Burden of proofs

The repro process, like the rest of the printing industry, has seen dramatic changes and designers are starting in-house repro. Or are they?

Repro is dead. Long live repro!

The scorching pace of technological advance in design and print has left many traditional processes standing. And right at the forefront of the change is reprographics… the repro shop is being born again, some designers are

considering the prospect of bringing repro in-house and even the very definition of the word is in question.

Cast your mind back to the old days – all of five years ago – when it was absolutely common practice for the designer to entrust repro to the printer. Once the artwork was marked up, shoved in a stiffened envelope and put on the courier’s bike, the printer would work his magic and return proofs before going ahead with the run. “Printers used to be able to run rings round designers with technical jargon – repro in particular was surrounded by mystique,” recalls Henrietta Pond, a senior designer at Fitch. “However, along with the Mac, sofware and some experience of in-house scanning has come a greater understanding of how the repro and print process works. I now have a good grasp of what’s going on and know when someone is trying it on.”

For Pond, the definition of repro is straightforward – “the transformation of a design into a form ready to be printed”. And as far as Fitch is concerned it is happy to buy in the expertise necessary to make that transformation. Where some designers are torn about whether to attempt their own repro, the team at Fitch has found it fairly easy to resist the temptation of bringing repro in-house. “Control over the process is attractive, but to achieve that we don’t feel we need to have all repro kit on the premises,” says Pond. The designers use low-end scanners for positionals, but that’s as far as it goes. However, Pond would include on her wish-list the ability to link up with the repro house scanner and import high resolution scans into her Mac.

Building on her growing knowledge of repro, Pond is convinced that personal contact with repro experts produces a better finished product. “In fact, I spent a whole day last week

visiting and talking with our repro house so that they know the sort of things we are after. I’m coming to the conclusion that closer contact is absolutely essential – when working on something like duotones, for example, we have to be speaking the same language.”

For Newell and Sorrell production manager Mick Dent, the definition of repro is “everything that happens after artwork to convert a design to ink on paper. With changing technology the lines have become blurred, but I still see the end result as print on paper”.

The consultancy can cope with much of its repro in-house, with the exception of high-end scanning. “And we don’t yet have colour-calibrated screens, but they are probably the next things to buy,” says Dent.

Repro investment at Newell and Sorrell has stopped short of the full set for a combination of reasons. “While the sums required are much smaller than a few years ago, they are still out of our reach,” says Dent. “For example, high quality proofing can cost at least 60 000 to 100 000. Then, to get the best results from the machinery, we’d probably have to employ a skilled operator. And that sort of outlay would only be feasible if there was a considerable throughput of repro work.”

Guaranteeing a large repro throughout hits a number of problems, not least of which is the fact that many large clients, the supermarket groups among them, have established their own deals with repro houses. Says Dent: “Through our packaging work for Boots, for example, we never handle any of the repro.”

Whether repro is handled inside or out, Dent has identified the key to assuring the best quality finished product is greater knowledge of repro. “There have been a lot of complaints about this area of digital technology, but what is often overlooked is just how much has been achieved in a very short space of time. The work is so much quicker and cheaper than it was five years ago. Quality has occasionally been a bit of a casualty, but this is usually down to people’s lack of knowledge and lack of film-checking. No matter what the job, it is essential for the designer to produce a hard copy to go with the disc. It is also essential to ensure that your repro house calls you if it doesn’t have the proof.”

Finally, heading Dent’s repro wish-list is the need for improved software and greater compatibility. “Most software has its own range of glitches and you’re never aware of them until problems start to arise. Also, while I acknowledge that we are putting complex work through a fairly inexpensive machine like the Mac, it would make life a great deal easier if there were greater compatibility throughout the whole process to film.”

Providing the most far-reaching definition of repro is Murray Stroud, of the repro-cum-graphic-arts group Adplates. “The definition of repro has become difficult to put your finger on. In fact, we prefer the term graphic arts to repro because we now offer so much more than straight repro. However, in my definition of repro I’d include work such as digital imaging, producing CD-ROMs, interactive and passive television, digital printing and even transmissions on the Internet.”

Stroud draws some parallels between developments in repro and the change that’s already been wrought in typesetting. “Old-fashioned typesetting hardly exists now, but the major difference between type and repro is that of investment. Where the cost was fairly insignificant to bring type in-house, investment in repro is big – the Mac simply cannot handle serious production. Take as an example our Silicon Graphics systems – these will outperform a Mac in high resolution production at a rate of around 10 to 1. The cost ratio is about the same too.”

Stroud concludes with his conviction that repro will continue to metamorphose: ” I’d suggest that repro is converging with other digital media to become part of what we already know as multimedia – it’s going to be all about using repro skills to transfer images to a variety of different formats.”

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