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QUESTION: What is "print optimization"?

ANSWER:  The term "print optimization" is often used when discussing software and printers/RIPs that are designed specifically for variable-data printing. It refers to a paradign that is based on:
  • isolating the text & graphics that will be the same on each document in a print run from the text & graphics that will be different on each document in that print run

    and

  • allowing the RIP to process the code for the text & graphics that will be the same on each document ONLY ONCE — as opposed to forcing the RIP to process that code over and over, once for each document in the print run.


Can I use Microsoft Word to print variable-data documents?



Why is print optimization important?

To understand why print optimization is important, you first need to understand that variable-data print jobs are likely to compose more slowly and print more slowly than non-variable-data print jobs. To put it another way: we are saying that in most situations, 100 variable-data documents cannot be produced as quickly as 100 exact copies of the same document.

This degradation in production speed is one of the major challenges faced by printing companies that want to participate in the variable-data-printing marketplace. Depending upon the types of documents that you are printing, and depending upon the printing equipment that you're using, this can be a mild problem, a moderate problem, or a very severe problem. In some situations, variable-data print jobs print so slowly that it might not even be profitable for a printing company to take on such jobs. If your company is experiencing this problem, it's probably because you don't have a print-optimized workflow.

The idea behind print optimization is simple: by using print-optimization technology, you can produc variable-data documents faster than you could if you were not using print-optimization technology.


How it works

As stated above, the key concept behind print optimization for variable-data printing is separation of the static text & graphics from the variable text & graphics. Typically, the static text & graphics (the text & graphics that are repeated from document to document) are referred to as the "master document."

Software that supports print-optimization technology sends the code for the master document's text & graphics to the printer/RIP only one time. Along with this code. the software sends to the printer/RIP other code that instructs the printer/RIP to store the master document's text & graphics for the duration of the print run. The software then sends to the printer/RIP the code for the variable text & graphics on each document, and it also sends to the printer/RIP instructions that tell the printer/RIP to pull in the master document's text & graphics each time they are needed on one of the variable-data documents that's being printed.

The graphic below shows how it all fits together. As you can see, the master document contains the elements that show on each and every variable-data document that is printed. Each of the variable-data documents contains the text & graphics that are on the master document and also contains text & graphics that rely on the database record that was used for that particular variable-data document.




The variable-data-printing application that generated these documents (PrintShop Mail) is capable of separating the text & graphics in the master document from the text & graphics that vary from document to document. Using any of several supported print-optimization technologies, PrintShop Mail can generate a print stream that contains only one copy of the page-description code for the text & graphics in the master document; the print stream also contains code for the variable text and variable graphics in that document.


Producer and consumer

As variable-data-printing technology has matured, a handful of companies and organizations have developed various print-optimization technologies. At the heart of each of these technologies is the same basic concept:
separate the text & graphics for the master document from the variable text & graphics, and send the text & graphics for the master document to the RIP only once.
However, the way that this is accomplished varies quite a bit among the various print-optimization technologies — in other words: the code in the print stream for one particular print-optimization technology can be quite differente than the code in the print stream for the other print-optimization technologies. Because of this, all of the print-optimization technologies rely on compatibility between the software that is generating the print stream and the RIP that is receiving that print stream (that is, the RIP that's attached to the printer or digital press that is printing the documents). To put it another way: the RIP that is receiving the print stream must be capable of understanding the print steam that's being sent to it.

In this scenario, the software that's generating the print stream can be referred to as the producer, and the RIP that receives and interprets the print stream can be referred to as the consumer.

Most producers (variable-data-printing solutions) are capable of generating several different kinds of print streams. That is, they support several different print-optimization technologies.

Many consumers (RIPs) are capable of understanding several different kinds of print streams.


Based on PostScript

The print-optimization technologies that are used in the graphic-arts arena are all based on the PostScript page-description language. To put it another way: for each of these print-optimization technologies, the consumer is a RIP that understands PostScript.

There are other print-optimization technologies — not based on PostScript — that are used to print text-intensive documents, mostly in high-speed, high-volume printing environments. Some of these other print-optimization technologies are based on the PCL page-description language that is supported by many printers sold by Hewlett-Packard (HP); some are based on IBM technology, and others are based on technology from companies other than HP and IBM.

The print-optimization technologies that we are focusing on here are the PostScript-based ones that are used in the graphic arts.

The origins of the various print-optimization technologies that are used in the graphic arts can be divided into these three categories:
  1. Print-optimization technologies that were invented by a company that makes RIPs and/or printing devices (for some print technologies, this was a collaboration between the company that makes the RIPs/printing devices and a company that develops variable-data-printing software).

  2. Print-optimization technologies that were invented by industry organizations that strive for more standardization of the way that things are done in graphic-arts print-production environments.

  3. Print-optimization technologies that are designed to work with almost any PostScript printer/RIP and were invented by companies that develop variable-data-printing software.
The print-optimization technologies in the first two categories rely on a PostScript RIP that has special capabilities that were developed for the specific purpose of supporting one or more of those print-optimization technologies. The print-optimization technologies in the third category will work with many but not all PostScript RIPs (see "Caveat!" below).


Caveat!

When purchasing software for variable-data printing, and when purchasing a RIP and printer or digital press for variable-data printing, you should try out the software that you plan to buy with the particular printer/RIP that you're planning to use — even if the specifications for the sofware and RIP seem to indicate compatibility.

Why?

Because technology isn't perfect. Here are some examples:
  • Some RIPs that understand PostScript don't conform 100% to the Adobe Systems PostScript Reference, and because of this these RIPs sometimes don't work properly for variable-data printing. In particular, this can be a problem if the RIP doesn't handle PostScript forms-caching exactly as specified in the Adobe Systems PostScript Reference.

  • Some print-optimization technologies that were intended to be standard formats actually are not — in the case of PPML, for example, different variable-data-printing software generates different "flavors" of PPML. Some of the flavors work with particular RIPS, and other flavors don't.

  • With some RIPs and some print-optimization technologies, it is difficult or impossible to use finishing options such as folding or stapling when doing variable-data printing.
So again — if at all possible, try out the RIP and software that you plan to use for variable-data printing before making an investment.

At Citation Software, we offer free trial versions of virtually all of the software products that we sell. Most of the free-trial software for variable-data-printing can be downloaded from the following page on our Web site:

   www.citationsoftware.com/SolutionFinder_VarDataPandP.htm

Call us at 888-260-7316 for more details.


Names of print-optimization technologies in widespread use

Here is a list of some of the well-known print-optimization technologies that are in use today in graphic-arts environments.

People sometimes refer to these as "output formats" or "print streams" or "printer languages" or "print technologies."

AHT Vite   This was developed jointly by two European companies: AHT (Advanced High-tech Corporation), a maker of printing devices; and Atlas Software, a maker of variable-data-printing software. It works with RIPs made by AHT.
 
Fiery FreeForm   This was developed by EPI and works with RIPs sold by EFI.
 
Fiery FreeForm 2   This is an improved version of Fiery FreeForm; it was developed by EFI, and it works with RIPs sold by EFI.
 
JLYT   This works with some RIPS sold by HP — most notably the RIP for the HP Indigo Press.
 
PPML   This was developed by a consortium of industry experts that represent companies that make and sell RIPs, printing devices, and software for printing & publishing. This consortium is named "The Digital Printing Initiative," and is known by the abbreviation "PODi." PPML works with many RIPs and printing devices that are sold by HP, and it also works with RIPs that are sold by some other companies.
 
PPML/VDX   This was developed by a committee that came together under the auspices of an organization called "The Association for Suppliers of Printing, Publishing and Converting Technologie" (this organization is known as "NPES") It works with some RIPs and digital presses that are made by Kodak, and it also works with some RIPs and digital presses that are sold by a few other companies.
 
PrintStreamer   This was developed by Barco; it works with RIPs and printing devices that are made by Barco.
 
VIPP   This was developed by Xerox and works with some RIPs and printing devices that are sold by Xerox.
 
VPS   This works with RIPs that are sold by Kodak Versamark. It was invented by a company called Scitex Digital Printing, which was acquired by Kodak in 2004.
 
The DesignMerge Optimized PostScript technology   This was developed by Meadows Publishing, the company that makes the DesignMerge variable-data-printing software. It works with RIPs that support PostScript that adheres to the Adobe Systems PostScript Reference.
 
 
The PrintShop Mail Optimized PostScript technology   This was developed by Atlas Software, the company that created the PrintShop Mail variable-data-printing software. It works with RIPs that support PostScript that adheres to the Adobe Systems PostScript Reference. Atlas Software was acquired by Objectif Lune in 2004, so the PrintShop Mail technology and PrintShop Mail's Optimized PostScript technology are now owned by Objectif Lune.
 




    
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