The Saarbrücker Zeitung is a daily newspaper published with a circulation of about 180,000 copies and 11 regional editions. The prepress processes at the SZ are completely digitised and work under colour management conditions. Since October 2004, the new ISO 12647-3 process standard has been applied. The Elpical Claro PreMedia server has been used in conjunction with Adobe Photoshop for control of the image workflow and image optimisation, or pre-optimisation, since the beginning of the year 2000. An interface to the CCI editorial system was realised for this purpose.
At the Saarbrücker Zeitung, every image is checked after automatic image optimisation. Gerhard Merker, IT production manager at the Saarbrücker Zeitung, considers this to be essential for reasons of quality: "The standard of quality of some of the material we receive is so poor that we cannot rely on automatic optimisation alone. However, despite this quality check, we have still succeeded in reducing the processing time for colour images from 15 minutes in the past to about one minute today”.
All agency images (received via Fotoware software) first enter an image in basket in the CCI editorial system where all images, whether from the newspaper’s staff photographers or freelancers, are put. The integration with the editorial system makes available the images to the editors in their own environment. The editor can pull a selected image directly on to the page in a non-processed state (RGB-JPEG). Then he defines the image section and size. It is only after that that the image data are sent as a raw file and the accompanying metadata (image size, section, position, etc.) as XML file are exported for optimisation to Claro. Claro works with various reproduction channels, depending on whether the image is destined for the daily newspaper, the web or a different product, e.g. an insert produced outside the company. Accordingly, different settings (output profiles) are stored that are used as a basis for the automatic processing. It can also be determined whether all images should be sent to the reproduction department for checking (as is the case at the Saarbrücker Zeitung), or only images that fail to satisfy certain specified criteria.
With InSpector, a Photoshop PlugIn, the image processor can retrieve the automatically optimised images one after another at his workplace for checking, or after-processing respectively. He is shown the processed image (in CMYK) alongside the original (in RGB). He now has a choice of two options: either he accepts the processed image ("use processed”) or he further processes it. If the optimised version is unsuitable for use, the original image can be processed immediately before he returns it to CCI ("use original”). According to Gerhard Merker, this is a very useful arrangement that has a direct effect on the image quality and therefore the quality of the product as a whole. At the end of this process, the complete page goes to the PostScript RIP and finally to the imager.
The images are archived in their original state (i.e. non-processed). The CCI editorial system keeps all versions of the image ready for retrieval. An automatic routine transfers the images (and the text, but not the pages) at night to the Elias archive. At the same time, the images are exported in a corresponding version for the internet page.
An interesting difference to the procedure in widespread use is that, in the workflow at the Saarbrücker Zeitung, the images, are not processed in advance, but only after size and section have been defined. "I do not think it logical to optimise the images before”, says G. Merker and explains why as follows: "There is a difference whether you produce an image as a single-column or four-column element, especially as regards image sharpness. Sharpening must be done in the final size, otherwise you will inevitably experience a loss of quality.
The situation is exactly the same if you subsequently take a small section from a large, already optimised image. The complete image may perhaps be all right by itself, but this does not mean that the section will be so. The image must be optimised on the basis of the actual section.” A second point concerns the data volume "When the image section is defined, the rest that is not required will be removed. The image data will be converted accordingly by Claro. This reduces the data column and optimises the resolution.” The program carries out the colour space transformation or colour separation respectively from RGB to CMYK via the profile.
As the user confirms, Claro is relatively simple to administer, everything is comfortably browser-controlled and largely automated: "I don’t think that it could be much better.”
It proved more problematical to realise the interface to the CCI editorial system, a project on which both Elpical and CCI cooperated. Some trade-offs were necessary, but the final result was a highly-integrated image workflow.