Print Week 28th January
Jo Francis unearths the new Rip Once PDF workflow product that launced Workflow Solutions as a pre press software development company.
Print Week 8th September
Barney Cox reporting on Dennis Publishing's trouble free move to output ready PDF's, thanks to PageFusion.
Customer comments 
Various customer quotes. 
Print Week 3rd November
Product of the week. Simon Eccles puts PageFusion under the spotlight in this comprehensive double page centerspread.
Print Week 16th November 
Me and my machine. Sally Cousins discovers how PageFusion smoothed the path to CTP during her customer interview.
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For a repro house the delivery stage used to be the easy bit. You’d do all the scanning, page assembly, film output and - in the good old days - stripping. Then you’d make the proofs from the film, wait for approval and finally pack the films off to the printers. But now that so many printers are putting in CTP, they ask for files instead of film.
This adds a couple of new worries for the repro house - what to do about proofs if there’s no film, and how to ensure that the files you supply are going to work at the other end.

Workflow Solutions, a small British firm, believes it’s come up with a solution. PageFusion is designed to turn assembled separated CMYK jobs into PDFs for proofing and final output. It runs on its own fast server as an unattended back-ground operation, taking output from lay-out programs or OPI servers, ripping files to bitmap and converting them into production and proof-ready PDF 1.2 files. It’s very fast - we saw an extremely complex magazine page with multiple elements including listings processed in less than a minute. It can also compress file sizes losslessly, or with minimal loss. 

Brothers Colin and Martyn Angus, joint managing directors of Workflow Solutions, were running a pre-press consultancy and systems integration business when their repro customers started asking questions about output. “PageFusion came about because a couple of years ago a customer came to us saying that their publishing customers were asking for PDFs with composite CMYK for proofing,” says Colin Angus. “In particular, they wanted to be able to get these PDFs from copydot scanned film seps, which were DCS files. We looked around and found nothing that could do this, so we set about creating one.” 

Angus says that they call the results digital film - a description also used for the rival ArtQuest Crescendo system (PrintWeek, 29 September). “You know what you are getting with film - the repro house can be sure that nothing can be changed between output and print. But to implement CTP, you’ve got to eliminate film. We need to get reliability into the digital output so it is consistent no matter what RIP you use. PageFusion is designed to give the same level of confidence as film.”

The key to the software 
PageFusion’s installed cost with hardware is £15,000, and it is intended to fit on the end of an existing repro system, with or without OPI. Because it interprets Post-Script files to bitmaps at the repro output stage, no further ripping takes place when they reach the final output system. So there’s no chance of text re-flows, missing fonts or other peculiarities creeping in after the proof is passed for production. This, together with the generation of a proof file from the same data, is the key to PageFusion. 

Using PDF means that customers can display and print a proof on practically any system using Acrobat Reader, although there won’t be colour compensation unless the printer driver applies it. A PDF can be made very small for proofing, by using down-sampling of image resolutions and JPEG compression. The high-res output file can also be used for proofing on higher quality systems such as Digital Cromalin. And printers can use Acrobat Reader to visually check the contents of the high-res PDF. 

The downside of a CMYK workflow with PDFs is dealing with the separation channels. A standard PDF holds each channel as a separate page, which is no use for viewing, proofing or imposition. If your job includes standard DCS files from copydot scans, there’s also a danger that the desktop RGB view file will be printed. 

PageFusion solves these problems by converting CMYK high-res channels to a single composite file. By outputting contone data, the appropriate screening can be applied as a final process by the proofer or platesetter. This doesn’t solve the issue of halftone dots, which are part of copydot scans, but Angus says that downsampling blurs them sufficiently for desktop proofers.

PageFusion runs on a Pentium III server optimised for fast input/output, disks and processing, which is part of the system price. It publishes itself on a network as a LaserWriter device accessible to Mats and PC. “Printing” from the application sends a PostScript file straight to the PageFusion input queue. Equally importantly, PageFusion can operate through hot folders, which accept high-res PostScript files from an OPI server.

Ripping is handled by a Harlequin ScriptWorks RIP. PageFusion generates PDFs directly rather than using the Acrobat Distiller, which allows finer control. The older PDF 1.2 format is created, as opposed to the current PDF 1.3. Practically any imagesetter, platesetter or proofing RIP can handle PDF 1.2s although it means that spot colours can’t be handled. Support for PDF 1.3 - which can preserve spots - is confined to PostScript 3 RIPS. 

PageFusion doesn’t treat CT and LW elements separately - all are output at 1,200dpi, which is adequate for magazine text. Angus says that a user-specifiable output resolution is being developed. You can set the downsampling resolution for the proof file between 100dpi and 600dpi - 150dpi is recommended.

Further options
Files can be finely tuned for compression quality. There’s an option to run them through both JPEG (lossy) and FLATE (lossless) compressions and to automatically choose one depending on a ratio of difference that the user sets in advance. FLATE will generally be smallest for the one-bit Tiff’s that copydot scanners produce. WorkFlow Solutions has greatly expanded the JPEG quality options to give 101 steps at the top end, where Acrobat Distiller only offers two - high and medium quality. A complex A4 demo file that started out at around 300Mb in PostScript was compressed to 9.25Mb for the output file and 2.25Mb for the proof. 

Document information is saved in the PDF information layer. A file-naming convention gives name, type, compression ratio, customer contact name and the name of the creator. If the file is altered after leaving the repro house it shows up in the info layer. 

PageFusion automatically applies its own cropmarks, registration marks and colour bars to the high-res files. The next version should be able to embed page crop boxes into the PDF, so the printer doesn’t need to do this manually before imposing the pages. 

Another forthcoming feature is automatic printing of each job as it is created, to provide a hard copy record. A Plate-merge plug-in to integrate a choice of black separations (for different language versions) is also under preparation. Other future plans include a direct link to a third-party imposition package. 

Workflow Solutions has installed five PageFusion servers in its first three months of shipping. One reseller for PageFusion has been appointed so far - Imaging Direct in Aston Clinton near Aylesbury (01296 630111). PageFusion is not a low-cost solution, and there are other ways of achieving the same thing, but so far we haven’t discovered one that offers the same combination of ripping, composite CMYK output and universally acceptable PDF 1.2 output. It’s fast, unobtrusively automatic and lets repro houses continue to offer relevant services in a film-free market. Digital film indeed.

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