After the desktop revolution

Anyone who can click can publish but high-tech cannot replace creativity From the start, electronic pre-press technologies offered clear advantages over traditional methods.Revisions were simple. Quick, low-resolution proofs were available during the design process. Type control was precise.Electronic storage and archival...

Anyone who can click can publish but high-tech cannot replace creativity

From the start, electronic pre-press technologies offered clear advantages over traditional methods.

Revisions were simple. Quick, low-resolution proofs were available during the design process. Type control was precise.

Electronic storage and archival of information meant that previous versions could be easily recovered and manipulated again as needed.

Expensive

Unfortunately, these early systems were expensive and required a great deal of time and investment in training and technical expertise to be useful.

But in 1985, three products combined to revolutionize the industry.

The Apple Macintosh defined what the computer interface of the future would be.

Aldus PageMaker software brought page layout to the computer in a manner that almost everyone could understand.

And finally, Adobe’s PostScript page description language allowed text and graphics to be reproduced from low-res laser printers and high-res image-setters with remarkable quality.

Desktop publishing had come to the masses nearly overnight. For about $15,000, anyone who could click could publish.

Well, almost. The old, boring newsletter that the human resources department created in courier font and xeroxed for mass distribution went haywire.

Featuring 47 typefaces and every piece of clip art imaginable, small publications sometimes masked the very message they were trying to communicate.

Which, after all, is not surprising. I own a power drill – it does not make me a carpenter.

Skill, knowledge

It takes skill, knowledge and expertise, along with the proper tools to properly master a craft.

A case in point: there are a number of small companies today which create newsletters, brochures and other communications pieces for some well-known Fortune 100 corporations.

These small publishers use standard desktop publishing technology that anyone can buy off-the-shelf from a variety of competing equipment vendors.

The total outlay for the equipment is far less than one might imagine, which leads one to wonder why every company does not do it in-house.

And yet, small publishers continue to thrive. How come?

The answer is easy. More than hardware and software, it still takes professional copywriting, editorial and art direction skills to create quality publications.

The lesson is a simple one. All the latest in high-tech hardware cannot replace creativity, talent and experience.

Nonetheless, digital pre-press still offers opportunities beyond composition and production.

For example, electronic documents can be revised repeatedly within the office, before being sent electronically to a service bureau or printer.

This separation of composition and layout from final printing has extended the reach of enterprising publishers everywhere.

In fact, as early as 1975, The Wall Street Journal began transmitting a daily edition to a printing plant in Florida for distribution in the southeastern u.s.

In Canada, The Globe and Mail exploited this capability in 1980 when it began sending editions via satellite for simultaneous publication in Quebec and Western Canada.

The flexibility of the digital image allowed these publications to overcome geographical limitations and broaden their markets.

Another Canadian example of this is Telemedia’s TV Guide.

TV Guide, a weekly tv listing, uses a custom system that enables Telemedia to publish 15 unique editions across Canada every week.

It works this way: every week listings are updated into a pc-based system that records all entries in a giant database.

The system can track the advertisements, time slots and tv programs in each market as they are updated.

Once an individual listing has been finalized and prepared for each market, that listing is passed on to a Macintosh system for final layout, where it is matched with the standard (national) features for that week’s issue.

When the layout is completed, a product called SyncSatellite sends it – via TV Guide’s own leased satellite channel – to printing plants in Vancouver, Edmonton and Drummondville, Que.

According to Alain Cadorette, system administrator for TV Guide, ‘our system gives us the flexibility to make last-minute changes, and lets us customize editions for each of our markets.’

Cadorette says TV Guide’s database is so thorough, it ‘enables advertisers to match their print ads with appropriate time slots or tv shows across the country.’

Of course, in most cases, publishers do not need to talk to Anik-1 to send a layout out to film.

For less than $500, a high-speed modem gives access to an entire world of service bureaus, print shops and printers, via the standard telephone line.

The modem also plays an important role in the copy and design stages of print production.

Work anywhere

Writers and illustrators alike now have the ability to work anywhere where there is a phone line.

Their work can be sent from their computer to the art director’s computer for final composition.

Unfortunately, today’s telecommunications technology does have limitations.

Phone lines do not carry digital signals, they carry analog information – such as a radio signal. (In fact, the role of the modem is to convert between the computer’s digital world and the telephone’s analog one.)

This limits the amount of information that can be sent, and also the speed by which it can be sent.

However, the next decade should see the vast implementation of a true digital communications network – such as isdn, or Integrated Services Digital Network – across Canada and most of the Western World.

isdn can carry far greater amounts of information and at higher speeds than ever before.

This emerging digital highway for electronic information may play a key role in another technology that has recently appeared: digital video.

Today, thanks to Apple Computer’s QuickTime technology, short clips of 15-frames-per-second video with synchronized sound are playing on computer screens everywhere.

In fact, vendors such as at&t and Northern Telecom are selling their own implementation of the video phone. And the technology keeps on advancing.

The day when you will see full-screen, 30-frames-per-second, photographic quality video with stereo sound running on your computer is near.

The beauty of this technology for electronic pre-press veterans is that the hardware and computer skills to create these videos remain much the same.

Computer the hub

Granted, there are design considerations for each communication medium, but the computer is becoming the hub around which print production, video and sound revolve.

Many of the images designers have already created or manipulated electronically – photographs, typefaces, logos, or illustrations – can be used easily for one medium or another.

The line between print production and other media will continue to blur.

As the digital highway develops, the distribution method for images changes dramatically.

For example, if digital video does prove feasible on a wide scale, instead of renting a video tape or buying a newspaper, consumers will simply connect to the on-line news and entertainment channel and download the evening’s viewing to their own computer or information box.

Unlike tv (or dated technologies such as Telidon), consumers will be able to view information on-screen and also copy, manipulate or print information from their own computer/information box.

Where will this leave the printed page?

Even without the digital highway, paperless publishing has already arrived.

Thanks to the emergence of compact disk (cd) technology, huge amounts of electronic visual and audio information can be played on a computer equipped with a cd player.

So if you think pre-press technology has already changed dramatically, hang on. We’ve only just begun.

Greg Miller is corporate sales manager at Get Info Computer Systems in Toronto.