The heart of any web-to-print technology is the power of customisable artwork templates. An end-user with little or no graphics know-how can modify text, images and even the design features of a template and still be sure of producing a professional quality result. Whether it’s consumers creating a personalised greeting card or business executives customising a marketing brochure online, a template is their starting point.
Ever since web-to-print first appeared nearly 20 years ago, the method by which graphically-rich, customisable templates are created, deployed and modified has always been one of the demanding technical challenges for the software engineers of web-to-print systems. The benchmarks for typographic precision and visual refinement were already set long before web-to-print and its sister technology, variable data printing, appeared. But they evolved in an exclusively professional world of craft skills and static printed products.
The huge opportunities created by the web for online print procurement and by digital printing for short-run and variable data products meant that the quality expectations of traditional static print needed to be matched in a new dynamic, online environment. Adjusting a design, updating some text or replacing a picture were never meant to be cheap or easy for the customer. Remember “author’s corrections”?
Web-to-print did not just disrupt an entrenched business model, it needed to find a way round age-old techniques for creating artwork whilst achieving the same quality of end product.
Start from the ground up, build on the best or go with the flow?
Faced with this challenge, designers of web-to-print and VDP software have adopted one of three approaches to solve it. Firstly, there is the ‘start-from-the-ground-up’ approach, found in solutions like Chili Publisher, featured in last month’s Spotlight on drupa, and Pageflex, one of the pioneers of web-to-print. Below the surface, you will find totally re-invented, proprietary Page Description Languages which are at least as graphically rich as the grand-daddy of them all – PostScript.
The advantage of this approach is that variable content and design layouts are not constrained by the limitations or peculiarities of PDLs developed for what were mainly static applications.
A second approach might be described as ‘build-on-the-best’. Over the years, many extensions for QuarkXPress and plug-ins for Adobe InDesign have taken advantage of their extensible architecture and sheer graphic design power to add dynamic, data-driven logic to virtually any graphic and content element. The most well-known solution to take this approach is probably XMPie’s uCreate which was launched not long after Adobe InDesign 1.0, specifically to enrich it with VDP capabilities.
The benefit of build-on-the-best is that the VDP software engineer does not need to re-invent a complex graphic engine, but can focus on the variable logic and data interfaces whilst the graphic designer has an easy-to-learn add-on to a familiar application.
Let’s call the third approach ‘go-with-the-flow’ – the “flow” being the universal role of PDF as the lingua franca of the graphics industry. Everybody can create and send a PDF; every printer can confidently and reliably print PDFs and a PDF can carry any variable meta-data in its self-contained file format.
The challenge for the VDP software engineer working with PDFs is to be able to decrypt, disentangle and re-assemble static PDF documents into dynamically variable ones. I have heard it said that re-engineering PDF files to make customisable web-to-print templates is like performing open heart surgery on them.
Cutting-edge technology? One slip can lead to a “permanent error”!
But the benefit, for those that have cracked it, is that any printer can create a web-to-print template or VDP job out of any customer PDF file and deploy it immediately through a standard workflow and any online customer interface.
Go with the flow with Infigo
One company which successfully adopted the ‘go-with-the-flow’ approach to template creation is Infigo Software from the UK. Infigo was originally developed as a web-to-print platform by Bytes Document Solutions, then a major Xerox reseller. Since 2010, Infigo has been an independent company, innovating and expanding its portfolio of web-to-print, VDP and marketing automation tools under the “Catfish” brand of products.
Their flagship product, Catfish Web-To-Print was launched in 2012 replacing the original Infigo web-to-print platform. It continues to use an Adobe Acrobat plug-in for template design but with a major difference that Catfish templates are no longer limited to print-only products. They can be deployed across web, email and mobile channels to provide a complete range of personalised, multichannel communication services.
Catfish Web-To-Print is an end-to-end solution that includes all the essential functionality to enable a printer to sell print online. The ‘storefront’ is the web interface for the end-user.
The visual appearance of a Catfish storefront can be fully customised to reflect a consumer brand or corporate house-style and it is fully responsive so that it can be accessed and used on any PC or mobile device. It can display a catalogue of products from which the user can choose a template to customise.
Like all template-based web-to-print systems, the printer and their client have full control over which elements in any template the end-user can edit; and Catfish can provide a wide range of interactive design tools in its online editor for the end-user. They range from basic features such as font selection and styling, uploading images or choosing them from an in-built library through to more advanced design effects like rotating text or placing it on a curve. And of course, text content can be modified according to the rules set up in the template.
The versatility of the Catfish online editor makes it equally suitable for B2B marketing applications within a corporate or franchise environment or online B2C retail services for personalised gifts, packaging, cards and books. A simple, streamlined check-out process with credit card payments makes Catfish-based retail sites easy and quick to use. For B2B solutions, Catfish provides inventory management and call-off, a configurable approval process and data-driven personalisation for customised direct mail campaigns.
Infigo also offers another even more powerful online editing platform called MegaEdit. It was launched two years ago, primarily for the rapidly growing market for consumer Photobooks and personalised Photo gifts. It is a fully cloud-based solution accessible via a browser and a mobile and tablet-friendly interface using touch gestures to control layout and styling.
MegaEdit integrates with other online platforms so that users can select photos from their Flickr, Facebook or Instagram accounts as well as uploading them from their local devices. It can either be deployed within a third-party e-commerce platform or as part of the full Catfish web-to-print system to build powerful B2B publishing solutions for corporate literature, newsletters, property brochures and so on.
Although Catfish can be implemented as a completely stand-alone solution, it is often the case that a web-to-print service needs to be integrated with existing business processes on both the client side and at the printer.
Infigo facilitates this through its API tool, Catfish Sync. This enables a programmer to link Catfish into MIS systems or enterprise ERP platforms such as SAP or Salesforce. Data can then automatically flow between systems across the whole supply chain to provide reporting, accounting, real-time tracking and other business management functions.
Infigo at drupa
Infigo has come a long way since it spun out as an independent business, and now offers one of the most versatile, comprehensive and powerful web-to-print solutions available. Infigo will be at drupa in Hall 10, booth C13-2. If you are planning to invest in web to print or upgrade an existing system be sure to visit for a demo.