Prepress Considerations for Digital Printing


PPC recently sat down with Susie Stitzel, Solution Manager at Esko and frequent Boot Camp instructor, to get her take on prepress considerations for digital printing. Read the interview to learn what every converter should keep in mind. 

When we talk about prepress for digital, what steps are involved?

With prepress or “preproduction,” an artwork design is made press-ready. In analog workflows, these steps typically include color corrections, trapping to compensate for press mis-registration (when layers of ink aren’t aligned properly), and step-and-repeat or sheet layout that fits the printing and diecutting presses.


In a prepress workflow for a digital press, we still have a set of steps, some the same as for an analog workflow, while others are completely different. For example, with a digital press there’s often no need for trapping as all colors are typically imaged at the same time, dramatically lowering the chance of press mis-registration. But a digital press generally works in an extended-gamut color space, not just CMYK. This means that color correction becomes a two-step process: converting to the right color space and also correcting colors where necessary. In this case, however, we’re not doing color corrections to compensate for dot gain, but instead for the new color space. Similarly, step-and-repeat/sheet layout will still be needed, but is often on a smaller scale due to the smaller sheet or roll sizes we see today in digital printing.

What is the biggest difference between digital prepress and analog/traditional prepress processes?

The two primary differences are conversion to the color space and the decrease or elimination of the need for trapping. On many digital presses, the color space conversion takes place on the Digital Front End or DFE from the press manufacturer. 

What are the top concerns that come to mind when you think about digital prepress?

Converting to extended-gamut color space comes to mind again, and also matching a previously printed (analog) sample.

Can you say a little more about matching analog samples?

In many cases, customers will ask converters to print a job digitally that was previously printed using analog equipment. It can be tricky matching everything up so that the digital product looks the same as the analog sample.  


There are also cases where the same job will be produced both in both digital and analog: digital for a short promotional runs and analog for longer runs or the balance of the run. It’s possible for both cartons to end up next to each other on shelf and they need to match—a big challenge.

Are there any prepress considerations for short runs?

Regardless of whether short runs are going digital or analog, the biggest requirement is to get to press as quickly as possible through automation. With digital, the prepress time is often shorter, which is a good thing. But this also means that we end up spending a larger percentage of the total time in non-value-added activities like order entry, quoting, etc. With short runs, we don’t want to spend more time getting the jobtothe press than we do to actually runit. This means that automation is critically important for profitability with short run production.

When a converter receives design files from a customer, are they ready for a digital press? 

They are not generally “press-ready” since outside designers typically don’t have the skills, tools, or production information to do that. These design files are either handed over to a pre-media company to do prepress or directly to the converter, depending on the converter’s capabilities. However, today we’re seeing more design files going directly to the converter when going to a digital press. This is because prepress is typically less complicated and also because DFEs can handle many files directly with automation.

Is there anything else we should talk about?

I’ve only hit the broad points here. To go in depth and take your prepress to the next level, I would recommend reaching out to your digital press manufacturer. They will be up-to-date on the best practices regarding their machines. 

digital printing
package design
technical converting
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