NEW YORK — Slowly, but surely, factors are coming together that should help designers communicate their designs to printers and engravers worldwide.
Prominent among them is that more Asian printers are installing CAD systems. Japanese printers have long had CAD systems, but the high yen keeps even top designers from sending anything but tie designs to Japan for printing. Korean printers, however, are moving quickly into CAD — providing a quality, less expensive printing alternative for American designers.
The rash of installations of CAD systems in the Orient provides several options for U.S. designers. For one, they can send CAD output to the foreign mill, and that output can then be scanned in to the mill’s CAD system. Better yet, if the systems are compatible on both sides of the Pacific, a U.S. designer can send a file to the foreign mill on disk. This option eliminates much of the discretionary interpretation that would have to be done abroad if CAD output were simply scanned into the system and adjustments made by eye. The third option CAD-equipped printers may afford customers is the ability to modem CAD files — however, the designer must determine that the printer’s system can receive the files and check back with the printer to ensure that the file has been received complete.
But even if designers choose to communicate actual CAD files to offshore printers, CAD experts said they must be cognizant of what designs and colors can or cannot be printed satisfactorily.
“Designers have to design for practical production,” commented Bill Sokol, director of marketing at CAD vendor Info Design. “They have to consider what can be printed on fabric.”
Sokol said some designers see the value of gaining an understanding of the printing and engraving processes and are executing their designs with those processes in mind.
“One of the best side effects of CAD technology is that it is helping designers control manufacturing,” Sokol said. “CAD is giving designers a better knowledge of manufacturing because CAD systems let designers prepare the images they create for printing. They can map out the trapping — how the colors will lay on top of each other — on their CAD systems. And they can do the engraving prep work to lessen concerns about the gradation of color. Traditionally, this part of the design process was left in the hands of printers.”
Standardization of file formats is another closely linked factor that is allowing designers to communicate files — by sending a disk or via modem — to offshore printers. The ability to “compress” is facilitating the communication of CAD files via modem because it allows designers to send the files relatively quickly. The longer the transmission, experts say, the greater the chance of portions of the files being lost or miscommunicated.
“It’s like playing telephone,” commented David Matsil, director of sales and marketing at Monarch Computex. “Things get changed.”
“Now, foreign printers sometimes have the same system set up abroad, so designers could send digital files,” said Linda Freedman, vice-president of marketing at Modacad. “It seems the trend is that more and more engravers and printers with offshore facilities are bringing systems on board. Even if they don’t have the same system, they should be able to communicate the files digitally. When designers are shopping for CAD systems, they need to make sure the vendor they choose has an open format. You don’t want to work with proprietary systems because of the additional time it takes to make sure a file is compatible.”
“Having the same computer system is ideal because the printer is looking at the same image as I am on his screen,” commented men’s wear designer Jhane Barnes.
Matsil also sees the digital communication of CAD files as the ultimate answer to the interpretation dilemma.
“The integration of design and production is becoming more important,” Matsil said. “I think designers want better linkage with the mills, foreign or domestic.”
But most people aren’t there yet.
“Most designers are coping by Fed Ex-ing paintings or paper printouts of CAD files to the mills,” Matsil explained. “Then the mill scans the printout or painting into its system.
“It would be much better to communicate the image electronically, because when you scan an image in you have to make some judgment calls before you print the design — tweaking the artwork and reducing the number of colors to a workable amount.”
Dennis Harrington, a regional sales manager at Computer Design Inc., outlined a strong case for communicating CAD files digitally or via disks.
“It takes an average of two and a half strike-offs before a designer and a printer agree on a design,” Harrington said. “You’re looking at three weeks per cycle, so it could easily take 12 weeks just before the artwork is approved.”
Jack Szura, national sales manager at Foresight Design, said designers who want to ensure that their prints are not radically altered should consider sending CAD files on disks.
“Designers want to control what the printer is doing and get the same result they have on the screen,” he said. “All the design elements are on the disk. So if the designer sends the disk to the printer, that disk can be used to drive the lasers to create the screens used in engraving. What it eliminates is the engraver’s interpretation of the design.
“That also reduces the cost of getting the screens made. If a disk isn’t sent, the engraver has to input all the commands to guide the lasers.”
Giving the printer a disk also increases accuracy, according to Szura.
“When you send a disk, you have to decrease the number of colors to an amount that is economical for the printer to work with,” he explained. “This also ensures that you’ll get more accurate color. That, in turn, lowers the chances of having to do makeovers because you ensure that you are getting what you asked for. In today’s economy, accuracy is economy.”
One way designers can make doubly sure the strike-offs come out right is by doing the color-separation work in their own studio. Barnes sometimes does this for printers with whom she does not have longstanding relationships.
“If you have some reservations about the quality of the work a printer will hand back, it’s better to do the color separations for them,” Barnes said. “If a design has eight colors, we give them eight pages.”
Monarch’s Matsil said the most sophisticated CAD software allows the engravers to pull color separations directly from a CAD file.
“If the electronic file is of sufficient quality, the engraver can just open it up and pull apart the separations and make four screens of it,” he said.
Michael DeMatteis, managing director at Cadtex Corp., agreed but added some cautions.
“If a printer is going to produce the screen in a first-world country, you can send a disk file,” he explained. “But if you are working in the Third World, you may want to consider putting in a total color-separation system. That way you would do the separations here and either send the file overseas or send the artwork for each of the separations if they can’t accept CAD files. Either way the printer wouldn’t have to figure the separations. If you don’t have 100 percent faith in the printer being able to execute the separations accurately, you can ensure that you’ll get back exactly what you want.”
Richard Lerner, a Manhattan-based consultant who works closely with Monarch Computex, also believes doing the separations stateside is a good idea.
“In textile prints, people are starting to take the design and do the separations right on the computer,” Lerner said. “You can separate the design into eight plates on the computer. Then you can print them out on a computer that prints on film.”
Producing the film in the United States goes a long way in ensuring the integrity of a design, according to Lerner.
“In many Asian countries, separations are done by hand,” he said. “Paintings have to be put in repeat, and the artist abroad has to make decisions about color. If you send film, all this has been done already. They can burn the screens directly from the film.”
In dealing with countries with modern, computerized print mills, sending a disk and having the printer do the separation on his CAD system is an option.
“You could send the CAD file rather than producing the file here,” DeMatteis said. “But you have to be certain the person on the receiving end has the equipment required to translate the information. It’s best to have the same system on the other end if you go modem to modem. A lot of plants in Hong Kong and Turkey have equivalent systems. There’re a lot in Korea too. Modeming something to Seoul is like modeming it to New York. If the foreign printer doesn’t have the same system, you have to save the file as a bit-mapped file — a TIFF file. The receiver has to retrace the design.”
“You can take the computer file right to the laser engraver and he can engrave the drum directly from that,” Lerner added. “But you have to get your CAD file into a format the engravers can work with.”
“You also have to be careful if you modem large graphics files. If you lose any part of the file in the transmission, the whole file will be corrupted and useless. It’s not like transmitting a text file. If you lose 5 percent of a text file, the rest of the file is still good.
“The ability to safely modem the files is coming,” Lerner said, “but the biggest problem is communication. It’s safer to do the separations here — in case something goes wrong.”
“The designs are often too large to modem in a reasonable amount of time — even overnight,” CDI’s Harrington said.
CAD consultant Alison Grudier, however, said fears of transmitting long graphics files electronically have been blown out of proportion.
“Very few companies are modeming files overseas now. They have a fear of transmitting very large files,” Grudier said. “This is definitely not the monumental hurdle people make it out to be. It only takes a couple of minutes to send a condensed file to Hong Kong, so you really don’t have to worry so much about interruptions that can damage a long transmission. The real problem facing designers who want to modem files overseas is finding engravers and mills in the Orient that are willing to accept those files.”
Harrington agreed.
“Modeming files isn’t an option for most designers now because most printers in the Pacific Rim aren’t set up to receive CAD files digitally.”
Grudier, however, said the situation is improving. She said a sizable number of Korean mills have installed Info Design systems, adding that those placements should make designers feel more secure about modeming files.
“There are a lot of print mills in Korea, and Info Design has staked out a claim in that market and is placing a lot of CAD systems there,” Grudier said. “That makes it a heck of a lot easier for U.S. companies to send files and has raised the educational level of the mills in Korea about CAD.”

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