Opening the discussion on the introduction of eLearning

principles in the life-long education in printing


Vilko Žiljak, Mladen Lovreček


Faculty of Graphic Arts, University of Zagreb






Graphic engineering is entering the interdisciplinary space. Catalog of professions was recently describing hundreds of different subspecialities within within each of units known today as Prepress, Press and Postpress. Those groups are also being integrated into one single - Printing. It found itself in the multimedia surrounding, where each participant should overcome many different skills in print production. The problem is not in requalification from one profession to another, but in additional qualifying in what can be described only as “printing worker”. In such a vocational integration, many skills are not actual any more; some will be needed never again, but the need for many new skills will appear. Ahead of us is a brilliant connection of informatics, robotics and printing. Existing workers can survive in such an environment only if they accept comprehensive learning of new technologies that are entering printing works.


At this point, we are proposing a central topic that should be established in studying of the new printing technologies, around which the structure of new professional skills. All workflows of conventional print production include the phase of printing plate production, which is a material image carrier. Several new and dominant methods in this section of prepress have something in common - printing form (plate), which in different methods of screening enables reproduction of graphics. Therefore, we are of the opinion that special attention in eLearning should be given to plate production, because it can actually comprise learning of the entire field of printing technology. If we assert that the learning in the area of printing forms can be extended to some 50% of all knowledge needed for the contemporary printing technology, it can be supported by the fact that it includes the following: Design and layout of pages; Reprographic and screening techniques; Typesetting and integration of text and images; Planning of printing; Choice and usage of printing presses; Planning of bookbinding and postpress actions; Plan of orders and selection of materials; Plan of profit. We can expect that in the area of platemaking permanent enhancement will appear, because all automatization issues in print production are related to it.


Printing works differ very much one from another. Printers with dominant book production are completely different from those, which - for instance - print newspapers. Printing house producing printed packaging is different from the one where principal products are valuables and protected documents. Shifting of workers from one kind of printing job to another was sore. If discussion on rapid technological changes with integrated digital techniques is added to this, then the situation seems to be vague. So many diversities can be resolved on by applying some “new method”. The concept of eLearning requires additional learning, after regular education and in full working period. In the field of printing, there are no similar solutions by now, even on the expert level. There are no expert teams that could offer eLearning in printing. Volumes of professional literature are extremely expensive, while books by themselves are not organized for eLearning.



1.      Bringing professions together


Prepress was the first - ten years ago - to collect many professions into one. The same worker is taking care of:


à    the text;

à    scanning of images, archiving prepress material, retouching;

à    transforming recording formats, compressing electronic graphics;

à    using the computer, digital camera, video devices;

à    organizing the sheet layout of sheet for the plate;

à    planning behaviour of printed sheet in the press and in postpress;

à    planning of spoiled prints, planning of later folding procedures;

à    planning of diecutting and cutting;

à    relations between process and spot colors;

à    planning methods of color separations, depending on print run, type of printing and determination of the printed product;

à    design of the interior and exterior appearance of the printed product, and many other operations.


Printing (press phase) requires workers who, with full understanding, reached skills and knowledge of prepress, being able to serve all printing techniques in the pressroom:


à    conventional and digital printing;

à    web printing and sheet printing;

à    printing for special purposes - packaging, labels, foil printing;

à    printing on different materials for extraordinary occasions.


Postpress appears to be the most complicated part of the entire graphic process. Each printing house has specific postpress operations, depending on the market requirements. Normatives of machine usages in postpress are a network of different addresses, which cannot be integrated into one single system. Description of working operations in postpress is several times more extensive than in previous two phases. Only some of them can be mentioned: folding, covering, cutting and diecutting, glueing, laminating, sowing, perforating, rounding, counting, many different ways of bookbinding etc. A special group is related to manual postpress operations. For all this operations descriptions of working processes are existing, together with norms and qualifying certificates. Simulators are used for education in this extremely big number of skills: physical models, videos, program and interactive training machines. However, this is unique, present in printing industry on demonstration level only. Simulators appeared more as a part of technical or scientific projects, less as a rule in a real printing procedure.



2.      Requalification and new knowledges


In recent twenty years printing experienced several unsuccessful attempts of requalification of workers related to introduction of computers in prepress and digital presses. In such a vocational integration, many skills are not needed any more, while need for new knowledges appears, as well as for new workflows and integration of printing and information technology. In this paper, establishing of knowledge bases is suggested for the fields of prepress and press and incubation of software and hardware simulators in the area of graphic engineering. A discussion on motivation centres in learning for the new age of printing is proposed.


Surveys on the future of printing are very poor; they are more or less dealing with variables not showing real changes as: paper market, advertising in daily newspapers, of journals and magazines, quantity of new titles and printed books, connections to the new media, increase in print runs of newspapers, magazines, brochures, journals etc.




Internal changes in printing are related to flow of information, application of computer technology, inclusion of new printing technologies. This is what actually changes working habits, working places, communication publisher-printer and reduces time for publishing of new information by means of printing technology. Studies on development of printing are not only poor, but are showing that experts did not anticipate at all certain developments in computing and printing. Therefore, studies performed 5 years ago did not even mention XML and contemporary printing language JDF (Job Definition Format), which became central point of graphic engineering.



3.      New topics in studying printing technology


DTP (Desktop Publishing) has improved workflows, but only in the prepress segment, and now it has a steady increasing influence to print production. On the contrary, network flows are changing workflows much more, leading towards total integration of the job and business process. E-production - anywhere and any time. What can be expected in the future of printing?


Linear following of printing processes is being introduced - Prepress, Press, Postpress. This will happen only when interfaces will be performed between presses and information systems. Each press should be described in details through normatives for different print runs, materials and type of printing activities.


Survival and development of printing is related to improvements in business by means of sofisticated printing services, i.e. development of XML based technology in printing, communications and management. Printing co-exists with electronic, so-called ePrinting, and that is determining the future of printing industry.


ePrinting means reproduction from computer directly to paper (or any other material), known from twenty years ago as an idea of DeskTop Publishing. Digital presses do not require specially trained operators. ePrinting includes participants ready to accept up-to-date state of the art - eAuthors, eUsers, ePublishers, eDesigners, ePlanning, eOrdering, ePrinters, eServices, ePostpress, eSales, eArchives, as well as many others within the ePrinting community. All of them are communicating and exchanging information by Internet technology, thus acting as a business electronic society. In this was production terms in conventional printing will be reduced and expenses decreased, giving at the same time electronic e-publication. New relations are opened among users, printers and suppliers. New sources are discovered, from authors, to materials, expert workers and services; new market relations are being introduced. Network and knowledge are linking customers and producers. All the participants are “on-line”.



4.      Bases of knowledge in printing technology as the beginning

of an organized eLearning


The foundation of learning in printing by eMethods should be established on organizing knowledge bases and databases on exploitation parameters of presses. For certain printing systems it is necessary to organize relation bases on workflows and bases of printing materials. What replaces a classic teacher-instructor should bring closer to the student all processes and procedures in the way similar to conventional learning. eTeacher has the advantage that it can be upgraded, standardized, improved in different ways; it can be copied, reviewed, changed. This basic attitude should be supplemented with the fact that we still do not have eInstructors for printing, which could in our own language assist in widespreading and dissemination of knowledge on print production technologies.


A group of our lecturers introduced - within approved research projects and along with changes in big printing works - a base of normatives for print production. Experimental simulators are developed with data for over 160 presses and print processes. They are implemented upon exact measurements in local printing houses and under local working conditions; System is performed in XML technology (eXtensible Markup Language). This enables simple access to databases by Internet technology, without regard is it related to inhouse points or some other place. Reviewing, editing and using of those bases are possible from any location and at any time. Such a base is established as a milestone on the way of organized learning in printing processes.



5.      Printing plate as the key point of printing technology studies


When the overall reproduction process is considered, it is clear that the plate production is that point in print production that separates - but also links - prepress from printing. Prior to it, activities are focused to those participants in the process, who are giving meaning to the final shape of the printed product: author, publisher, designer, reprographer, typesetter. After it, those participants are following, who are preparing the product in the material form - book, folder, poster, newspaper, boxes and many thousands of other different printed products.
















Printing forme can exist in the non-material outline, as it is in digital printing, or as material one in conventional printing. A great deal of material printing formes is related to the term “Computer to-Plated” - CtP. Therefore, this abbreviation will be exceptionally used in this text for all platemaking processes. CtP itself, as a technological process, is known and present in the printing industry for more than 20 years. Until mid-nineties development of this technology was somewhat slowed down, because of insufficient computer capacities and still competitive prices prepress with films and classic (manual) stripping. Because of this slow acting progress, but also because of sometimes-conservative approach towards new technologies, there were not enough workers able to operate CtP units, since this is a process where no mistakes are allowed. At the same time, strong progress happened in the field of digital printing, which proved dissemination of knowledge in electronic imposition, without big expenses of misprinting involved. Therefore, such digital printing was a kind of a simulator for massive learning and quality control in what is CtP today.


Working out a printed product is a complex and multiphase process. Everything done prior to the point marked with CtP is immaterial, subdue to changes and improvements - from design to corrections. In this pre-phases all further steps and press and post-press operations are determined - not only printing, but register of inks, plan of cutting, folding, wire stitching, machine sewing, binding - practically all multiple procedures, by which a product is not only printed, but completely finished. Paperweight should be calculated, as well as number of folds, method of binding etc. Sequence of printing is planned and spot and process inks are determined, dependence on the press and number of units. Paper supply is planned, its preparation for printing, B/W test prints, printing on alternative presses, alternative printing sheets, alternative foldings, diecutting. In phases prior to plate production, a complete production plan should be established, terms, human and material resources. CtP, as an output unit, only materializes information by means of a recording on the printing plate.

Because of the reasons mentioned, it can be emphasized that CtP is the key point of not only printing processes, but also of learning in printing workflows. At them moment of the plate output, all details of the further process and the printed product must be known, planned and determined. Organizing of knowledge bases in printing has the central point in the phase of CtP. Through this sensitive hub, normatives in pressroom are linked with prepress works. Such an establishment determines necessity of integration of the entire print production. This implies interactive relation of CtP with presses and finishing machines. Automatization in printing works starts with platemaking, because here are recorded all parameters of a printed product. This applies if only one or two machines are in the JDF system, or if all parts of the operations are networked. Data, saved in bases, can be always recalled, updated or controlled. However, most of all, they should be used for eLearning and permanent updating of knowledge.


Integration of print production more than anything else implies need for knowledge on printing among all participants in the process. Such “software integration” for studying printing as a discipline, its reason and sense. Wide general knowledge and technical culture is needed for that. Therefore, CtP is an integrator of eLearning in printing. However, as far as integration as a concept is concerned, it can be reached among all on the level of cognition and complete comprehension of graphic processes. This is in a certain way troublesome, since CtP cannot be considered as unambiguous. In hardware and software sense, different processes have been developed (i.e. thermal or visible emission, diffusion of silver halides or polymers, ablative and non-ablative methods etc.). Although their basic role is always the same, methods of CtP plate production and their characteristics are very often different.


Those who have certain experience in electronic prepress (recordings to film) or digital printing will easily accept integrative role attributed to CtP within the process. Here the question of verification of the digital recording arises. Proof prints - regardless of the method - lost the sense, but importance of “preflight” proofs is increasing. Different is the situation on the other branch of this key point - printers should be acquainted not only with the role of CtP, but should also understand the way image is generated and recorded on the plate. Such printing plates, which are carrying the entire information about the printed product, are quite different from conventional ones, screening structures are different, as well as geometry of printing and nonprinting elements; different dot gains and reproduction curves, with no side effects typical for photomechanical processes. Operational characteristics of presses should be adjusted to these new circumstances; knowledge bases on CtP characteristics should be therefore permanently extended and upgraded.


Entire production plan, conducted by electronic methods, will become a reality only when presses and other machines will be upgraded to the level that enables reading, registering, correcting and reporting on processes in real time. Brilliant solutions already exist in part of print processes, folding and cutting. Slow implementation of “hardware intelligence” has the reason in the fact that it cannot be applied to old machines within reasonable level of costs. New generations of machines, however, have the ability to “recognize each other”, so their operational characteristics can be modified according to the stored data. High level of automatization should not be considered only as application of several commands; on the contrary, it implies wide and active knowledge and full understanding of all processes.


Regardless of printing technique, prepress methods or printing substrate, plate (forme) is the point in the reproduction chain in which image is completely and irreversibely determined. Image elements, obtained by analog or digital recording, are defined by shape, size and structure. They will be - as they are - transferred to prints.


All previous prepress phases are therefore in functional dependence on printing plates. Although image is transferred to paper in presses, it would be wrong to claim that plates are only in function of printing; on the contrary, printing plates are information carriers of the complete printed product. Consequently, the concept of graphic reproduction (which is sometimes limited to transfer of image by printing) should be extended to producing the integral graphic product. It is known that that more and more products are of complex structures, and that printed image is only one of these elements. These product require numerous postpress (finishing) operations, which are nowadays very sofisticated and highly automated. All of them should be clearly understood in order to include their elements into the process, which should be functioning as an integral unit. This claim - although can be also applied to conventional methods - has special significance in considering new technologies and integrated printing processes. With the development of new reproduction technologies, advanced computing methods and new software solutions, the key point of the reproduction chain is shifted closer to the completed printed product. It should be stressed, however, that the process of planning and workflow itself should be conducted in opposite directions; CtP is located just in their intersection.










The meaning of CtP is not - what is often wrong perception of its role - only output unit for producing printing plates, which can be operated by a couple of simple commands. They are open, but completely determined prepress systems, with the highest possible level of automatization, where all information about the final product are worked out. That also means that in the area of CtP the product already has to be completely determined.



7. Printing plate archives


Already now - and so it will be in the future - the printing forme exists in digital form only. It will be considered as an electronic recording, ready for activating the entire reproduction process: backwards to prepress and onwards to press and postpress operations. Digital form enables various transformations: plates for different printing techniques, for digital printing, for proof prints, web forms, forms for electronic publishing. The other group of transformations enables reworking for different types of products - books, brochures, newspapers catalogs etc.


Electronic base of the printing forme remains as a permanent value with extension possibilities. Organization of eLearning in printing leans on the archive of such formes. Through such bases, answers and solutions can be fount to any question or problem related to the printing process. Accessability to knowledge through this printing forme base enables elaboration of different tools for eLearning and advanced education of printing processes. Application of eArchives of printing formes gives a possibility of a critical approach to certain solutions, thus opening the path to permanent improvements of printing technology.



8. Conclusion


A big task is ahead of us, to give meaning and to perform training for all participants in the field of printing and graphic reproduction, and to be prepared for the upcoming global society. Methods of motivation should be developed, consciousness that life-long education is not a “must”, but a way of thinking, as a precondition for survival on the global market. Only people with “digital business culture” will succeed with the ePrinting technology. Advances in print production are possible by following changes and developments in computing technologies. Digital printing forme should be adopted not only as a key point of automated print production, but also as central issue of studying print processes. eArchives of printing formes will be sources research of printing technologies based on real production circumstances. eArchives of printing processes (supported by Web and Internet technologies) will be the point of motivation in the task of life-long professional education.





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