For quite some time now, the printing business has been under heavy pressure because of overcapacity, dropping prices
and the delocalization of the production to low income countries. To survive in this competitive world, printers have to
invest in tools that, on one hand, reduce the production costs and, on the other hand, create additional value for their
customers (print buyers).
The creation of customer portals on top of prepress production systems allowing print buyers to upload their content,
approve the uploaded pages based on soft proofs (rendered by the underlying production system) and further follow-up
the generation of the printed material, has been illustrative in this respect. These developments resulted in both
automation for the printer and added value for the print buyer.
Many traditional customer portals assume that the printed products have been identified before they are presented to the
print buyer in the portal environment. The products are, in this case, typically entered by the printing organization in a
so-called MISi system after the official purchase order has been received from the print buyer. Afterwards, the MIS
system then submits the product to the customer portal. Some portals, however, also support the initiation of printed
products by the print buyer directly. This workflow creates additional flexibility but also makes things much more
complex. We here have to distinguish between special products that are defined ad-hoc by the print buyer and
standardized products that are typically selected out of catalogs.
Special products are most of the time defined once and the level of detail required in terms of production parameters is
quite high. Systems that support such products typically have a built-in estimation module, or, at least, a direct
connection to an MIS system that calculates the prices and adds a specific mark-up to calculate a quote. Often, the markup
is added by an account manager on a customer by customer basis; in this case, the ordering process is, of course, not
Standardized products, on the other hand, are easily identified and the cost charged to the print buyer can be retrieved
from predefined price lists. Typically, higher volumes will result in more attractive prices. An additional advantage of
this type of products is that they are often defined such that they can be produced in bulk using conventional printing
techniques. If one wants to automate the ganging, a connection must be established between the on-line ordering and the
production planning system. (For digital printing, there typically is no need to gang products since they can be produced
more effectively separately.)
Many of the on-line print solutions support additional features also available in general purpose e-commerce sites. We
here think of the availability of virtual shopping baskets, the connectivity with payment gateways and the support of
special facilities for interfacing with courier services (bar codes, connectivity to courier web sites for tracking shipments
etc.). Supporting these features also assumes an intimate link with the print production system.
Another development that goes beyond the on-line ordering of printed material and the submission of full pages and/or
documents, is the interactive, on-line definition of the content itself. Typical applications in this respect are, e.g., the
creation of business cards, leaflets, letter heads etc. On a more professional level, we also see that more and more
publishing organizations start using on-line publishing platforms to organize their work. These professional platforms
can also be connected directly to printing portals and thus enable extra automation.
In this paper, we will discuss for each of the different applications presented above (traditional Print Portals, Web2Print
applications and professional, on-line publishing platforms) how they interact with prepress and print production systems
and how they contribute to the improvement of the overall operations of a printing organization.