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Art Meets Automation: Streamlining Prepress

(August/September 2017) posted on Tue Aug 29, 2017

Shops don’t often look to their prepress department as a place to become more efficient, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.

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By Thomas Trimingham

When shop owners discuss automation, they usually think of the screen printing press. Every rotation and squeegee stroke is similar to the last one, a predictable action that creates a predictable result. The blank shirts go onto the press in the same position, and they come off the dryer belt with a beautiful print on the surface that looks the same on every shirt.

Art generation, though, is a far less predictable process and attempts to automate it can go awry thanks to variables in the artwork and limitations in the graphics software. The most common method of automating art production is to create scripts and macros in software like Photoshop or CorelDraw. Using these tools can help speed up art production, but care must be taken to avoid unexpected results that end up costing time instead of saving it. The best results are often achieved by having a clear idea of what you can automate and what you cannot.

A good rule to follow when you decide to automate is to look at your shop and start by analyzing three areas in your art department:

• Art intake and creation
• Art approval and revision
• Separations

Art Intake and Creation
How you create, receive, and prepare art for production is one of the most neglected processes when it comes to automation, and a place where many shops can improve. There are a couple of areas to consider. If your shop is one of the lucky ones with customers that consistently reorder similar types of artwork, then a hot folder system could be a worthwhile addition. These work by attaching commands to a folder on your server so that specified steps are run automatically when a file is added. Files can be duplicated, renamed, and even processed into production, depending on how predictable the type of file is and how well the system can be set up for it. If your shop gets a wide variety of files and they come in from a lot of different sources, then this may not work for you, but there may come a time when knowing how to set up and run a hot folder system could come in handy.


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