Drum roll at Megalith

Wellington prepress company Megalith uses some advanced equipment for the sophisticated rendering of colour images.

Wellington prepress company Megalith uses some advanced equipment for the sophisticated rendering of colour images.

Its computer system is the centre of the operation nowadays. Digital files have taken the place of film as the reference point for the definitive copy of each image.

This revolution has enabled Megalith to branch out into digital asset management on behalf of its clients; holding their images in a secure centralised repository that the clients and their other suppliers can access on line at any time, for fast, effective design and printing at lower cost.

The prepress process, in which text and graphics are created and put together for printing, is often crucially time-dependent. Material usually has to be “on the streets”, in a publication or synchronising with a marketing campaign, as quickly as possible.

Outputting graphics and text from computer directly to printing plate rather than to film first saves time and money. The practice cuts out a crucial step in the process but it does more than this, says David Will (pictured), senior accounts manager for Megalith.

Computer-to-plate technology relocates the central reference point of the prepress process, he says. The master copy of a printing job is no longer the copy on the film, but the digitised copy in the computer system.

If a customer wanted to reprint or change the same advertisement or manual, it used to be necessary to make reference to the film. Now that the reference copy is digital, manipulation becomes easier, speedier and of higher quality, says Will.

Having a digital reference copy also means, significantly, that the customer can be given a direct view of and control over, their own material. “Our clients can access the data we hold, and other suppliers of that client can also access it.”

Clients are able to set up new jobs from their own workstations, adapt old material to serve a new purpose, or the client or their supplier can just assure the “look and feel” of a new job is consistent with previous work. If a new advertising agency takes on a client’s work, access to the Megalith server is simply shifted, rather than moving or duplicating files.

With a central reference point for the “definitive” version of the material, the risk of editing activity creating two conflicting versions is virtually removed.

A side-effect of the move to direct output has been Megalith developing its own content management system and moving heavily, from early last year, into the management of digital content on behalf of clients. Some of this content may never see the printed page, but rather be destined for a website as an HTML or PDF document.

Clients and their suppliers enter through a password-protected web page, which restricts each to only the subset of data they should see. Ample descriptive data is provided to assist the inquirer to find the right piece of work. Thumbnails are automatically created of all images and can be kept by the client locally, so they effectively have their “own” image bank.

Dealing with and communicating such elaborate data naturally imposes massive requirements in both data storage and communications. Megalith stores its data on a half-terabyte Nexan Raid 5 system and a half-terabyte Adaptec system, also Raid 5. A 200GB partition of current work is mirrored directly at the main Megalith site, with a further 8TB of near-line storage, using high-capacity AIT tape technology with a robotic handler. This AIT tape format allows 100GB on a normal cassette-sized storage cartridge. Everything is mirrored on a backup server off-site.

For communications, Megalith has clients connected through ASDL and ISDN, but the mainstay of the network is Wellington’s broadband metropolitan area network, Citylink. The company uses FTP where possible to transfer files and goes through the Wellington Internet Exchange (WIX). This eliminates the cost of an ISP. WIX charges Megalith a fixed fee for service, with unlimited volume.

As part of the process of preparing the images, they are converted to raster image files, a process known as RIP-ping (raster-image processing). Megalith’s Delta image system rips files once to send to a number of different output devices with different ways of representing colour. That way, colour inconsistency between different outputs of the same image is avoided.

Besides the familiar RGB and CMYK (cyan-magenta-yellow-black) systems, some large-scale printing and platemaking devices use a six-colour system with a separate light cyan and light magenta, for “better accuracy through the whole colour space”, and a drum-scanner for very large work that uses the LAB colour system, based on light-dark, red-green and yellow-blue “axes” for its colour space.

Knowledge of colour-space theory is a niche discipline, and knowledge of this, pixelisation techniques and the technicalities of PostScript, among other specialisations, has allowed Megalith to set up its own design and photo-processing affiliate company, M2 Studio. This serves clients with particularly stringent requirements. Users range from the ACC and Telecom through to the Tui brewing company.