Tech Bytes

Vol. 29 No. 4 2003
Scott Kilbourne

Welcome to TechBytes. This is a new column that will appear in the Journal that will hopefully raise issues and offer solutions related to the digital environment we now work in. Each column will include a brief article on a technical topic - things like color management, digital workflow, digital asset management, network design or streaming media. Many of these articles will be written by guest authors who are acknowledged authorities in their respective areas of expertise. There will also be a question and answer section in which readers can seek enlightenment on a particular topic. Readers and are welcome to voice opinions contrary to those expressed - there is more than one way to get something done! Please send questions, opinions, topic suggestions along with miscellaneous rants to skilborn@wfubmc.edu.

The topic for this inaugural column is digital workflow for publication. In days past, most jobs would begin as paper copy brought in by a client . Galleys were then created and laid out and the cropped hard-copy photographs and galleys were sent off to the printer. When the job came back from the printer, some components such as a masthead might be stripped off for reuse, but most of the job would be dumped into a manila folder and stuffed into a cardboard box for "archiving". Today, with computer-based workflow, it's a whole different world. Now, more than ever before, we deal with many more jobs per month per employee and the reuse and revision of previous jobs is more common when designing newsletters and magazines. It has become critical to understand how fonts, digital images, design files, illustrations and the other digital components of a job are created or retrieved, used, forwarded to other vendors and finally archived. Anyone who has been in this business for any significant period of time has had the experience of a disk crash, and with drive crashes the question is when, not if, they will occur. It is therefore critical to have a full understanding of how digital assets are used in your department including:

  • Creation - What file format, resolution, spot/process color, color working space and programs are used?
  • Storage - What file format and media are used and which computer/server do they reside on?
  • Use - Are they linked or embedded, all in the same folder, system fonts?
  • Transmission - Zip or CD or FTP, preflighted, what files are included?
  • Archive - Media type, responsible employee/oversight, when, who pays for that?
  • Backup - How often, restore tested?

Digital media has a life cycle. Its management is much more complex than paper was and loss of the digital media is both more likely, and more catastrophic when it happens. It is easy to slip into anarchy in managing files and a clear plan is required. A hypothetical plan for publications workflow might look like this:


Vector art in Freehand v.9 using spot colors when required
Raster images at 300 PPI in Adobe RGB
Layout using Freehand or PageMaker

All stored, inactive reuseable files live on Biomed_File server in appropriate folder.
All archived client files go to Mac-burned CD with all files including logos, scans, fonts, etc. flat in the same folder labeled by date and project and registered in Cumulus.
Currently all active jobs are stored on artist's workstation with all files used in the job in the same project folder. Fonts from local System folder are used with only standard departmental Adobe fonts allowed unless otherwise approved. No external links are allowed, all scans, logos, etc. are copied to local drive from master files on server. Pantone spot colors are used as desired. All layout scans are at 72 PPI with FPO visible on image and using Adobe RGB 1998 color profile. After client approval, scans are replaced for printing by designated personnel only with master 300 PPI repro-approved images. In the future, the workflow will transition to working off project files living on server only, except for System fonts. Workstations will store only System, applications and fonts locally.
Projects are sent as Stuffit files via network when practical or written to CD uncompressed. Files are included per above but fonts now included in same folder.
Finished projects are placed in For_Archive in project folder with all files and fonts by artists as work returns from printer and are deleted from local disks. The graphic designer production supervisor writes project folder to CD on Mac station monthly from For_Archive folder on server and then deletes from project folder from server and workflow. CD with projects is cataloged with Cumulus for search and retrieval. Paperwork associated with the project including quotes, invoices, signed proof approvals and a copy of the publication is forwarded to the production supervisor by the artist and filed along with CD name of disk that project archive resides on.
Workstations are backed up on a weekly schedule, servers are nightly with RAID5 redundancy for files and RAID1 failover for server system files. Backup tapes are kept for 4 weeks then recycled. Individual file/folder restore is very quick using Retrospect. Workstation total rebuild time is approximately 3 hours for a Macintosh G4.

This is just one typical workflow. It is not the only one that can be used and digital workflows evolve as applications and systems change. This is merely an example of a consistent way to move files into, through and out of a workflow. A photography unit would require a different approach, but a consistent approach with an IN and an OUT for the workflow is essential. It does not matter how big your workstation or server disks are, they will always fill up if workflow is not managed. It is amazingly easy for workflow problems to get quickly out of hand. This may appear overly structured, but I don't think so - just remember the last time you had a disk crash and had to remember what was on your computer.

Please send me an email and let me know what you'd like to see next time or what question you would like to get an answer to! I can't guarantee that you'll get the right answer or the only answer, but we'll try!

Scott Kilbourne, is Assistant Director For Technology Assessment at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. He is a Registered Biological Photographer and a Fellow of the BioCommunications Association. He has lectured and written extensively on the topic of digital imaging.