Tech

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

Imagine if you dare a world without Photoshop – a barren image editing wasteland offering little to comfort those longing to adjust a photo’s hue, or straighten and crop a wayward picture. How would you apply effects to your pictures, convert to black and white or resize low-resolution images without Adobe? Sounds like a pretty bleak existence, doesn’t it? Thankfully it doesn’t have to be.

Photoshop remains at the heart of most serious image-editing workflows, but there are options on the market.  These days, savvy software consumers can save a few dollars and still fulfill a surprising percentage of their image editing needs. While there are a number of open source and share-ware image-editing alternatives on the market, a couple of the early Photoshop challengers have matured into significant contenders in the pixel-pushing arena.


Tested: Pixelmator 3.2 (Mac OS X), pixelmator.com, Apple App Store $29.95

I first discovered this powerful yet unassuming app shortly after returning from drupa years ago and wrote about version 1 in PrintAction magazine (July 2008). At the time, I was impressed with the versatility of the inexpensive image editor and it soon became my go-to tool for quick image adjustments when away from my Photoshop workstation.

Over the years, Pixelmator matured with each successive release, bringing it ever closer to Photoshop functionality while remaining a fraction of the price. Within an intuitive and stylish interface, Pixelmator delivers most of the features you would expect in an image editor. The Tools palette will feel immediately familiar to anyone with a working knowledge of Photoshop. Pixelmator is replete with a full range of tools covering everything from selection; cropping; cloning; erasing; drawing; painting; shapes; and blurring to typography and effects.

And like that other image editor, Pixelmator supports layers – in fact, you can even open your layered .PSD files, edit them and export the file back to .PSD, or any one of several common image formats. I use the term ‘export’ because Pixelmator can only save images in its own proprietary format. This might not be such a bad thing because, on cursory inspection, Pixelmator appears to produce a smaller file size than .PSD for the same image. Pixelmator also features a number of tools geared toward those combining or creating new images, such as Alignment Guides and Relative Spacing Guides, which are much like the smart guides found in Creative Suite apps.  

The latest release, Pixelmator 3.2, brings some new advanced editing features to the table including a completely re-engineered Repair Tool.  The Repair Tool can be used for anything from simple dust and scratch removal to difficult repairs such as large image removal from a complex background. Pixelmator ‘patches’ the areas removed with colour-corrected pieces from the image surrounding it. Even if the object to be removed was not selected precisely, the Repair Tool builds a smooth transition area and matches the structure of the background. The results are often quite impressive.

Other new Pixelmator features include support for 16-bit colour, lockable layers and a cool little feature that apparently converts any selection into a shape for editing. I say ‘apparently’ because I cannot actually figure out how to do it, which highlights one of the few flaws of the application – the lack of a manual! There is, however, a fairly comprehensive help file and quite a few online tutorials to get new users up to speed. Also, because Pixelmator restricts users to living in an RGB world, it will not unseat Photoshop for heavy-duty prepress use anytime soon. Having said that, Pixelmator is a robust, fun and surprisingly fully featured image editor for a very, very good price!

Tested: Perfect Photo Suite 8.5 (Mac OS X, Windows 7 & 8), onOnesoftware.com, Starting at $79.95

Another blast from my image-editing past, Perfect Photo Suite began its life as a collection of high-priced plug-ins for Photoshop. When I last reviewed the product (version 5 in PrintAction, August 2010), Perfect Photo Suite cashed out at a hefty $499 for the full assemblage of plug-ins. At the time, each of the plug-ins was also available as an independent product, so users could buy just the tools or effects they wanted.

onOne Software has since taken the collection in the opposite direction and combined Perfect Photo Suite into a fully featured standalone application containing all of the functionality of the individual plug-ins. As a result, Perfect Photo Suite 8.5 has evolved into a surprisingly comprehensive image-editing workflow well suited for the artistic image manipulator and premedia pro alike.

When launching any Perfect Photo Suite plug-in from Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture, the net result is the same: The full suite opens outside of the host application with the image and the selected functions active. From there, users can access any of the other Suite tools encompassing a wide range of image-editing chores.

The Enhance tool provides everything an image geek needs to improve brightness, contrast or hue, as well as play with focus or remove offending spots and elements in the style of Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill. Enhance provides loads of presets for the novice and a complete set of finicky adjustments for the pro. Once you make your perfect enhancement, save it as a preset for other images, or even batch processing.

As its name implies, Effects is the Suite tool for stylizing images. As with Enhance, this function comes with both a full catalogue of photographic effects and plenty of adjustable filter options to create entirely unique looks. Additionally, Effects filters can be stacked to create masterpieces or abhorrent messes, depending on the skill of the user.

Portrait provides both presets and manual tools to make short work of tedious portrait re-touching tasks like removing blemishes, shine and wrinkles. Portrait also has specific adjustments for eyes and mouths, including red-eye removal and teeth whitening – cheaper than a trip to the ophthalmologist or the dentist!

But for me the big draw to Perfect Photo Suite has always been its excellent Resize and Mask functions. Resize started life as a very pricey Photoshop plug-in called Genuine Fractals and over its nearly 20-year life has matured into the very best software to scale a lower resolution image to a large print size. Able to make sharp enlargements up to 1,000 percent, Resize is well equipped with presets optimized to a wide range of large-format-inkjet printers and media in addition to a full range of user-adjustable parameters to get your enlargement just right. Personally, I often use Resize to bring low-quality customer-supplied images up to
prepress standards for print. And Mask has only improved with age – with a little practice, most users can easily mask around soft-edged image elements such as clouds or hair.

Perfect Photo Suite, however, is not the perfect way to kick the Photoshop habit. Like Pixelmator, the Suite only works with RGB images. Also, I found the application stuttered a bit with very large images on my 11-inch Macbook Air – the Suite seemed to want more RAM than I could muster. Working with the same images in Photoshop was no problem, suggesting there is room for improvement in the Perfect Photo Suite memory management department. But, considering Genuine Fractals alone used to sell for more than $200, the entire Perfect Photo Suite is a steal starting at $79.

Can you live without Photoshop
If you wrangle images for a living, the short answer is no. There is a good reason Photoshop has been the tool of choice for pixel wranglers for decades, and likely for the foreseeable future. However, given Adobe’s subscription model not everyone will want to shell out for the Creative Cloud just to straighten a few images, downsize some photos for a blog or play with bokeh at home. Also, each of these innovative applications has unique strengths that can enhance any pro image editing workflow for a relatively small investment.

Having alternatives is a great thing for users, and hopefully having some competition will keep the engineers at Adobe on its toes.

Zac Bolan’s blog: blog.softcircus.com

Protecting your software investment with virtual machines

Virtual machines are nothing new, and out of necessity I was an early adopter of the technology. While working in prepress and later in software development a few years back, it was essential for me to have ready access to the Windows environment. Initially, this meant hauling around two laptops in my bulging computer bag, as early operating-system emulators for the Mac were sluggish and limited in function. All that changed when I discovered an early version of Parallels Desktop. With Parallels I was finally able to ditch the ThinkPad and effectively run Windows XP on my MacBook Pro.

For the uninitiated, virtual machines (VM) are complete computing environments including operating system, software and user documents/files contained in a single disk image. With a software emulator such as Parallels Desktop, an appropriately configured host computer can run a VM and its applications alongside host-native applications.

When I reviewed Parallels Desktop 8 (PrintAction, February 2013), I had just made the transition to a new MacBook Air with a Solid State Drive (SSD). The differences in speed between the SSD and a conventional hard drive is remarkable, making a virtual machine respond just like a hardware-based Windows workstation. Suffice it to say that the SSD completely changed the way I used virtual machines and put Parallels Desktop on my daily use list.

Released in September 2013, Parallels Desktop 9 improves an already robust hardware emulator with a host of new features, including: Support for Windows 8; Thunderbolt and Firewire device access; multi-monitor settings remembered; iCloud, SkyDrive and Dropbox sync; and an enhanced wizard making it considerably easier to setup a new virtual machine.

The biggest reason to upgrade is speed, however, as Parallels Desktop 9 runs noticeably faster than version 8. Parallels claims up to 40 percent better disk performance in Desktop 9 in addition to faster start-up, shutdown and suspend times. While I often take marketing claims of this nature with a grain of salt, this one seems to stand true. My virtual machines were significantly speedier after migrating to Desktop 9.

Of course, your mileage will vary based on the configuration of your host computer. To be effective, virtual machines need to live on a speedy machine such as a late model iMac, MacBook Pro or Air. While the stated memory requirements for Desktop 9 start at 2GB, users will find that more is better in this department, as a sizable block of memory must be assigned to the virtual machine OS. My current MacBook Air has 8GB RAM which is more than adequate for Parallels Desktop 9 – but my next Mac will have at least 16GB RAM or more, if available. Likewise, you do not need an SSD to run Desktop 9, but your user experience will improve dramatically if you do. Fortunately, SSD prices are coming down as more manufacturers include them in new machines and aftermarket upgrade drives become commonplace.

Alongside Desktop 9, Parallels launched Parallels Access, an iOS App enabling users to access and run applications from their Mac and VM on an iPad. Parallels Access is available on an annual subscription basis.

Why do you need a virtual machine?
You would be forgiven to think that the only reason to run a virtual machine on your desktop is to get Windows running on your Mac. After all, Parallel’s Website and packaging both scream “RUN WINDOWS ON YOUR MAC” in large red print. What many do not realize, however, is that Parallels Desktop can accommodate a wide range of 32-bit and 64-bit Guest Operating Systems including Linux, Solaris and every flavour of Windows ever devised, as well as legacy Mac OS X operating systems back to OS X 10.5 Leopard Server.

So why would you want to run an older version of Mac OS X as a virtual machine on your Mac? Simple – protecting your legacy software investment. As prepress departments deal with a wide range of clients and an even wider range of source files, it is important to maintain older versions of production critical applications such as Adobe Creative Suite and QuarkXPress. Many prepress pros concurrently keep multiple generations of these applications on their workstations so they can work with customer files in the specific version in which they were created – thus avoiding text reflow and other potential file problems.

Also, with each new Mac OS X iteration comes new features and enhancements enticing users to upgrade. These new capabilities often come at a price, however, as older applications may no longer work as effectively – or at all – with the latest Mac OS X. By building a bespoke virtual machine for each major version of the Mac OS users can install and run older applications in the environment they were designed for. For example, I currently run a Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) VM for Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 and an OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) VM for Creative Suite 6. These VMs can either run on the host computer in their own window, in full-screen mode, or in their applications side-by-side with host applications using Parallel’s Coherence mode.

Creating a Mac OS X VM is a relatively easy process with Parallels Desktop 9. After launching Desktop 9, select ‘New’ under the File menu and the Wizard will walk you through the steps. Assuming you acquired your Mac OS upgrades through the App Store, your older operating system installers will be available under the ‘Purchases’ menu and available for download. For Mac OS X installs before version 10.6 (Lion), you will need to find your original installer DVD. Once you have created and are running your VM, install and register your legacy software as you would on any Mac.

Another major advantage of virtual machines is the ease in which they can be backed up and duplicated. Users need only copy the Parallels disk image to another drive for backup, or to another Mac with Parallels installed to use the virtual machine elsewhere.

Considering Adobe’s recent decision to stop selling perpetual Creative Suite licenses it seems prudent to ensure you will always have access to your last ‘owned’ version of Creative Suite should you decide to work outside of the Creative Cloud. Housing your second CS6 install in a Mountain Lion VM, for example, is one way to ensure you will always have access to Photoshop, regardless of how Mac OS and Apple hardware evolve.

Zac Bolan’s blog: blog.softcircus.com

The Interpack 2014 tradeshow took place from May 8 to May 14, 2014, at the Düsseldorf fair grounds, the same sprawling location that hosts the drupa tradeshow every four years. According to Interpack, this year’s exhibition attracted 175,000 visitors and approximately 2,700 exhibitors. The main sector trends, again according to Interpack, are resource efficiency for plant and machinery, as well as for packaging material usage, quality and safety to guarantee perfect and counterfeit-proof finished products (especially in such touchy segments as food/beverage and pharmaceuticals), diversity and flexibility for an ever wider range, and shorter product cycles.

The primary trend of shorter product cycles in packaging was emphasized by many exhibitors, most notably Esko. It was also a focal point for many exhibiting print companies that, in addition to the many machine manufacturers, demonstrated how their equipment can accommodate a sudden change in the packaging requirements to quickly build a new product. This can be done through a modular set up of the machine or an intelligent control logic system that is able to fill containers of different sizes.

Highlights and vignettes
Packaging is much more than just the design of the package. Manufacturers and designers alike must also consider variables like what type of material is being used, types of sleeves that go over the package, the stability of the package, and what kind of weight needs to be protected and transported.

Flexographic printing is the dominant process currently being used for producing all kinds of labels, sleeves and other wrappings. Paper bags are also printed with this technology. A Swiss print company at Interpack showcased the same design printed digital, HD flexo and gravure. At a first glance, the prints looked very similar in colour and appearance. Only a closer look revealed differences between the printing processes especially in the highlights and vignettes.

Hewlett-Packard made a big splash by exhibiting new three digital printing machines that are aimed at the packaging industry. HP showed its Indigo 20000 and 30000 devices, while also debuting the HP Scitex 15000 press. The HP 20000 press is aimed at the label printing market with a web width of 30 inches. The workflow for controlling the HP 20000 is powered by Esko technology. The HP 20000 can be used for printing flexible packaging, labels and shrink sleeves with a maximum repeat length of 44 inches. Printing materials can include film, paper and aluminum.  The HP 20000 features seven imaging stations that can be used for printing even opaque white. The well-known personalized Coke campaign was printed on an HP 20000.

Esko has teamed up with HP in regards to the workflow and converting of spot colours to extended gamut printing using CMYK plus O, G and V. The Esko software shows how far, in ∆E, the converted colours are from the original Pantone colour when four, five, six or seven colours are used to simulate the brand colour. Through the addition of either orange, and/or green and/or violet, the ∆E will get less, meaning the colour is closer to the original. Esko is also supplying its MIS software to HP, making it possible to have short turnaround times from when the job enters the print company until it is printed and ready for delivery.

The HP 30000 is designed for printing folding cartons with offset matching print quality. The maximum sheet width is 29.5 inches and prints on sheets of carton. The press can print on paperboard, metallized board and plastics. Like the Indigo 20000, the 30000 also features up to seven colour print stations which make it possible to achieve brand colours through dedicated Pantone inks or through HP’s IndiChrome technology that uses four, six or seven colours for on-press brand colour emulation. The maximum board thickness is 24 pt. It is even possible to add an inline coater for UV and water-based coatings. The Indigo technology makes it possible to print VDP cartons. This was also shown during the press demonstration at the tradeshow.

The third HP press shown was the Scitex 15000 for corrugated board printing. This inkjet press can print four boards at the same time. At Interpack, the imaging giant showed the printing of boxes for big screen LED TVs.

This very interesting demonstration of technology continues the momentum HP showed at drupa 2012. Although the print speeds are not that of offset and flexographic printing presses, it enables print companies to serve the quick turnaround market. I predict even more innovative solutions will be shown by HP at drupa 2016.

Bioplastics, boxes and pouches
QuickLabel Systems of the United States showed its Kiaro! Printer, a small, tabletop on-demand, roll-fed label system based on inkjet technology. It comes with Windows software that can also do VDP. Depending on the model you buy, Kiaro! can print with up to an eight-inch web-width at 40 feet per minute and at 1,200-dpi resolution. The maximum repeat length is 17.92 inches.

I found this product quite impressive, since it is an affordable solution for quick turnaround, short-run label production that has no make-ready and is perfect for small businesses that do not need large quantities of labels.

At Interpack 2011, bioplastics were an interesting trend, which I wrote about in PrintAction June 2011. At the time, this was a little side exhibition of Interpack squeezed into part of one hall. At the 2014 event, however, many suppliers showed materials made from bioplastics. Personally, I found it very interesting to see a coffee pod made completely from bioplastic. This means that you can throw the coffee pod directly into the kitchen garbage after brewing your single-serve  coffee. The pod composts in 90 days.

It is a little know fact that the currently manufactured coffee pods for the various single-serve coffee machine pose quite a problem in the recycling stream, since they can not be properly recycled.

Kolbus, a German company with sales offices in Canada, showed an interesting machine configuration that manufactures high-quality boxes with magnetic closure. The inside has a stable tray that protects the packaged product. The stand had a production line set up that inserted the magnets, secured them with tape, flipped the boxes over, scored the preprinted cover and then inserted the box. Interestingly enough, the outside of the box was printed digitally.

The company can also make various angled cuts into the box lid for 90, 130, 180 and multi-angle cuts to wrap the lid of the box around a round object. These boxes are designed for packaging high-quality items to give them a touch of luxury.

Pouches made for all kinds of purposes were also a dominant part of the packaging options highlighted at Interpack. These pouches today can hold a vast array of liquids from water and juices to baby food and soups to motor oil. The important thing is that the pouch is well made, the seams are properly formed and sealed, and the correct spout for dispensing the product has been inserted at the top.

Food materials and footprints
Interpack’s Halls 1 to 4 held all kinds of machinery for the production of food, mostly for grinding cocoa and chocolate manufacturing (hollow figure manufacturing), but also for candy and gum manufacturing. Many companies showed machines for the manufacturing of wafers and ice cream cones. These were halls were you could get many edible samples. I wasn’t quite sure what these machines had to do with packaging, but after getting through these food items, machines for packaging freshly made food items were shown.

Throughout the show it was clear that the traditional materials used to create packaging like PE, PS, PET are now available in all kinds of shapes and sizes. The trend is to use the material more wisely, meaning less of it and have the shapes more friendly/economic for stacking on skids, meaning less trucks are needed to transport the same amount of packages making the packaging product more sustainable. The use of less packaging and less material to create a smaller carbon footprint was a general trend of Interpack.

Recyclability was also a big topic weaving its way through the various exhibits. The special metal packaging plaza showcased not only the versatility of metal packaging, but stressed also the point that metal packaging can be recycled over and over again. Many high-quality metal packages were shown.

All of the wonderful packaging technology at Interpack spoke very little about one thing, all of these labels, wraps and special products need to be printed somehow. A few print companies were present at the tradeshow and showcased their high-quality print products using mainly the flexographic print process. Some print companies combined the flexographic printing presses with digital printing or rotogravure printing.

Like drupa, the Interpack tradeshow is a very interesting exhibition of printing potential, with regards to the protection of the product and the message it gives to the customer. Relative to commercial printing, short-run and quick turnaround technology finally seems to be a key focus for the packaging industry. This new focus of technology will surely disrupt the market, as there remains significant demand for printing labels, foils, cardboard and corrugated board.



Dr. Martin Habekost is Associate Chair of Ryerson University’s Graphic Communications Management program and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Earlier this year, Adobe unleashed the first major upgrade to its Creative Cloud applications since the Suite launched in May 2013. While Photoshop CC enhancements such as support for 3D printing, perspective warp tools and linked smart objects grabbed the spotlight; new features were also added to both Illustrator and InDesign applications.

Illustrator has been around forever, at least when measuring time on the digital design and prepress scale. Since version 1.0, Illustrator has nudged virtually all competitors to the sidelines, claiming the de-facto crown of vector editing applications. If you peel away all the fancy Adobe branding, the latest Illustrator iteration stands at version 17.1 – truly venerable in the here-today, gone-tomorrow world of software. So after 16 major upgrades, what could be left for Adobe to improve?

Illustrator CC
Apparently, Adobe can teach an old vector editor a few new tricks! According to Adobe, the latest Illustrator brings new features derived from user feedback and requests. The new Live Corners feature enables designers to significantly alter corners of both paths and closed shapes either by adjusting a Live Corners widget or entering values into the Corners dialogue box.

When selecting a corner point with the direct selection tool in Illustrator CC, users now see what looks like a small radio button just below the selected corner. This is the Live Corners widget and when dragged away from the corner adds curvature to the angle. Users can also click and drag over a range of corners or an entire closed shape, click any of the Live Corner widgets and apply curvature to all the selected corners at once. Double-clicking any of the widgets brings up the Corner dialogue where specific corner treatments, rounding styles and radius settings can be entered. The new Live Corner tool works so intuitively and effortlessly that any level Illustrator buff should be able to master it in minutes.

Adobe introduces a completely re-vamped Pencil Tool in the latest Illustrator CC that enables freehand sketchers to draw better paths with smooth curves and straight lines using either mouse, track-pad or drawing tablet. First of all, let me say that I’m no artist, but after adjusting the Pencil Tool Options I was able to use a Wacom tablet and stylus to draw smooth two-point curves and trace relatively complex shapes. There are not many settings in the Pencil Tool Options dialogue: Users can adjust a slider to make the Pencil more accurate to the path drawn or smoothed by Illustrator’s graphics engine – that’s it.

The Pencil Tool, however, does allow the user to intuitively continue paths by hovering over an endpoint before drawing, or closing a path by drawing near the starting point, then releasing the mouse button. The new Path Segment Reshape tool enables users to easily reshape any path without selecting it first or manipulating Bezier handles. Just choose the Anchor Point Tool (a part of the Pen Tool subset) and hover over any path segment – the Anchor Point cursor becomes the Path Segment Reshape cursor and the user clicks and drags to bend or reshape any path segment. Moreover, Illustrator CC sports perspective-drawing improvements enabling designers to easily adjust the vanishing point and horizon line of a drawing by manipulating the underlying grid.

Rounding out the new enhancements, Adobe finally gives designers the ability to build custom tool panels and save a backup copy of preferences, workspaces and presets that can be shared with other Illustrator users within a workgroup – a long-overdue enhancement in my opinion.

InDesign CC
Many of the aforementioned Illustrator amendments can benefit both print designers and prepress pros, however, virtually all of the updates to InDesign are targeting the ePublisher whether they build EPUB, interactive PDF or Adobe Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) projects. For example, InDesign CC offers bespoke tools for creating, editing and managing hyperlinks in an interactive document–to the point of creating character styles to accommodate them! Hyperlinks can be applied to both text and images and validated through the Hyperlinks panel. The new InDesign also supports EPUB 3.0 features such as pop-up footnotes, better hyperlink management and improved multi-lingual support.

Another new InDesign function facilitates automatic access to Adobe Typekit fonts – when opening a document using fonts not active in your system, the user is immediately offered the option of accessing fonts from the Typekit collection. While this feature might benefit designers with small font collections, it could cause problems for prepress operators who generally only use fonts provided by their customer when working on files. I have been working with InDesign CC since initial launch and really appreciate the ability to set the interface colour theme to match other CC applications such as Photoshop. However, I’ve noticed a few problems when working with legacy files created in older versions of InDesign.

For example, I have seen spot colours created in InDesign CS5.5 mysteriously change their overprint settings when opened with InDesign CC – the result not showing up until inkjet proofing, or worse, on press! Hopefully this and other bugs have been addressed in this latest update.

All the rest
Adobe augments other Creative Cloud applications in this update including Muse, its approachable Web design tool aimed at Illustrator and InDesign  users. Muse differs from Adobe Dreamweaver in that it enables visual designers to build attractive websites within a  familiar interface and without learning to write code. This makes Muse  invaluable for print designers looking to  expand their services; however, the short learning curve Muse provides comes at a price. Sites built with Muse cannot be directly imported into Dreamweaver when more powerful Website architecture is needed.

Adobe has done a great job of  eliminating the upgrade dilemma for many users because Creative Cloud is only available on a subscription basis. However, while CC customers no longer need to weigh new features against the cost of upgrading, Adobe is leaving many legacy CS6 license owners behind. Not everyone can justify the ongoing expense for a vast suite of software they will never own just to access one or two applications they actually need to generate  revenue. I suspect many will stick with the CS6 they own until Adobe offers a wider range of licensing alternatives.

Zac Bolan’s blog: blog.softcircus.com

In the biggest single upgrade since the launch of the Creative Cloud, Adobe recently introduced more than 20 new features to Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. Subscribers also gain access to Typekit – more than 900 desktop fonts – from within Creative Cloud or any other desktop app. But for now, let’s talk about everyone’s favourite image editor, Photoshop, and its multi-dimensional new feature.

3D printing
While Photoshop has enabled limited 3D design capability since CS5 Extended version; the images produced were always intended for 2D reproduction – that is until now. With Photoshop CC, users can work with a variety of 3D modeling formats, such as Google Earth KMZ, Wavefront OBJ and JPEG Stereo just to name a few. Once open in Photoshop’s new 3D workspace, the model can be scaled and rotated for viewing at any angle. Users are also able to apply textures and colours in addition to altering the object’s surface relief.

Once the model rendering is complete, Photoshop CC directly supports printing to a selection of consumer 3D printers from MakerBot, 3D Systems and Zcorp, as well as upload to Shapeways.com, an online 3D printing service. When printing to a supported printer, users can set the level of detail, size, scale and surface detail of the model. Photoshop CC also offers the option to automatically generate removable scaffolding to support and reinforce the model while it is being printed. As well, users are capable of controlling printer functions such as pre-heating, material selection and estimating print time. Before printing, Photoshop CC will analyze and simplify the model to match the selected printer’s capabilities, then re-render if necessary.

While many consider 3D printing a niche market for product prototyping and engineering, it became apparent at this year’s International CES exhibition, held in Las Vegas, that 3D printing is poised to go mainstream in the very near future. In the CES 2014 3D Printing TechZone, 28 exhibitors demonstrated a wide range of 3D printers and scanners targeting every price-point. Both major players and crowd-funded startups vied for home, hobbyist and educational 3D printing markets with innovative and inexpensive 3D printers, starting at around $500. Expect to see many of these 3D printers on the shelves as early as Spring 2014.

For that reason it seems Adobe hopes to position Photoshop CC as the go-to tool for 3D model design, finishing and production in a bid to replicate their successful democratization of conventional print. Whether or not 3D printing becomes as pervasive as desktop publishing remains to be seen, but a Credit Suisse research team recently projected 357 percent growth in the 3D printing market by 2016 – largely due to pro-sumers and educators getting on the bandwagon.

Warp Factor
Adobe incorporates a robust Perspective Warp tool into the latest Photoshop. At first glance you might think it is just another variation of Puppet Warp or the many Transform tools already provided, but you’d be wrong. Perspective Warp provides a simple workflow for repositioning the vanishing point or manipulating the perspective of an imported element to match the base image. It can also be used to correct perspective problems created by bad camera angles while keeping lines straight.

The user first converts the layer containing the element to be altered into a Smart Object, allowing for changes and edits later on. After selecting Perspective Warp > Layout, the user drags a ‘quad’ to define the perspective plane of the element’s foreground, then a second quad to define the vanishing point. Once defined, the user selects > Warp and is able to change the perspective of the element without drastic distortion. Users can then choose to automatically straighten horizontal, vertical or both axes simultaneously. If used prudently, the end result can be a pleasingly realistic shift in perspective.

Linked Smart Objects
In a bid to improve collaborative design workflows, Adobe introduces Linked Smart Objects in this iteration of Photoshop CC. Photoshop has long had the ability to embed Smart Objects in PSD files that users could transform in a variety of ways without affecting the original data. However, embedded data bloats the size of the working file significantly. Also, if one designer in a workgroup modifies a logo embedded in several PSD files, other designers would have to track down and re-import every instance of that Embedded Smart Object.

With Linked Smart Objects, Photoshop CC now deals with imported elements in much the same manner as InDesign – the file data is stored externally with a flattened preview stored in the PSD file. Now when a designer edits the file referenced by a Linked Smart Object, the changes can automatically flow into any Photoshop documents containing it.

Faster and better
What would a Photoshop upgrade be without a performance boost and a few time-saving enhancements? Photoshop CC delivers speed with the next generation of the Mercury Graphics Engine – using Open CL to harness the rendering capabilities of the powerful graphics processors found in most current computers. The result is responsive and fluid performance when using processor-crunching tools such as Liquify and Puppet Warp on very large images.

The workflow enhancements, while subtle, can be timesavers. For example I routinely use a few clicks to convert PSD file backgrounds into a Layers. Photoshop CC now enables this action with one click. Also, colours used recently can be selected in the Swatches panel and users can set the background colour when creating a new file. While none of these enhancements are particularly exciting on their own, they do improve the user-experience and increase productivity.

Worth the upgrade?
This is the part of the software review where I would normally weigh the new features against the cost of upgrading and make my recommendations. The 3D printing feature, while cool, is not for the graphic arts world – at least, not yet. While the Linked Smart Objects speed boost and productivity enhancements would be useful in conventional print environments, they might not warrant shelling out for a paid version upgrade, were one available.

Given Adobe’s new Creative Cloud model, however, this discussion is moot: Either you subscribe and get these new features regardless of whether you want them, or you do not. You cannot buy an upgrade at any price. Adobe has successfully completed its transition from a company focused on developing and selling cutting-edge software to a provider of software-as-a-service.

Zac Bolan’s blog: blog.softcircus.com

Hallelujah! – There is finally a clear and elegant solution for the ever-present problem of doing a press-to-proof match, or doing a press check and matching a proof in the viewing booth. Most printing papers today contain optical brightening agents whose fluorescence causes the printed sample to look bluer and brighter, which is good, but then the colours do not always match the proof.

After Benny Landa and the introduction of the nanographic printing process, the biggest attraction circling the print industry is arguably 3D printing. At the recent Graphics Canada tradeshow, I found it quite interesting to see 3D printers for the first time with my own eyes and being able to hold products in my hands after they were made on the devices at the show. The 3D printers on display included a small single colour device retailing for about $2,500 and a two-colour device for around $4,000. As with the aging path of any new technology, prices will most likely come down as more devices find their way into the market.

The arrival of 3D printing spread across the public’s consciousness earlier this year when the plans for producing a gun using 3D technology were made available on the Internet. The only metal part was the pin used to fire the bullet. Frightening scenarios were painted about the consequences of allowing anyone with access to a 3D printer to produce such a gun, because – among a raft of grizzly schemes – the plastic parts would not be detected by conventional airport security scans. After a deluge of online protest, the person who posted the plans for the gun removed the files, but as we all know they were probably copied countless times and still readily available.

The technology of 3D printing, however, is touted as the next great thing in customer service. If you need a part for anything, just 3D print it and you can repair whatever is broken. It has also been suggested that 3D printers will make extensive toolkits obsolete, since you can produce the tool that you need right there, assuming you have a 3D printer in your home or workshop. The relatively inexpensive 3D printers use molten plastic to create the objects, others, more expensive ones, employ metal powder which will be hardened through the application of a laser beam or electron beam.

High-quality 3D printing is achieved with stereolithography. It is a polymer-based process. A laser beam is directed at a bed of liquid resin and the energy from the laser causes a thin layer to harden. The laser is directed by a small movable mirror across the whole manufacturing table. The hardened material is attached to a platform that moves away from the bed of molten resin. A good animation of this process can be seen at formlabs.com/products/our-printer. 3D printers using this technology will come down in price, because some patents in regards to the technology will expire in 2014. This technology deposits layers that are 25 micrometres thick, while the molten plastic deposit method creates layers of about 100 micrometers.

It was also suggested that 3D printers should be on board of future space explorations to lower the weight of items, i.e. toolboxes, that need to be brought on the trip into space for any kind of repairs. That would leave more room for the payload that is transported into space. Artists have also discovered 3D printing as an art form. One of them is using a special technique to 3D print objects into sand, by injecting it with a special polymer, which bonds the sand particles together and hardens when it comes in contact with air. Once the printing process is complete the object gets carefully dug out of the sand. Any remaining loose sand is washed away with water.

The possibilities for printing 3D objects are endless. At the Graphics Canada trade show I had a soft silicone model of a human heart in my hands and it was printed from actual MRI images of someone’s heart. I found this simply amazing. Aside from all the great and astounding things that can be established using 3D print technology one still needs to ask oneself the following question: Is 3D printing printing or is it manufacturing?

Defining moments
You could make the argument that printing also deposits something, although a rather thin film of ink, onto a substrate. 3D printing also deposits material, but in much thicker layers. Printing is also quite often called highly customized manufacturing. Each job is unique and sometimes very intricate techniques are used to create the product the customer desires. This was clearly visible in some of the pieces that were entered into the Canadian Printing Awards competition. Printing is quite often used to create many copies of the same product, just like in mass manufacturing. So you can twist and turn it anyway but it starts to get a bit difficult and not very well defined.

Let’s have a look at Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary for the definition of printing: The process of producing books, magazines, etc. by using machinery the act or process of printing a set number of copies of a book at one time handwriting that uses separate letters that do not join together.

Now let’s have a look at manufacturing in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary: The process of making products especially with machines in factories.

The definition of manufacturing might need some updating in regards to the word factories, when 3D printers are more and more available to the general public.

I thought about this discussion for some time and what could be the distinguishing factor to call 3D printing a printing process or more traditional manufacturing process. In my opinion the distinction comes in regards to the fact the printing always involves images and text and in the conveying of information, regardless of what the information is.

3D printing, in my opinion, resembles a more traditional manufacturing process. The reason for this conclusion came in the form of an air nozzle that was shown to me at Graphics Canada. It is the nozzle that is above every seat in an airplane. These nozzles are now made using 3D printing and 3D printing has simplified the process, since no molds are needed to create the separate parts and then have them assembled. The nozzle is manufactured in one step with a 3D printer.

A recent article from InkWorld by Rodman Publishing states that Messe Düsseldorf, the organization that hosts the drupa and Interpack and many other tradeshows on the Düsseldorf fairgrounds, launched the 3D fab+print during the K 2013 trade show, the tradeshow for plastics and rubber. Shows and exhibitions related to 3D fab+print will be co-located with seven tradeshows and one of is drupa, which will run from May 31 to June 10, 2016.

Additive manufacturing
There are many manufacturers of 3D printing equipment and, just as in the printing world, there are devices for home use, professionals and industrial scale applications. MakerBot is a well-known American manufacturer of 3D printing. A visit to the company’s Website shows that they have three stores in the United States and all 48 Microsoft stores in the U.S. have MakerBot systems installed. The next time you travel to the U.S., look up if there is a Microsoft store in the city you are visiting. You can have a look at the MakerBot 3D printing and probably for a minimal fee have a product made right there on the spot.

3D Systems is a leader in the consumer sector and Stratasys is, according to InkWorld magazine, the world leader in the professional sector. Stratasys offers up to 150 different types of photopolymers and thermoplastics – the largest selection of materials for 3D printing.
The leader for industrial applications using laser-sintering technology is EOS GmbH from Germany and its customers include well-know names like MTU (a manufacturer of large diesel engines and complete propulsion system), EADS (European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company), Daimler and BMW. These companies already use 3D printing in their production lines.

Regardless of the material and fusing technology being used in 3D printing, it must be considered as additive manufacturing. The object is built layer upon layer and the thickness of the layer varies with the deposit and fusing method that is used. The fusing method can incorporate chemical and/or physical processes, precipitation curing and/or melting. These fusing methods currently allow the use of materials like artificial resins, plastics, metals and ceramics in powder form and paper. They use methods like selective laser melting, electron beam melting of metals, selective laser sintering for plastics, stereolithography, digital light processing, polyjet modeling for photopolymers and fused deposition modeling for thermoplastics (FDM). FDM is most popular method for 3D printing.

3D printing is already used a lot more than one would think in a range of production and manufacturing environments. I think this alone settles the debate whether it is akin to printing or a more traditional production process. Malcom Keif from CalPoly University in San Louis Obispo predicts that 3D printers will invade the office like the copy machine has.
Over time, these devices will become more sophisticated and there will be different levels of sophistication with machines, again depending on if the end-use is for consumers, professionals or industrial companies. 3D printing will be part of the manufacturing world and we have not seen the end of the development yet. Au contraire, we are at the beginning of this oddly quiet manufacturing revolution.

Dr. Martin Habekost is Associate Chair of Ryerson University’s Graphic Communications Management program and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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