Digital Magazine

Quality Controlled Music Packaging

Since the advent of computer-to-plate (CTP) manufacturing, producing music packaging has never been simpler. Or has it? Mirroring the struggles of its sister industry, print advertising, the music packaging industry continues to debate file format issues for delivering final print content to manufacturers. While some manufacturers are banking on the adoption of accredited file formats like TIFF/IT-P1 (tag image file format/image technology, profile 1), others find that native application files (such as those created in popular desktop publishing applications) are more accessible. Still others are certain PDF (Adobe's portable document format) soon will be the file format of choice for delivering content to manufacturing partners.

While the industry continues to argue the merits of file formats, it seemingly has come to an agreement on the necessity of quality control measures — from creation to distribution — and on the revolutionary benefits of digital preflighting technologies.

Sony: Leading the Customer Pack
Sony Music Entertainment (Sony Music) is one of the music industry's best-known brands. The company comprises more than two dozen record labels and manages careers for high-profile artists like Aerosmith, Celine Dion, and Billy Joel. “Design and production is managed completely in house at our New York City design and prepress facility,” explains Sony Music's Bill Allenfort, director of business-to-business and production technologies. “Most of our print and converting jobs are outsourced to Shorewood Packaging.

“We use two preflight applications,” Allenfort continues, “including Markzware's FlightCheck. They allow us to immediately identify any problems with the application files and resolve them with the art department before forwarded to prepress, where the files are converted to TIFF/IT-P1s.” Accredited by both the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the ISO (International Organization for Standards), TIFF/IT-P1 was first advocated by the print advertising industry.

“We prefer TIFF/IT-P1s,” Allenfort explains, “because it's a standardized file format that allows us to include our own trapping, which our manufacturer prefers not to do. … Essentially, the TIFF/IT-P1 is the equivalent of digital film.”

Shorewood: The Manufacturer's Perspective
Shorewood Packaging has print and converting plants in the U.K., China, Canada, and in eight states in the US. The manufacturer's home entertainment division also caters to some music biz heavy hitters, like Sony Music, EMI, and BMG.

Faith Robinson, digital workflow manager, Shorewood Digital, Harrison, NJ, explains the manufacturers' design: “We are the digital prepress hub for all the Shorewood Packaging plants. … Here we specialize in the home entertainment products, music CDs, and games, and process all of the [content] files for our home entertainment customers.

“This company was a mom-and-pop prepress facility before Shorewood bought it a few years ago,” Robinson adds, “and when I started, there was still a lot of manual legacy processes in place for managing [client files].” Robinson's number-one priority was to automate the workflow, ensuring better overall efficiency. On an average day, she reports the Shorewood Digital hub receives between 62 and 75 jobs.

“In the music packaging industry, it's the client that drives the digital workflow,” explains Kathleen Blakistone, a print and converting consultant who's currently working with Shorewood Digital to help standardize workflow. “They've told us that they want to submit TIFF/IT-P1 files, because it's a format that's had all the issues ironed out. They want to be certain when they send their content files off to the manufacturer, they'll get there intact and be able to travel through the prepress and manufacturing workflow from that point on seamlessly.

“[Shorewood Digital's] favorite clients are the ones that preflight before they send in their files,” Blakistone adds. “Even though a lot of our clients are doing that — either internally or through their prepress suppliers — we still preflight files when they reach Shorewood Digital.”

Native application files received are run through FlightCheck, while TIFF/IT-P1 files are verified visually with the help of a Rorke Data application called TIFF/ITeyes. Blakistone estimates between 75% and 80% of the files received are prepared properly; the remaining error-prone files, thanks to preflighting, are flagged immediately for correction or resubmission.

Disc Makers: The Independent Way
Founded in 1959, Disc Makers offers everything from design and printing to packaging and converting for its primary client base of independent musicians. Most jobs are short run, comprising fewer than 25,000 units.

Disc Makers' customers are able to choose from a wide range of print products to complement their CD replication jobs, including posters, packaging, and booklets. Customers can choose Disc Makers' design services, or they can provide content in digital form directly to the company's prepress production department, managed by Lance Svoboda, director of electronic prepress. In an average month, Svoboda reports, approximately 1,000 jobs pass through the prepress department, and just down the hall, the in-house creative team manages approximately 400 more.

For a manufacturer like Disc Makers, client-submitted files run the gamut. “About 60 percent are Quark files, followed by Illustrator and CorelDRAW files,” Svoboda estimates. “A much smaller percentage come in as InDesign, FreeHand, and PageMaker files.”

Disc Makers' clientele ranges in their degree of graphic arts acumen; few use prepress suppliers to create final content files. A small percentage contract design shops to create them, but most do it themselves. “The most common problems we see in the files sent by customers are things like missing fonts and transparency or layering conflicts — those can cause a lot of problems in prepress,” Svoboda explains.

To ensure problematic files are caught before they enter Disc Makers' production workflow, all are inspected immediately upon arrival. Svoboda's department uses preflighting applications like Markzware's FlightCheck and Enfocus' PitStop Pro to verify the files have been prepared properly and include all essential elements, such as licensed fonts and high-res images.

“We prefer to get native application files,” Svoboda continues, “because they're accessible to our customers. TIFF/IT-P1 doesn't make sense for us. Unless our customers are working with our in-house designers, they're not likely to spend the money to get one made. They're more comfortable dealing with native application files.” However, Svoboda agrees that a file format like PDF/X-1a shows great promise.

Whatever the Format
While it's clear the music packaging industry will continue to debate the pros and cons of digital formats like TIFF/IT-P1, PDF/X-1a and native application files, most agree PDF will come out on top. The industry also can rest assured that native application files and PDF will be fully supported by preflighting technologies, which will continue to be the one of the most critical quality control mechanisms for package and commercial printing. (For a list of preflighting solutions, scroll down to the end.)

“We chose TIFF/IT-P1 for the times,” Sony Music's Allenfort remarks, “but our format in the future, I'm convinced, will be PDF.”

“Preflighting is essential to us,” Shorewood's Robinson affirms, “I always say, ‘Going through the front door correctly once is far better than going through the side door a few times.’”

Blakistone confides, “I find it amusing when I hear manufacturers or customers say, ‘We don't have time to preflight.’ It's ironic. So, I ask the question: ‘You don't have time to preflight, but you do have time to do the job over?’ … For manufacturers, it means getting a higher percentage of good files, allowing us to concentrate on printing, finishing, and converting — the things we do best — and meeting faster turnaround demands.”

Gretchen Kirby Peck owns and operates P.A.G.E.s, a freelance writing and editorial consultancy firm. She has been a member of the graphic arts community for more than ten years, since completing her graduate studies in professional writing and communications at Towson Univ., Baltimore, MD. Peck has served as editorial director of two industry trade publications and as coordinator for industry conferences/trade shows; she is active in several industry associations and is a frequent speaker at industry events.

Total Integration's Ad Check (totalint.com) allows users to open and view production-image format files, including TIFF/IT and CL/LW.

One Vision's Assura (onevision.com) preflights PDF, postscript and EPS files.

Markzware Software's FlightCheck Classic (markzware.com) scans a variety of file types including native application files, PDF (portable document format) and PDF/X-1 files.

Markzware Software's FlightCheck Collect! inspects digital documents for color, font, and image problems; collects document's elements for final delivery to a prepress or print supplier.

Callas Software's pdfinspektor2 (callassoftware.com) preflights PDF documents, providing visual and printed reports.

Apago's PDF/X-1 Checkup (apago.com) a plug-in to Adobe Acrobat that verifies PDF/X-1 files.

DDAP's PDF/X-1 Verifier (ddap.com), developed by Total Integration for the Digital Distribution of Advertising for Publication Assn., preflights PDF/X-1 files.

Enfocus' PitStop Professional (enfocus.com) preflights and edits PDF and PDF/X-1 documents.

DDAP's TIFF/IT-P1 Checker comprises a bundle of TIFF/IT tools, including TIFF/IT-P1 Preflight.

Rorke Data's TIFF/ITeyes (rorke.com) is a free TIFF/IT-P1 viewer that measures X-Y coordinates and CMYK values.

Subscribe to PFFC's EClips Newsletter