for the multi-media friendly tablet, former consumers of the printed page have been increasingly adopting this style of e-reader for ease of reading both indoors and out while enjoying longer battery life. But what makes these e-readers so different from tablets?
The answer is E Ink
E Ink takes its name from its technology – electrophoretic ink – and is the visible component used in Electronic Paper Displays (EPDs). This promising technology began life in 1996 as a research project in the MIT Media Lab before becoming the foundation of E Ink Corporation, which sought to commercialize the digital paper concept as the preferred display for e-readers.
E Ink is made of microcapsules about the diameter of a human hair sandwiched between two thin layers of film containing a transparent top electrode, and a bottom electrode. Each microcapsule contains negatively charged black pigment and positively charged white pigment suspended in a clear fluid. When the top electrode charges positive, the black pigment rises to the surface, morphing the microcapsule from white to black. The microcapsules are bi-stable and reflective – meaning the image will remain on the digital page without electricity and requires only ambient light to be visible. That’s why E Ink displays draw very little power.
E Ink displays are well suited for viewing static images that change sporadically – simulating book, newspaper or magazine pages for example. Because the display reflects natural light, it much more closely resembles the printed page with readability improving as the light gets brighter – working especially well in full sunlight. E Ink Corporation announced new concepts at CES 2015 and demonstrated E Ink products developed by licensees that evolve the digital paper paradigm beyond the e-reader.
New E Ink models
“One of the more interesting products we are showing at CES is the Sony DPT S1 business e-reader,” reveals Giovanni Mancini, head of global marketing for E Ink. “Designed for the business user, this device is the size of an A4 sheet of paper, extremely rugged and weighs only about six ounces.
“The DPT S1 has touch capability, but it also has an extremely responsive digitizer. This is intended for business users who want to take a large number of documents with them, but don’t want the bulk of the paper,” he continues. “Users can annotate documents with their fingertip while in the field, then have the information captured into the document control system back in the office.”
The Sony DPT S1 comes with 4gb storage, capable of carrying thousands of monochrome pages and has a micro SD slot for expansion.
Mancini then demonstrates another innovative use for E Ink in the form of a mobile phone display. The Russian-made YotaPhone is an Android mobile phone featuring a standard high-resolution colour display on the front, and a monochrome E Ink display on the back of the handset.
“The idea is to attach different information feeds, such as email or text messages, that you want to keep monitoring to the E Ink display on the back,” Mancini explains. “This way you don’t have to constantly turn on the screen on the front of your phone and cycle through the various apps to get the information. This really extends the battery life of the YotaPhone because of the very low power consumption of E Ink displays.
“To really conserve power, the user can completely disable the front colour display and get the full Android interface on the E Ink display. You can even use the Kindle App to read books on the back of the YotaPhone!
“Another innovative use of an E ink display can be seen on the Sony Smartband Talk – a sports watch and fitness device that pairs up with an Android phone. The Smartband Talk enables you to track your fitness during the day and get information from your smartphone, all displayed on a controllable E Ink display,” explains Mancini.
While EPDs are already well established in the retail display category, E Ink Corporation announced and demonstrated innovative new solutions at CES 2015 targeting both the indoor and outdoor signage markets.
“These E Ink 32-inch digital displays are great for small businesses such as coffee shops or restaurants, for example, that might want to use them as menu boards,” says Mancini. “They are also well-suited for information displays in public spaces such as bus shelters. Because of low energy requirements, batteries or even solar power can power these E Ink displays without the need to run cables.
“Another thing that we announced at CES this year is our E ink Prism product,” Mancini continues. “We’ve taken our E ink technology and encapsulated many different colours of pigments within the same microsphere and laminated them into a colour changing film to incorporate into architectural products.”
E Ink Corporation demonstrated a 20-foot wall of colour-shifting Prism tiles at CES. Controlled by a PC, these tiles are designed to change colours, providing a different aesthetic and changing the mood of a hotel lobby or an airport terminal.
“Right now this is a concept product for us,” Mancini continues, “created through collaboration with architects and design firms over the past year. We hope to have a public installation of Prism by the end of 2015. We also plan to use Prism in horizontal surfaces such as glass counters or coffee tables.”
Nemesis of print
From the products on display at CES 2015 it’s logical to conclude that E Ink has already done most of the damage it’s going to do to the conventional printed page. After all, e-readers already represent an established market for publishers, and the line has been drawn between those who prefer to read the printed page, and those who choose digital.
Instead, the future of E Ink and Electronic Page Displays lies in enabling the next generation of signage, personal document readers, smart devices and wearable technology – where low-power displays and control surfaces are essential to ensure functionality and energy efficiency.
With drupa 2016 a year away, I began thinking about the last time the giant German tradeshow in Düsseldorf took place in 2012 and the crowds at Landa Digital Printing’s exhibition space. Mostly, I remember the blue-and-black futuristic design of Landa’s new Nanographic Printing Presses, including the unique control panel mounted to the side of each press like a giant iPhone. I wondered aloud, “Shouldn’t there be a few presses already installed in print shops by this time?”
Providing as much function as form, the control screen GUI appeared to be well designed to meet the needs of a busy operator. There was even a digital microscope that came with each press, which I was immediately impressed with because it allows both operators and customers to look at the details of a printed sheet. Over the first days of the 14-day trade show, heavy iron manufacturers like Heidelberg, manroland and Komori joined Landa’s marketing buzz by announcing Nanographic technology partnerships, albeit a little vague.
Benny Landa, who founded the company in 2002, told drupa 2012 visitors the Nanographic presses could reach first adopters by the end of 2013 at the earliest, with initial machines hitting the market during the first months of 2014. I thought to myself: Let’s see if he can keep this deadline.
The year 2013 came and went without any Landa Digital presses going into potential customers, although there may have well been quiet alpha testing going on inside an eager print shop. In March 2013, I attended the annual TAGA conference in Portland, Oregon, where Gilad Tzori, VP of Product Strategy of Landa Digital Printing gave the event’s third keynote presentation.
Tzori provided conference attendees, who primarily serve on the technical side of printing, an overview of how Landa Nanography works and differs from existing printing presses. Emphasis was put on Landa’s jetting of water-based inks which do not soak the paper, so the sheet does not come out wavy at the end of the press run.
Many people will have experienced this water-soaking problem when they print a sheet of paper with heavy coverage on their home or office inkjet printer. Tzori explained how the Nanographic printing process first inkjets the image onto a heated transfer belt, and secondly how the ink turns into a semi-solid type material on the transfer belt, which is then transferred onto the paper. Unique properties of Landa’s belt, explained Tzori, ensures a 100 percent transfer of the image onto the paper.
He then showed images of a printed dot produced with Nanography and compared it to the same magenta dot printed with different technologies currently on the market. The superior quality of the Nanographic process, in regards to the roundness and sharpness of the printed dot, was then described in Tzori’s marketing presentation. A clear advantage of Nanography indicates the process allows for printing on almost any substrate.
Nano pigments deliver a broader colour gamut than standard offset inks. The Landa black has L*a*b*-values of 5.4, 0.7 and 0.05 compared to the ISO standard of 16, -0.1, 0.1. The ink film is 500-nano-meters thick, which is a lot less than that of any other conventional printing process. The printed density for coated and uncoated paper is the same, since the ink does not sink into the uncoated paper but rather sits on top of the paper. De-inkability studies, explained Tzori, have also shown good results. De-inkability is a significant problem with regular inkjet printed sheets.
After describing the technical architecture of Nanography, Tzori explained where Landa Digital sees its market niche and how it plans to bridge a gap between short-run digital and longer-run offset jobs. This includes targeting offset sheetfed work with a 40-inch or B1-format press model. Tzori stressed that Landa is not reinventing existing machine technology like paper feeding and delivery, which is why the company is working with traditional press makers, most notably Komori.
A key question to come from the conference crowd that day asked about the future availability of these new Nanographic printing presses. A careful answer was given, which I interrupted to mean it would be at the beginning of 2014, while the company’s main challenge was to achieve the desired print quality at the necessary resolution.
Year 2014 came and went and, without hearing much more from Landa in terms of press installations, I naturally started wondering if the past two years of Nanographic marketing had been all smoke and mirrors? In February of 2014, Landa Digital and EFI announced a strategic alliance and in June 2014 Altana invested €100 million into Landa Digital, which had also received a number of press down payments from printers wanting to be first in line. It is my guess that Altana will manufacture the Landa inks and EFI will deliver the digital front-end to the presses.
On December 9, 2014, Landa Digital made a public statement about its technology development, including its intent to focus on the 40-inch folding-carton market with its S10 press. The press has undergone some radical design changes, including the addition of a coating unit. The operator’s side-mounted touchscreen, as it was seen at drupa 2012, had to be moved to the delivery end – transforming its look more toward a traditional press design. The weight of the press has increased also from 10 tons to 30 tons.
Landa Digital explained the S10 operator now has a more ergonomic workplace showing all the required information for running jobs. Personally, I like the video feeds from inside the press to the operator cockpit. The press operator can see if any sheets have been dropped or if they are causing a jam. The presses also have an inline inspection unit from Advanced Vision Technology.
Within its online marketing material, Landa Digital writes: “The quality control solution will combine innovative nozzle performance and colour control techniques to maintain print quality and increase press productivity. The quality control system will also control colour-to-colour registration, image placement and front-to-back registration.” The print resolution of the S10 press is now at 1,200 dpi and the press also makes it possible to print on both sides of the carton sheet before entering the coating unit.
In early 2015, I spoke with Tzori on the phone to discuss recent developments at Landa Digital Printing. He indicated the first presses are scheduled to be commercially available in the second half of 2015. Beta machine are currently set up at Landa’s facilities in Israel, where potential customers can see the presses in action.
During our phone conversation, Tzori also discussed what kind of drying technology is installed between the coating unit and the delivery end of the press. Depending on what kind of coating the customer wants to use, there will be IR drying lamps installed for water-based coatings and UV-curing lamps for UV coatings. The UV-curing technology can either be UV-mercury vapour lamps or UV-LED.
Tzori points out that the IR or UV technology is only necessary for the coatings that are applied to the printed sheets. The sheets printed with the Nanography ink come dry out of the press.
Thinking ahead to drupa 2016, which surely will be another important exhibition for Landa Digital technology, I asked Tzori what is to come with regard to the company’s web-fed printing machines. The first web-fed printing machine will be geared towards the flexible packaging market.
Landa Digital expects this to make a huge impact on the flexible packaging sector, especially with many of the other digital press manufacturers also developing printing solutions for the short-run flexible packaging market. I have every intention of attending drupa 2016 for a firsthand view of Landa’s developments and I expect they will be as interesting as Nanography’s unveiling three years ago.
THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE IS FEATURED IN PRINTACTION'S FEBRUARY 2015 ISSUE
As in nature, the software ecosystem abhors a vacuum! Introduced for the Mac in 1987, Adobe Illustrator evolved from Adobe’s in-house font development software to become the industry standard line-work editor and has all but dominated the desktop vector graphics market.
Twenty-eight years later, Illustrator is so pervasive in the graphic arts few prepress pros would even consider an alternative were one available. While a few innovative Mac applications such as iDraw and Sketch have nipped at Adobe’s heels, to date no application has presented a credible challenge to Illustrator’s dominance on the Mac platform, creating a competitive vacuum. That might be about to change.
Though unknown to many Mac users, Serif Software is a dominant player in the lucrative Windows desktop publishing software world. Founded in 1987, Serif’s original mandate was to produce powerful yet cost-effective alternatives to expensive desktop publishing and graphic design applications for the PC. Its critically acclaimed PagePlus, DrawPlus and PhotoPlus applications have garnered a large and loyal following in the Windows world – extending from casual creatives to business and education users.
After years of planning and development, Serif stepped across the OS barrier in June 2014 with its first Mac App, Affinity Designer. While still in public beta, Affinity Designer turned heads while generating a great deal of online buzz before the October 2014 launch of version 1.0 on the Mac App Store. Since release, Affinity Designer has raced up the App Store charts and finished the year as Editor’s Choice Best of 2014! But does all that hype make any difference in the prepress and print world? Can a PC software developer give Adobe a run for its money on Adobe’s home turf?
Vector contender or pretender
Well, for starters it is pretty clear that Affinity Designer was engineered from the ground up as a production environment for professional-grade vector drawing destined for a variety of output intents, including both print and Web.
Where Designer differs from other line-work editors is in its ability to work with raster images and create pixel-based effects and textures within the same file as vector layers. And while Designer has its own file format, the App can import a wide variety of file types including: Adobe Illustrator, Freehand, Photoshop, EPS, JPEG, PDF and SVG. Additionally Designer can export: Photoshop, EPS, GIF, JPEG, PNG, SVG and PDF – although direct export of AI format is not supported. Users wanting to bring their Designer files into Illustrator will have to pass through PDF-land first.
When launching Designer for the first time users are presented with a clean, uncluttered user interface that is unique yet somewhat reminiscent of an Adobe Creative Cloud application. As a result, anyone with Illustrator chops should be able to find their way around Affinity Designer in fairly short order. The default application window follows the familiar axiom of toolbar on the left, functions along the top and tabbed palettes on the right hand side of the workspace.
Users can also choose to work in Separated Mode meaning the Designer toolbars, workspace and palettes are free floating and can be reconfigured to individual tastes. Designer diverges from other editors by breaking down the workflow into Personas (Draw, Pixel and Export) represented by icons on the upper left side of the workspace. The icon for the active Persona appears in colour and each features tools, functions and palettes specifically configured for the appropriate tasks.
The Draw Persona toolbar contains recognizable drawing tools you would expect to find, such as a Move Tool, Vector Brush Tool for creating painted effects and a Pencil Tool for free drawing vector lines, as well as Gradient and Transparency tools. Additionally, the toolbar houses a wide variety of shape tools ranging from standard rectangles and ellipses to diverse polygons, clouds and call-outs. Each shape can be quickly and radically altered either with the Node Tool, or the context-sensitive settings in the Draw Persona tool set. There is even a special hidden Easter Egg feature that enables users to make a cat shape – see if you can find it!
The Pixel Persona enables a variety of marquee and selection tools along with essential raster editing tools in the toolbar, such as erase, fill, dodge, burn, blur and sharpen. It is important to remember that while Designer is equipped to create, alter and apply raster effects within a vector file, it is definitely not a replacement for a full image editor such as Photoshop or Pixelmator as there are no tools that I can find for adjusting the contrast, saturation or hue of photographic images.
As the name implies, the Export Persona provides a straightforward workflow for getting your image online with several presets, support for ICC profiles as well as layers and image slices. Speaking of online, Designer has a number of features targeting the Web slinger, such as a powerful pixel preview of vector images for both standard and retina displays, as well as instant export of multiple objects – each with independent output settings.
Designer also brings back one of my favourite old Illustrator features with a new twist. The Split View divides the image workspace vertically enabling the user to see any combination of Frame, Vector, Pixel or Retina previews and drag the dividing line back and forth across the image – changing the preview instantly.
Of course, any mention of ‘instant preview’ inevitably brings up the topic of Designer performance. Whether opening a complex vector graphic or a massive layered Photoshop file, it is immediately apparent that Designer is blazingly fast. This 64-bit application is fully optimized for the latest Mac OS and Retina 5K displays, enabling users to pan and zoom across their images with little perceptible lag as well as apply and view effects in real-time. This is especially impressive when you consider that Designer offers a staggering 1,000,000 percent zoom, as well as super smooth gradients that can be edited in real time at any magnification.
For such a young App, Designer offers some impressively mature workflow features like non-destructive editing and robust support for layers, including vector, pixel and adjustment layers.
Ready for the big league
Working with Affinity Designer is comfortable once you get used to multiple Personas, however, the software is lacking in a few key areas of importance to design and production pros. For example, Designer currently only supports a single page per file, something designers who are used to building multiple art boards will find hard to live with. And what prepress pro has not used Illustrator’s Auto-Trace to quickly build a logo for a job they are working on? Designer will need to implement some sort of raster to vector workflow to really gain print market share.
And while Designer seems to be able to import a wide variety of file formats, I have experienced mixed results when opening old EPS files containing complex vector gradients.
Mind you, Designer has only been in the field for a few months and to Serif’s credit they’ve already built an active, lively and supportive user community that fuels its development team with bug reports and feature requests. Within just three months of launch, Serif has already revved Designer to v1.1.2 – not only with bug fixes but also significant new user-requested features like iCloud Drive support; critical stroke alignment options; and 5K-display support.
The road ahead
Serif recently published the first issue of Affinity Review – a quarterly ePUB magazine for their users – containing some very interesting product news in addition designer profiles, interviews and tutorials. According to Serif, the Affinity Designer roadmap includes several professional printing features such as: PDF/X support; PDF image compression; trim, bleed, overprint and mark control; spot, Pantone and registration colours; and advanced transparency features. Designers can look forward to: multiple pages; text on a path; mesh warp and distort tools; and improved text controls… all promised as free updates!
Likely many of these new functions will be incorporated into its own Personas. Also in Serif’s 2015 playbook: Affinity Photo and Affinity Desktop (you can see where they are going with this).
Is Affinity Designer the answer to all your high-end vector design, editing and production needs? Not yet. Is it worth fifty bucks? You bet! Besides, designers on a budget are already flocking to Designer so it’s only a matter of time before Affinity files start making their way into your prepress department.
During the first week of November, Manroland Sheetfed proudly unveiled its new Roland 700 Evolution press to over 450 curious guests at its corporate headquarters in Offenbach, Germany. The machine is Manroland’s first new press in four years and follows the company’s 2012 acquisition in insolvency and restructuring by Langley Holdings PLC, a UK-based engineering group and global provider of highly diverse capital equipment.
The company reports that its new Evolution press is designed with a sleek, futuristic look and many new technological developments aimed to give printers unprecedented levels of efficiency, productivity, operation and quality. These improvements are consistent with the research-and-development targets Manroland Sheetfed CEO Rafael Penuela Torres outlined to PrintAction when describing his company’s restructuring (August 2014, The New Press Builder), including increased user-friendliness, maximum machine performance and maximum uptime for printers.
Specific new features highlighted through demonstrations at the Offenbach unveiling and in the company’s prospectus for the Evolution press include:
• Completely redesigned cylinder-roller bearings with separate bearings for radial and axial rotation to provide better absorption of vibrations, fewer doubling effects, longer bearing life, and improved print quality;
• A newly designed central console that replaces buttons with touchscreen panels, provides more detailed graphical information, and offers comfort adjustments for left- and right-handed users and operators of different body heights;
• A mobile app that allows printers to see the press’ production while they are on the move;
• A new feeder pile transport designed to provide a smooth upward motion of the pile-carrying plate and improved sheet travel from the feeder to delivery, resulting in fewer interruptions, less start-up waste, and reduced walking distances to the feeder;
• Solid fixing of the suction head to reduce vibration and wear, while ensuring safer sheet separation and higher average printing speeds;
• All-new dampening units for greater solidity and fewer roller vibrations during passing of the plate cylinder channel and fewer stripes;
• Software for practice-oriented roller washing cycles that reduces downtime with more precise dosage of the dampening solution over the entire width, reducing the possibility of skewing the dampening dosage roller;
• A new three-phase AC motor providing high power output with lower energy consumption;
• A new chambered doctor blade system for producing gloss effects. With additional options, this system provides higher solidity over the entire width of the doctor blade and a more even varnish application. It also provides improved absorption of vibrations of the Anilox roller and doctor blade, caused by passing the coating form cylinder, and results in fewer stripes, especially in combination with pigmented varnish; and
• Newly developed suction belt sheet brake technology provides higher printing speeds combined with improved sheet alignment and tail edge stabilization, resulting in a more even pile contour and reduced risk of misaligned sheets in the delivery pile.
Practical demonstrations of the Evolution press were provided in the company’s Print Technology Center in German, with simultaneous translation available in half a dozen languages via ear sets for guests from all over Europe and Russia, as well as Canada. A further highlight was a tour of the company’s impressive press-building facilities, where the workers’ high skill levels were obvious. Hans Hassold, Head of Regional Sales, explained how Germany’s apprenticeship system helps ensure that Manroland Sheetfed’s foundry and factory workers are well qualified both in terms of their skill sets and their understanding of the practical requirements of industry. He said over half of German students aged about 16 to 18 opt into what is called a dual education system because it splits training between the classroom and the workplace. These students apply for training contracts with employers and, if accepted, spend two to four years training with a company while also receiving a taxpayer-subsidized education designed to meet industry needs.
In fact, most dual-system students are hired upon completion of their training, contributing to a youth unemployment rate in Germany of eight percent (versus 14 percent in Canada.) The dual system requires employers to work co-operatively rather than adversarially with government and unions and to effect a certain amount of compromise with these third parties in their operations. In exchange, they receive a consistent supply of new workers who are equipped with precisely the skills and knowledge their companies need.
Although the German apprenticeship system is not perfect and is under review, it is cited as a factor in the success of Germany’s economy being able to keep its manufacturing base, instead of relying on just providing services, and at retaining its manufacturing jobs for nationals instead of farming them out to workers in foreign countries with lower labour costs like China. Thus the apprenticeship system has also been credited with contributing to Germany’s unemployment rate of 5.2 percent, less than half that of Europe as a whole.
By contrast, Canada’s unemployment rate is 7.2 percent, and studies indicate that only about half of the more than 400,000 registered Canadian apprentices actually complete their programs for reasons ranging from the high cost of classroom training for students who are not being paid to concerns about job prospects when they graduate. And although it is becoming increasingly difficult for Canadian employers to find enough skilled workers, only about 20 percent of Canadian skilled-trade employers are actually hiring and training apprentices, while investment in employee training among Canadian companies has fallen nearly 40 percent since 1993.
The Roland 700 Evolution unveiling also included a video testimonial from Samson Druck GmbH, a general commercial printer in Austria and the first Evolution press owner. Samson Druck has invested in Manroland press technology for 22 years and currently has four presses with a total of 34 printing units. Founded in 1978 by Erich Aichhorn, the family company is also one of the largest employers in the area with 100 staff members.
Tony Langley, Chairman and CEO of Langley Holdings, was present to provide a closing summary to guests. Langley first established his engineering group in 1975. Today, Langley Holdings comprises five principal operating divisions located in Germany, France, and the UK; more than 70 subsidiaries in the Americas, Europe, The Far East, and Australasia; and over 4,000 employees worldwide.
Langley Holdings’ products run an extremely wide gamut from food-packaging equipment to electrical systems for data centres, machinery for cement plants, automotive welding equipment, and house construction. The group operates free of debt with substantial cash reserves, typically grows by acquiring under-performing businesses, and takes pride in never having sold a company it acquired. In 2013 it posted a profit before tax of €91 million.
The fact that Langley maintains a relatively low profile contrasts with his colourful presence. He is 6 feet 5 inches tall, largely self-taught in engineering, and pilots his own airplane, helicopter and racing yacht, Gladiator. (In this fall’s Les Voiles de St Tropez regatta, Gladiator came in second to the Enfant Terrible helmed by HRH Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark.)
Accompanying Langley to Offenbach was his eldest son, Bernard Langley, who joined Langley Holdings in 2012 to become the fifth generation of the family to come into the engineering business.
The same week as the unveiling, Langley Holdings entered into an agreement to acquire the German print chemicals group DruckChemie, which had gone into administration for insolvency in September. DruckChemie is one of Europe’s leading producers of print chemicals, accessories, and waste reprocessing and recycling services, with sites throughout Europe, as well as in Brazil, Dubai and Mexico.
Michael Mugavero, Managing Director and CEO of Manroland North America, commented in an e-mail, after the 700 Evolution unveiling: “Integral in what we hope visitors come to identify with while touring our home in Germany, is the competency Manroland has to develop and deliver tangible value for our customers.”
After switching to InDesign in 2002, Zac Bolan takes QuarkXPress 10.4 for a test drive to see if you can go home again
On Friday, November 8th, 2002, I made the switch to Adobe InDesign. After spending a week building a print flyer for a local drugstore chain in QuarkXPress 5, I sat down to export a press-ready PDF. Three frustrating hours later I still hadn’t managed to squeeze a PDF, or even a usable postscript file, out of the buggy XPress release. I threw up my hands in despair and at that moment decided to spend the weekend learning InDesign and rebuilding my job.
That decision was not made lightly, as I had been a stalwart XPress user since 1988. With the release of XPress 5 in January 2002, however, Quark faced a barrage of criticism from its dedicated Mac users. After all, launched only days before XPress 5, InDesign 2 was OS X native – something Quark had failed to accomplish with its release. Like many in the design and prepress community, I resented being denied the benefits of Apple’s new operating system. At the time, Quark’s dominance of the Mac desktop publishing market was such that Apple Computer actually cited XPress 5 as a factor slowing adoption of OS X within the design community.
It’s been more than a decade since I (and many others) made the switch. During that time InDesign matured into a leading desktop publishing solution while QuarkXPress quietly persevered – after a painful transition to OS X, XPress gradually improved. Following iterations empowered the faithful while adding features to entice users to return. But for many the draw of Adobe’s Creative Suite seemed to say ‘you can’t go home again’, that is, until the advent of Creative Cloud and Adobe’s software as a service (SaaS) business model. Now designers seeking to own their workflow are taking a second look at QuarkXPress, and with version 10.2 they will find a stable, capable and fully-featured page layout application.
New XPress tricks and tips
I won’t try to summarize five full upgrade cycles in a few hundred words, but some key enhancements in recent XPress versions are worth mentioning. When I reviewed XPress 8 for PrintAction (August 2008) Quark had significantly overhauled its Graphical User Interface (GUI), vastly improving user efficiency while removing workspace clutter. Additionally, XPress 8 offered in-app image manipulation, built-in Flash authoring, as well as support for Asian fonts. In a nod to the changing publishing landscape, XPress 9 added: ePub and Kindle export; App Studio for tablet publishing; numerous new layout features like anchored callouts; a shape wizard; and enhanced bullets/numbering.
Then in October 2013 Quark made an ambitious leap forward with the release of XPress 10 (recently updated to 10.2.1), the first version developed as a native Cocoa application. Cocoa is the Application Programming Interface (API) for Apple’s OS X operating system. In most cases, software produced with Cocoa development tools has a distinct and familiar feel to Mac users, as the application will automatically comply with Apple’s human interface guidelines.
From the developer’s perspective, being Cocoa native ensures the ability to leverage the latest OS X features, maximize performance and fast-track support for new OS X versions. For example, while not officially supported on Apple’s recently launched OS X 10.10 Yosemite, based on my initial trials QuarkXPress 10.2.1 appears to run quite well. Quark will be releasing XPress 10.5 with full Yosemite support in early November.
This formidable undertaking required Quark engineers to update more than 500,000 lines of code in addition to writing 350,000 new lines. To fully leverage Apple’s latest hardware enhancements, developers had to create more than 500 dialogues and palettes in multiple languages as well as incorporating 1,300 new icons enabling Retina Display resolutions.
Besides going Cocoa, Quark engineered a completely new graphics engine for QuarkXPress 10 that will ultimately be implemented across a wide range of Quark products. The new Xenon Graphics Engine enables users to see stunning high-resolution renderings of imported raster and vector files on screen, including rich PDF, Photoshop and Illustrator files to name a few. Using Quark’s Adaptive Resolution technology, graphics can be rendered instantly to the resolution required for professional image zoom (up to 8,000 percent). Being able to zoom into high-resolution graphics onscreen while creating page layouts is a real advantage to visually oriented designers like myself. Additionally, the Xenon Graphics Engine seems to really improve overall screen re-drawing times.
In addition to optimization for HiDPI and Retina Displays, XPress 10.2 features Advanced Image Control enabling users to control several aspects of embedded PDF, PSD and TIFF files, such as layers, channels and clipping paths without bouncing out to Photoshop. With advanced illustration tools XPress users can now accomplish quite a few basic image editing and vector drawing tasks without Adobe’s help – saving time and reducing reliance on the Creative Cloud. These features combined with multiple simultaneous document views, robust shortcut and palette management, make XPress 10 an attractive alternative to renting page layout software.
Perhaps the most significant tool Quark brings to the publishing market is not actually a QuarkXPress feature at all. App Studio is a standalone cloud-based service for converting publications to digital editions for tablets and smartphones. While initially limited to producing Apps based on QuarkXPress documents, App Studio now creates rich and interactive HTML 5 publications from a variety of sources including InDesign and XML.
Making the jump
With the refined and polished GUI of QuarkXPress 10, anyone familiar with InDesign or other page-layout applications should be able start building pages in fairly short order. By default, the XPress toolbar displays the most commonly used tools but can be configured to access a variety of other functions such as Grid Styles and Advanced Image Control. The Measurements palette along the bottom of the default workspace provides access to content-specific functions in one convenient location. For example, when selecting a text frame, the user can tab between controls for text box, frame, runaround, space/align and drop shadow.
As a former XPress jockey, I found I still recalled many of the old keyboard shortcuts and was zipping between XPress functions within a few minutes of starting a doc- ument. However, those used to InDesign keyboard shortcuts will have some relearning to do. Within InDesign, for example, Command D conjures the Place dialogue – while in XPress Command D duplicates any selected element.
For many considering QuarkXPress, the next question will invariably be, ‘What about my legacy InDesign documents?’ While Quark does not offer direct access to .indd format files within XPress, a third-party plug-in is available enabling InDesign document import. Well known in the prepress world, Markzware made its name with the popular Flightcheck document preflight application. Additionally, Markzware produces a number of plug-ins for importing various file formats into both XPress and InDesign. While working with XPress 10.2 I tested ID2Q, the Markzware XTension for converting InDesign files to QuarkXPress file format.
Once installed, ID2Q can be launched from the newly added Markzware submenu in the QuarkXPress menu bar. The process is quite simple: The user navigates to the InDesign document they wish to open in XPress, selects the appropriate conversion options and clicks OK. Depending on InDesign file size and complexity, conversion time can vary between seconds and minutes before the document opens in QuarkXPress.
While ID2Q has little trouble getting your InDesign file into XPress, it is important to remember that the two page layout applications do not always handle things the same way. For this reason, your imported .indd file will need some work in QuarkXPress before going to print, ePub or tablet. Layout grids created with InDesign, for example, do not survive the transition to QuarkXPress. Similarly, InDesign offers a few page layout options not found in XPress, such as a maximum page dimension of 216 inches and support for multiple page sizes within a single document. Having said that, most users will likely be using this XTension to move legacy documents over to QuarkXPress as a template for new projects rather than starting from scratch. For that, ID2Q is the perfect solution.
Listening to users
Quark recently unveiled QuarkXPress 2015, due for release in Q1 2015. According to Quark, this iteration will deliver increased performance from a new 64-bit architecture in addition to a bevy of enhancements based on user feedback. New features will include support for larger page sizes, a format painter, user definable shortcut keys and table styles.
Also, several Designer-Controlled Automation improvements for long documents will debut including: automated footnotes and end notes; a new table tool with improved Excel integration; and text variables for automatically populating reoccurring fields such as running headers. And bucking the SaaS trend, QuarkXPress 2015 will continue to be sold as a perpetual license or as a paid upgrade. New retail users who purchased QuarkXPress 10 after October 1, 2014 will receive the 2015 release as a free upgrade.
Going back home
If you asked me a few years ago whether I felt Quark could stage a return to dominance in the desktop publishing space, I would have expressed serious doubts. Despite the fact that Quark has evolved to equal or best InDesign in many ways, Adobe has done a remarkable job of embracing the ecosystem approach with its wildly successful Creative Suite. And while reliable metrics of InDesign versus QuarkXPress usage do not exist, your prepress manager will likely tell you that the majority of client files these days are built with InDesign rather than QuarkXPress.
With the arrival of Creative Cloud, however, that could easily change as not everyone will want to rent software from Adobe. Also, given the maturity of QuarkXPress in addition to Quark’s focus on dynamic publishing and the enterprise, many may see XPress as a preferred option, rather than just an alternative to InDesign. And for old Quark refugees like myself, it looks like you really can go home again!
In late-July, I had the opportunity to interview Rafael Peñuela Torres, Chief Executive Officer of Manroland Sheetfed GmbH in Offenbach, Germany. A polyglot born in Spain, educated in Economics in Germany, and employed in the printing industry since 1992, Peñuela took charge of Manroland’s Spanish organization in 1999.
By 2003, he was managing the company’s Western European market and by 2006 Manroland Sheetfed sales worldwide. Following Manroland Sheetfed’s takeover by an British industrial conglomerate controlled by Tony Langley, Peñuela Torres temporarily shared the role of Managing Director of Service and Sales with a colleague until 2013, when he became Manroland Sheetfed’s sole CEO.
In our interview, Peñuela Torres, 54, candidly discusses Manroland’s change of direction after its 2011 insolvency and 2012 acquisition by Langley Holdings PLC. He describes several aspects of the company’s restructuring efforts, working through Germany’s tough labour laws.
Peñuela Torres offers analyses of how dramatically the offset equipment and printing markets have changed since being hard hit by the global financial crisis of 2008. He also divulges how Manroland Sheetfed’s research-and-development division is currently adapting its printing machines to meet a whole new set of customer needs and expectations.
Victoria Gaitskell: What do you consider to be the most important sheetfed-offset technology your company has introduced over the past five years or so – and why?
Peñuela Torres: For decades, Manroland has been leading the development of new technologies for offset printing – although not all these developments have been commercially successful. For example, in 2000 we launched the DICOweb plateless press, enabling a digital changeover from job to job in less than 10 minutes. It was amazing technology for the time, but it was not a commercial success, because the cost was much too high.
In 2009, we developed the world’s largest perfector, the Roland 900 XXL, to serve the demand for high-volume book printing. It allowed offset printers to produce 64 A4 pages in one pass, enabling them to compete with web process productivity.
But after commercial and editorial printers took a hit in the 2008 financial crisis, the demand for this technology was greatly reduced. Press productivity is only important if customers have jobs for it. So some of our new developments did not succeed because of the wrong timing or costs.
But many others were successful because they were exactly what our customers wanted: In 2003, for example, we built the Roland 500, the first press to print 18,000 sheets per hour; and time has proven that this innovation in speed was the right trend for our market.
We also launched an InlineFoiler that can print cold foil in one pass on a conventional press. Although at first it proved popular, it generated complaints that the process wasted too much very expensive foil; so later we developed an indexing function to reduce waste in the inline process by up to 50 percent. This is an example of how we are trying increasingly to generate value for our customers by our technology.
Our innovations have not only taken the form of heavy metal, but also the integration of software processes into a single electronic workflow, as we achieved in our Printnet network management system.
In 2006, we launched the Roland 700 DirectDrive. The DirectDrive technology allowed customers to change plates simultaneously while the press is washing the cylinders, allowing for zero plate-changing time. Since then many of our competitors have introduced similar technology, and so far it forms the biggest step towards a significant reduction of make-ready time.
Peñuela Torres continues to discuss R&D…
PT: Among these successful technologies, I can’t identify one single development as the most important; but I can say that many of our recent developments have focused on increasing automation and reducing make-ready time, rather than on increasing press speed. One reason is that in today’s world we have discovered that speed is not the issue for our customers. The general trend is that run lengths are becoming shorter, so increasing press speed does not really help. A precondition for the improvements we introduce now is not just that they satisfy our R&D people but that they satisfy our customers.
Since 2008, it has been increasingly difficult for Manroland and our competitors to sell the same amount of equipment we used to sell. The market has shrunk by 50 percent because print shops are disappearing or merging, so less demand for machinery exists.
Customers are also running machinery for longer than planned. The average age of a press now is 13 years, and our customers’ requirements and business models are changing rapidly; so we are developing new technology like the InlineFoiler in a way that allows customers to add it on through upgrades or retrofits to get different or better value out of their existing press.
In addition to shortening make-ready, another of our R&D goals is to make it easier to handle a press by creating an easier interface with the user. Our customers are finding it more and more difficult to obtain highly skilled operators to run presses, because fewer of these operators are available; so we are spending a lot of brainpower and resources to make it easier to operate our technology. Especially because runs are becoming shorter, automation plays a tremendous role.
Since skilled labour is critical to the manufacture of high-performance presses: What was the size of the labour force in your three manufacturing plants before restructuring and what is it now in your single plant after restructuring?
PT: You are correct – Skilled labour is crucial for press manufacturers. Manroland decided years ago and confirmed under Langley its plan not to do any manufacturing outside of Germany. One reason is that, although we realize many skilled people work outside of Germany, in other countries we find it more difficult to find the right number of them with expertise in all the different disciplines we need to build a press.
In the insolvency, we lost 50 percent of our workforce. Beforehand we had roughly 4,300 employees and we have 1,800 today. Of these, 900 work in the German factory and the other 900 take care of our markets and aftermarket services in various parts of the world.
How did you select which workers to keep and which to downsize?
PT: I don’t know if you are aware of it, but German labour laws require a company undergoing massive restructuring to apply for approval on who goes and stays via a so-called social plan.
The government works with unions to establish criteria for this process. Workers are assigned points based on factors like seniority, age and family situation. Adding up the points results in a pre-selection of employees who have to leave the company. Because the point system gives preference to older workers with seniority and families, normally you have to ask younger people, sometimes with promising talent, to leave the company – which happened in our case.
Sometimes, if you have certain workers with critical expertise, you can offer a successful argument here and there to avoid the social plan and keep them on board. But we had only a short time to discuss the plan with the union and workers council during the last week of insolvency. I don’t know if the results were right or wrong, but we tried to do our best.
With a reduced workforce, how are you ensuring your machinery continues to be of high quality?
PT: We are still continuing to fine tune our human resources management strategy after restructuring. Langley was convinced that with our remaining capabilities we are still able to keep our whole production portfolio. Not one press was eliminated. This challenge has required us to cross-train people who were specialists before. For example, experts on 700 perfectors have also become qualified to handle 500 perfectors.
It was quite a challenge, especially for the first six months of 2012; but now we have a more flexible workforce of people who can change from one model to another on the production line and still maintain high-quality standards. The employees say they are happy with the new system, because they have acquired more skills and are doing work that is more challenging and less routine.
In 2012, I was concerned that we would not be able to manage the whole portfolio with a reduced workforce; but in fact the presses we ship out today are costing less overall after delivery. This fact proves that we have been able to manage with half our original workforce and achieve an even better result in terms of quality.
With restructuring behind you, what is the biggest challenge facing your company today?
PT: After the Langley takeover, our immediate challenge was to serve customers as well as before, or even better, despite having reduced resources. Even before then, the company had experienced different phases of restructuring, but it was only because of the insolvency that we became aware that our old culture and huge-corporation mentality were responsible for the insolvency itself. We had become too heavy, too bureaucratic, too self-confident that we couldn’t fail, and too slow in managing, reacting to the market, and responding to our customers.
Our new shareholder Tony Langley knew we needed to change our attitude first. During the first year, he spent three days a week helping to transform us into a mittelstand [German for middle-sized] company with a hands-on attitude and quicker response times.
Now the biggest challenge is to keep this new culture as part of our daily business and avoid falling back into the old ways. Especially in the last two years, when profits have been better than expected, it creates the expectation of going back to the good old days when salaries were higher and expenses less controlled. It’s an issue I need to keep an eye on.
Why should new sheetfed-offset presses continue to interest commercial printers in North America, one of the world’s most mature printing markets?
PT: Commercial printers in industrialized Western countries are in a different position than commercial printers in China, India, and Latin America, where other electronic media are still less widespread and print is still the main transmitter of commercial messages. In North America and other Western economies, the commercial sheetfed-offset print segment has suffered more since the 2008 financial crisis because it must defend its position against electronic media and digital print.
But after 20 years, digital printing is still far from dominating the market. It still represents one single digit of total printed volume, although the marketing noise is very loud and gives the impression that digital is dominating. In reality it will take years for digital to achieve a bigger percentage than what they have today, because the cost per copy is high for digital and many enhancements, such as UV and foil coating, are not available in digital. I think for many, many years sheetfed offset will remain the dominating technology. It may be less loud and less sexy, but for sure it is the best way to print massive volumes of sheets of cardboard or paper for packaging or commercial print.
When it comes to cost-per-copy for industrial volumes, no method is cheaper. Today, we see Western commercial printers finding new business models to stay in the market or even grow by adding value to commercial print and escape from the commodity print market. We see more and more commercial sheetfed-offset printers who have managed to find their own niche by focusing on a specific application, or way of adding value, or way of servicing customers.
For example, sheetfed offset is still the most used method to print business cards, and it also lets printers develop workflows to produce simple products for customers on 24-hours’ demand. So today’s successful business models include Web-to-print production of business cards and other simple products, printed with the highest efficiency at an unbeatable price.
What is the best advice you can share with the many small- to mid-sized commercial printers in Canada who continue to rely on sheetfed offset as their primary production process?
PT: I’m not the guy to give advice to printers. They are professionals who know best what they have to do.
But one thing I know from observation is that it is crucial for printers to identify and follow the right model for their business. They need know what they can do better than others.
Basically they have a choice between two ways of moving forward: One is to find a way to be different from their competitors with a different product or a different approach to customers through their services, response time, flexibility of workflow, or other factors. The second way is to achieve excellence by increasing productivity and reducing the cost per copy; for example, by using a large commercial press to produce large volumes with good or good-enough quality. The right business model can be either mass productivity or differentiation.
Scores of established and start-up 3D printer and scanner manufacturers clamoured for the attention of the curious wandering the Las Vegas Convention Centre at International CES 2014 this past January. With the explosive growth of 3D printing at CES 2014, it is clear the technology – also referred to as additive layer manufacturing – is evolving well beyond its engineering roots.
While continuing to deliver high-end 3D printers for prototyping and parts-on-demand applications, established players like Stratasys and 3Dsystems are now vying for dominance in the consumer arena. And in the wings, crowd-funded entrepreneurs and start-ups are bringing innovative products to a market eager for inexpensive 3D printing and scanning solutions.
In much the same manner of how Apple and Adobe democratized the graphic arts through desktop publishing, the 3D printing movement promises to change the way products are designed, manufactured, purchased and consumed. With basic printers selling for less than $1,000, 3D printing is no longer the exclusive domain of industrial designers.
Soon school kids and hobbyists will have the ability to produce surprisingly detailed models made from nothing more than imagination and inexpensive plastic filament. And if industry leaders have their way, the lady of the house will one day download designs and 3D print bracelets and earrings to match an outfit! The potential consumer rush to 3D printing is certainly the driving force behind Amazon’s late-July introduction of its 3D Printed Products online marketplace.
Tea – Earl Grey, hot
The replicator seen in Star Trek can make virtually anything magically appear on command, including a hot cup of tea, but today’s 3D printing technology is limited to producing solid objects based on computer-aided design (CAD) files. The design of most 3D printers is based on the 2D plotter with threaded rods guiding the print head horizontally in the X/Y axes. The 3D print head deposits malleable media in very thin layers to build an object before moving upward along the vertical axis and starting the next layer.
Layer thickness determines the resolution of the 3D object in the same way pixel density affects how images look on a printing plate – a thin layer means a smoother, more detailed object is produced. While most 3D printers use various forms of plastic filament to produce objects, industry-specific printers can print with a wide variety of media including resins, chocolate and metal.
If the additive layer manufacturing process sounds labourious and sluggish, it’s because it is; high-resolution printing of complex 3D objects can take hours or even days depending on size and media used. On the other hand, complex 3D objects such as gear sets and flexible chains emerge from the printer fully functional with no further assembly required, saving considerable time for the user.
Entry-level 3D printers are relatively inexpensive, but price quickly scales upward with higher resolution, larger build volume and diversity of print media. If you have read this far, you must be wondering if a conventional ink-on-paper printing company can stake a claim in this 3D printing gold rush – after all, you adapted to digital print, right? Can 3D printing be that different?
Testing 3D waters
Based in the city of Cranbrook, BC, Rocky Mountain Print Solutions (RMPS) has been serving the East Kootenays for more than 40 years. Owner/proprietor Don Wik and his team have navigated the turbulent waters of print evolution by taking their business into new directions. Two years ago, RMPS became the regional Konica Minolta dealer and now sells copiers to many of its clients in addition to print. And recently RMPS added 3D printing to the mix with the installation of a MakerBot Replicator capable of printing high-resolution objects with a build volume of roughly 10 x 8 x 6 inches.
“We’d been looking around for other business models and noticed a lot of industry talk about 3D printing. While we didn’t think there was a business case for a small printer to have a 3D printer, the idea of offering local manufacturing ability to our clients was appealing,” explains Wik. “We wanted to offer 3D printing so our clients could use it within their business, and create a buzz in the marketplace.
“The buzz generated by 3D printing is much cheaper than advertising, and we’ve noticed a substantial increase in support from our clients,” continues Wik. “We’ll bring clients in, expose them to 3D printing, and let them think about how they can use it within their own businesses, and that really is the value to our company.” Wik is not yet prepared to directly credit 3D printing for an increase in RMPS sales, but he has definitely seen more business since introducing the MakerBot to the Cranbrook market.
“We’re amazed by some of the objects we print for our clients, we often wonder why would anyone manufacture this way – it’s so slow,” bemuses Wik. “So while 3D printing has great potential, I find I’m more impressed with those who create and share files within the 3D community – the makers.”
The makers are an informal coalition of enthusiasts who design objects and create the necessary CAD files for 3D printing, many of which are freely available to the general public. Additionally, many 3D printer manufacturers host sites offering free or inexpensive CAD files for users to purchase, download and print.
In the early days of the 3D printing movement, MakerBot (the consumer brand of Stratasys) launched www.thingiverse.com, an online portal for things designed by the maker community. Through the site, users can download free Creative Commons licensed files to produce anything from a bearing clamp or a model of the Taj Mahal to a personalized doggy bowl. At CES 2014, MakerBot launched its Digital Store service to sell high-quality CAD files of toys and educational models aimed at a kids – another sign 3D printing for home and school is imminent.
Think global, 3D print local
Although most of the interest in RMPS’ MakerBot 3D printer originates in the Cranbrook region, the company has received commissions to print objects through www.3dhubs.com, a Netherlands-based service bureau service aggregator that enables 3D printer owners to register their device and offer printing services to the public.
“Through the MakerBot site, a designer in Calgary discovered RMPS is a supplier for the 3D Hub,” reveals Wik. “He was designing what looked like a case for a prototype of an instrument, a special instrument. We made the case and then shipped it to his home. Now did we make any money off it? Probably not, but I think as the technology gets more sophisticated and faster you could make a service bureau business case.”
POD, parts on demand
“We recently installed a new CTP device that punches the printing plates after imaging. We also use an external punch so the plates will properly fit on our press. Well, the external punch wouldn’t work with the new plates because one of the small guides wouldn’t accommodate the CTP punch holes,” explains Wik.
“We had someone build a CAD file for a part modification that would enable the punch to work with our new plates.” RMPS then printed the new part on its MakerBot, replaced it on the punch, and could actually use the machine again.
“After making the part, we talked to the supplier of the equipment, and will send them a copy of the modified part so they know what they need to do if they want to improve their punch,” says Wik. “With the 3D printer, we’re able to be part of the problem-solving process for graphics equipment, which we think is pretty unique."
From letterpress to 3D
Wik and the RMPS team recognized an opportunity to showcase the company’s technology – both old and new – during Sam Steele Days, a major community festival hosted annually in Cranbrook. Outside the RMPS front door sits a cast-iron printing press manufactured in the 1890s, and just a metre away the company’s 3D printer sits inside the front window. As the Sam Steele parade passed RMPS’ front door, both presses were running for the inquisitive crowds.
“Everyone was quite impressed to see the juxtaposition of the two technologies running together,” explains Wik. “We’ve kept our old collection of movable type, so we have about 200 drawers of lead and wooden type. Although we were able to manufacture some movable type on the 3D printer we didn’t use it, as we didn’t have time to perfect the plastic fonts. But I believe with a bit of experimenting we could actually use the type from the 3D printer to print on the letterpress.
“You could probably use a 3D printer to produce a die for blind embossing on a letterpress if the right 3D print media is used,” envisions Wik. “Most small printers have gotten away from that kind of work because it’s too difficult and expensive to make the die. I believe we will be experimenting with that in the future.”
MakerBot parent company Stratasys already manufactures high-end 3D printers that use ABS polymer (the same plastic used to make Lego bricks) to make very hard objects such as the dies used for bending sheet metal for car parts. As 3D printers gain in function and replicate with a wider variety of media the Parts On Demand market is expected to grow exponentially – further strengthening a business case for 3D service bureaus.
Almost ready for primetime
For the commercial printer that makes a living replicating thousands of copies of a customers’ 2D images in the shortest possible timeframe, the sluggish process of producing one-off 3D models currently makes little economic sense from a manufacturing perspective.
When considering the innovative ways Rocky Mountain Print Solutions has leveraged its relatively small 3D printer investment, however, it’s easy to see why Don Wik and his team are excited about the future.
“The real value in diving into 3D printing is gaining an understanding of the new technology,” says Wik. “Implementing 3D printing is affordable and a good way to see what’s out there for your business: that’s the real payback at the present time.”
Zac Bolan’s blog: blog.softcircus.com
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