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Innovation in Prepress

(December 2017) posted on Thu Dec 21, 2017

A look at the technology that has impacted the production process prior to printing.

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By Mike Ruff

As we prepared our December 2017/January 2018 Innovation Issue, we asked members of the Academy of Screen and Digital Printing Technologies for their suggestions. Here, Mike Ruff discusses prepress innovation.

Nothing has seen more innovation in the graphics production industry than prepress. I define prepress as “work, functions, procedures, or processes that must be applied to a creation of artwork in order to transform a file to a printing plate or screen used by a printing press or digital printer prior to the action of press setup and printing.” Some would include plate making and screen making in this terminology. I’m not saying this is wrong, but for this article, I will just stop at the point the file is ready to be sent to a plate making unit, CTS system, or digital press. (That could be another article in itself if I went down the rabbit hole of adding plates or screens to the discussion.)

Also, I am not going to go back in time too far and bore you to death with firsthand knowledge about hand-cut stencils, cameras, real silk, and primitive screen making technology from those days, but let’s just start with the first major innovative tool that so quickly began to change everything in the graphic production world.

Desktop Publishing
Desktop publishing began to change everything in about 1985. When desktop publishing first became feasible, skilled analog prepress workers (artists, typesetters, and film strippers) scoffed at the quality of prepress coming from the newly established technology. Their claims that the quality was inferior were correct for the most part. The lower paid desktop computer operators lacked the skill and print experience of the old-time film strippers and the quality was not as good – but not for long. Quality quickly advanced in the modern prepress services. Professional prepress at that time required very expensive equipment for image manipulation and scanning, as well as highly skilled prepress technicians that most print shops could not afford. Because of this, all moderate-size metropolitan cities had “prepress houses” that supported local print shops as a way of reducing the investment of in-house prepress.


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