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Electronic Prepress Viewed by a Book Editor

Cynthia Thompson


Since I entered publishing in the early 1980s as an editor for a small publisher of religious books, computers have caused immense changes in the business. Many elements of the editor's duties in prepress have been transformed by:
(1) electronic submission,
(2) electronic workflow management,
(3) desktop electronic operation, and
(4) electronic proofing.

1. Electronic submission

Then: In the early eighties, most completed manuscripts came to the editor in typewritten form. When authors began to use computers in the mid to late eighties, editors received computer files in a wide variety of formats, which caused challenges in reading them and converting them to formats used in-house.

Now: Virtually all authors submit electronic data. In religious/academic publishing, professor/authors submit word-processed manuscripts on floppy disks, sent in the mail along with a printout of the entire manuscript.

Microsoft Word has become the standard word-processing program on such disks. Content may arrive electronically, such as in Portable Document Format (PDF). This format accepts input from a wide variety of word-processing and other applications. PDF, originated by Adobe Systems, allows even long, complex documents with color to be transmitted quickly and easily by electronics.

2. Workflow management

Then: Formerly, a typewritten, then photocopied, form was used to track the workflow, as a managing editor wrote in by hand the information about work stages, from the editorial department, through production, to the printed book. Gradually in the 1990s in small religious presses simple computer programs for tracking came into use.

Now: Across the publishing industry, PDF is increasingly being used in software for workflow computer solutions. So, for instance, the Agfa company offers Apogee Pilot, a high-end software system for creating and managing PDF documents.{TAG(tag=sup2)}TAG} Because PDF crosses many application platforms, it can act not only as a catalog for objects, but can also collect "job ticket" information (about scheduling, tracking, and delivery) that facilitates workflow management.3 For these purposes, Apogee Pilot, which runs on the Windows NT operating system, first puts incoming files into PDF digital masters. It then records the detailed production processes (such as imposition or trapping), which it stores in Adobe's Portable Job Tickets Format (PJTF).4 This ticket format allows data to be collected at an early stage and shared among all workers involved in production — backward and forward.5 In such a system, editors' changes — on an object, page, or flat level — can be implemented until the last minute (before rasterizing) by using any PDF editing tool, such as Acrobat Exchange.6 Other, competing, workflow solutions include Adobe's PostScript Extreme; products of Agfa, Fuji, and Scitex; and Heidelberg and Creo's recent cooperative project, Prinergy.7 Prinergy also uses PDF to control workflow, which allows access to a wide selection of affordable desktop tools, for example, for color management.8 Prinergy's advanced reporting tools help to correct errors quickly and to identify bottlenecks. Furthermore, the system allows efficient computer-toplate (CTP) operation: Prinergy works with products such as the Creo Trendsetters program to make printing plates. Accordingly, Prinergy may be useful in service bureaus, repro shops, publishing houses, or commercial print shops.9 (As a drawback in using PDF, however, an experienced publishing consultant complains about the editability of PDF in the common Adobe Acrobat viewing program, where the user can edit text only as single lines, rather than as complete blocks.) Recently job tickets for managing production have begun to be coded in the Extensible Markup Language (XML), a development endorsed by a number of leading companies (Adobe, Agfa, Heidelberg, and MAN Roland).10 Using this standard coding on job tickets would enable them to be used interchangeably regardless of what companies developed the products.

3. Desktop Electronic Operation

Then: (a) Copyediting: In the early eighties, copyediting involved writing marks on the typewritten paper pages. (b) Design: Formerly editors advised the process of book design by artist/colleagues who worked with hand counts of characters and arithmetic. (c) Coding: Following samples from the designer, formerly editors would code the typescript by hand, marking elements such as headings and block quotations.

Now: (a) Copyediting: Since then, editing authors' disks on a computer monitor has become common, even in low-tech, low-budget small presses. Word-processing functions such as spell check and grammar check aid the copyediting process, but an observant human editor is still much needed. In MS Word, the Tools/Revisions function has been simple to use. (b) Design: Desktop publishing became a possibility with the use of Macintosh computers and QuarkXPress software. With these, document construction and page layout became accessible to users without artistic training. QuarkXPress could import text and color graphics, and make nuance changes in typography, sizing, and arrangement. With the use of style sheets, QuarkXPress has revolutionized book design (as have other pagedesign programs such as Adobe FrameMaker).

By input of text into a template, QuarkXPress produces camera-ready copy, which can be photographed to make offset plates. Competing with and going beyond Quark, a new program for setting type, Adobe's InDesign, can examine up to 30 lines past the current line and evaluate up to 30 different ways of composing the text and choose the best. It features optical kerning, based on shapes of the letters, and has simpler means of formatting character style than Quark.11 (c) Coding: In more recent years with the growth of publishing on the World Wide Web, various supplementary programs (extensions) have been developed to output results from QuarkXPress in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), which is used for display on the Web. For this purpose Quark, Inc. offers free the HTML Text Export Filter, which deals only with text; a higher-end extension called BeyondPress allows coding of graphics, table construction and dynamic media, such as animation and short movies.12 Most recently, a supplementary program entitled Avenue.quark enables publishers to describe their QuarkXPress content in XML.13 In this extension the user prepares a Document Type Definition (DTD), relates it to the Quark style sheets, then opens the document and drags it to an area called an XML Workspace. The software then applies relevant tags, and the user adjusts any elements that remain uncoded. In the new Quark 5.0, to be released in the fall of 2000, the Avenue. quark program will be bundled in, and additional, more direct ways of outputting HTML will be included.14

4. Proofing

Then: Proofs came to the editor/proofreader in galleys and page proofs, and corrections were written by hand on the paper page.
Now: Now proofreading can be done after typesetting by Quark (when corrections are very easy to introduce into the text). In preflighting the material before the file is used to make a printing plate, the editor may mark a printout on paper (and later enter the changes in the document file) or work directly on the file in the computer. Paper proofs, of course, must be sent by mail to people checking offsite.

Digital proofing has been developed recently, with benefits of faster speed, saving of time, and lower cost. Its limitations are related mostly to color fidelity, color management generally, resolution, and the ability to get a written OK.15 Remote proofing is possible with Adobe's PressReady, which uses the common PostScript3 for output on customers' inkjet printers.16 Alternatively the firm Scitex America, in teamwork with RTimage of Israel, has now released software for digital proofing called RenderView, a server-based remote digital proofing solution.17 This is aimed at high-end professional print producers, prepress companies, and digital photography markets. RenderView can use PDF in addition to formats such as TIFF, JPEG, and CT/LW. An off-site user may dial up over a modem of at least 28.8 Kbps and use Netscape or Internet Explorer to view a high-resolution image or page data provided by RenderView. For $45,000, a version involving two CPUs offers the ability to view annotations interactively in conference to check details like trapping. While RenderView would be an appropriate tool for management and customers to review files, experienced print professionals would probably still prefer to see proofs of ink on paper for reproducing color.

(1) Variety of media output for book-like content. Electronics offer numerous options for output other than paper books printed by traditional procedures. Books may be produced by print-on-demand systems guided by computers. Electronic media increasingly serve needs formerly met by paper publication, in CDROMs, e-books, Web pages, databases, and multimedia. For instance, in e-books, the recent Seybold Boston Publishing 2000 conference featured displays of several e-book companies now competing: Glassbook, Book-Works, Rocket Book,18 not to mention Microsoft Reader, which has enlisted cooperation in e-publishing from the large printer R.R.Donnelley.19
(2) Growing use of cross-platform or "universal" tools, such as PDF formats and XML coding, which bypass difficulties of communicating between various proprietary systems and can produce output in a variety of media.
(3) High cost of competing with electronic tools. Because new electronic technology is expensive, it is accessible mainly to large companies, who are merging into conglomerates and forming cooperative arrangements to encompass more and more of the total publishing process. Small specialized businesses with little capital are accordingly at a disadvantage, as electronic prepress becomes the competitive standard.
(4) Editors' needs for learning new electronic skills. Editors may need further training for simple processes such as word-processing and for more complex tasks such as desktop publishing or the sophisticated operation of new electronic products, which may be taught at places such as the Rochester Institute of Technology and Heidelberg's training institutes.


  1. Richard P. Terra, "Benefits of Sharing: Distributed Printing Can Save Time and Money," Publish 15:2 (February 2000): 64.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Lisa Leland, "PDQ Adoption Urged for PDF," Graphic Arts Monthly (January 2000): 59.
  4. http://www.agfahome.com/product/CatProd_DisplayPublic.html?id=3053. 2 February 2000.
  5. Leland, "PDQ Adoption," 59.
  6. http://www.agfahome.com/product/CatProd_DisplayPublic.html?id=3053. 2 February, 2000.
  7. Leland, "PDQ Adoption," 58.
  8. Christopher R. Yelch, "New Workflow Solution Puts Emphasis on Automation," Graphic Arts Monthly (September 1999): 120.
  9. http://www.heidelberg-prepress.de/prpre.nsf/PP/8004122D60CA55CO41256881004DB2F3.
  10. "Seybold Editors' Hot Picks: Boston 2000," (brochure received 2/9/00) 3.
  11. Olav Martin Kvern, "Setting Type with InDesign," Macworld (January 2000): 103-106, 108.
  12. David Blatner, "From Printed Page to Web Page: Four Ways to Take QuarkXPress Design to the Web," Macworld (November 1999): 123-24.
  13. "Quark Reveals Pending Release of a New Print-to-Web Xtension," Graphic Arts Monthly (October 1999): 138.
  14. Daily Seybold Boston Publishing 2000 — Friday (February 11, 2000) 1, 4.
  15. "Web-Based Digital Color Proofing Solution Is Launched," Graphic Arts Monthly (March 1999): 102.
  16. Leland, "PDQ Adoption," 59.
  17. "Web-Based Digital Color," 102.
  18. See http://www.glassbook.com ; http://www.overdrive.com ; http://RocketeBook.com .
  19. Seybold Report on Internet Publishing 4:4 (December 1999) 25-26. See also Lisa Cross, "Print's Hot Prospects in the Digital Economy," Graphic Arts Monthly (January 2000): 50-54.

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