Quality Control for Digital Production: Digital Experts Explain the Quality Control Measures They Have Put in Place. (Prdocution)
Jenkins, Caroline, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management
For the first time since Poets & Writers Magazine went computer-to-plate in January 1999, the advertising department is starting to relax. With the number of incorrect digital ads tapering off and the hiring of a production assistant pending, things are looking up.
But the atmosphere at the office has not always been so loose. The staff has had to deal with a stream of stressful, technically complex quality-control problems since the title first began receiving ads in digital form.
consider one digital ad sent by the University of New Orleans' Prague Summer Seminars (PSS). Per the digital routine, the prepress department at the title's printer, Cadmus Communications, received the fractional ad, preflighted it and saved it as a high-resolution EPS file. Cadmus prepress workers then posted the file on an ftp site for P&W to situate on page. After the ad was placed, Cadmus staffers RIPped the pages and sent P&W final proofs.
THE FLOATING TEXT PHANTOM
The proofs appeared fine, so P&W gave the thumbs-up to start printing. Unfortunately, the page with the PSS ad contained a rather important error. "We call it the 'floating text phantom,'" says P&W's advertising director, Eric Wright. "It had to do with software that Cadmus was using." Simply, some text detached itself from its former position on page and reflowed in an image within the ad. The ad looked okay on screen, but RIPped differently. The same problem, says Wright, happened in few other ads. Most of the time, proofreaders caught the mistake and were able to notify the printer in time, but on this and two other occasions, P&W had to negotiate make-goods. (Cadmus has since solved the "floating text phantom," Wright adds.)
"With computer-to-plate and digital files, you start seeing problems you've never seen or imagined possible," says P&W's managing editor, Jim Andrews. "Things like that absolutely end up costing you in terms of time, money and inconvenience."
"In a sense, publishers are speeding up their processes and doing what is the equivalent of checking plates themselves [when they implement digital workflows]," explains Dedra Smith, president of Printmark West, a magazine production consulting firm. "And any time you add the rush factor, mistakes are bound to happen."
For today's bottom-line-focused publisher, "speeding up processes" should be a good thing--the same way implementing digital methods should refine a magazine's workflows across the board by eliminating redundancies, increasing efficiency and, ultimately, enabling magazines to churn out pages faster. But P&W and magazines like it are quickly learning the immediate reality of implementing digital methods: New processes introduce many new problems. In the current publishing climate, with sweeping, company-wide cutbacks making headlines daily, many fear that quality is taking a back seat to speed and reduced costs.
Most quality control issues originate, unfortunately, with advertising. (Editorial pages, because they are under the close observation of the staff or the document originators throughout their existence, generally do not present the same kinds of quality problems as files received from outside sources.)
With a film-based ad--since it is essentially unalterable--production staffers just receive it and check the size. With digital files, however, a whole host of other issues arise because, in most cases, the ad is not in a "locked," finished form the way a film ad is. If put together incorrectly, ads can contain errors-- anything from the file format to color mode to fonts used--and the publisher, not the advertiser, is forced to make changes.
However, controlling the quality of today's digitally produced magazine and production workflows does become easier as publishers and advertisers learn the tricks of the trade. Even in a rocky CTP transition period, magazines can minimize errors by taking a few simple steps, say the experts. …