What do you need to learn today?

by admin on September 10, 2009

Well, this week is back to school for the kids. And that gets you to thinking boy, when it comes to prepress, so much has changed since I broke in.
Back in the early nineties, a lot of guys (myself included) did their apprenticeships at service bureaus. These would be shops with a whole bunch of desktop computers, one or two imagesetters, and a ton software licenses for Adobe (including their font libraries), Quark, Freehand, and Corel. For proofing you had Rainbows and Dupont Color proofers, but for real color proofs, you made analog matchprints of the film.
To survive, you needed deep knowledge of each and every desktop graphic design package: Quark, Pagemaker, Coreldraw, Illustrator, Freehand and Photoshop. Trying to output Microsoft Word files to film back then was considered suicide, so we just didn't touch them. Same thing with Publisher.
Another skillset that was almost mandatory was reading Postscript errors and going back to the application files and fixing the error upstream. I used to be good at that. Heck, I used to be great at that, it was like I had a sixth sense: I would encounter some weird error at the rip, then go back to the Corel file and just smell the bug, do a hack and get it ripped. And by the way, it wasn't just Corel, you could even get Quark files that were completely screwed up because some butcher would rotate a 40 meg high-res graphic and shrink it down 14%. Better yet, set a 1200 dpi bitmap to knock-out. Imagine how long a 66mhz rip would take to rip a file like that.
Anyhow, you sure don't need to know that anymore. Postscript is dead, and it's rare (but not unknown) for a shop to have prepress specialist go in and "fix" files (except through Pitshop). When you have a platesetter that can easily output a hundred plates a shift, you really can't afford to have a specialist dork around with an application file to make it work. The economics were different back then: The service bureaus used to charge $15 per letter-sized piece of film, in 1992 dollars.
Nowadays, the big, big change in prepress is the sophistication of the imposition and workflow tools. I mean, we didn't have workflow tools back then, and the imposition tools were really primitive. I'm trying to remember with Preps first came out. I think it was at version 3 or 4 when I joined Creo in 1997, but don't quote me on that. I don't know when Signation by Heidelberg or Artpro by Esko Graphics first came out.
But that's the first big delta: If you're in prepress, you need to know your imposition package. There's a whole bunch of them on the market now: Preps, Impostrip and Signation for the commercial market, and Artpro and Powerpack for the packaging market. And heaven know, I left out a few that I'm not even aware of.
You also need to know your workflow, not so much a specific workflow package (but that really helps in getting a job) but the concepts. You know, first you normalize or clean the data and get in the workflow, then you trap, proof, impose and plate. Or trap, color-manage, impose, proof or plate. Or enable remote proofing so the client can sign-off without intervention. Stuff like that. A more experienced prepress specialist, one who is more an administrator should know how to troubleshoot a prepress workflow. So they should know the concepts of prepress like color management, screening, trapping and the rules of PDF. Finally, throw in networking knowledge like TCP/IP, font management, file and print server configuration and you should be covered.
Well, I probably left out some stuff. That's the problem when you done this stuff for a couple of decades, you walk into a prepress room full of desktop and servers and the machines whisper to you in a language only your gut understands. You go over to fix stuff before it breaks. A proof plops out of the Epson that's not right and you sorta knew it was going to happen and already your unconsciousness was working on a fix. It's sorta fun until finally a manager walks in the room and asks for an explanation of what you've done for last five hours of your shift.
You try to explain, but judging by the look on his face, he doesn't understand a single word of what you are trying to say.

Comments on this entry are closed.