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Friday, September 3, 2010

Patent '599

I was looking over '599 today and trying to think back about the context into which it was developed.

If you take a close look at it you will see the basis for all "VDP"-type applications today.  Specifically they used some sort of Quark-based front-end to design master pages and used Quark to reflow text for each variable page.  The press then merged the results.

At the time this was developed Indigo had just come on the market as had the first Xeikon's.  I remember in about 1997 driving down to Chicago to see AM MultiGraph, who was the initial US Xeikon distributor, to test some color variable data work for a company I owned at the time called MarketPlace Direct.

MarketPlace Direct was what I called an "information distribution" business.  We did mailing, delivery, printing, all manner of non-electronic processing of data for clients to distribute to customers.  The reason I was interested was that I had developed a PageMaker-based VDP system that was used by MarketPlace for all its variable data work - it was called the "Lexographic Imager" (no - it doesn't invalidate '599).

Basically this was a piece of technology that took PageMaker PostScript output and performed substitutions into it to produce a variable print stream.  Some clever technology was used to significantly optimize the print speed.  We used to buy some kind of HP black and white toner printers for about $5K and gang them up to create a fairly fast black and white printer.  All together with about 5 of these printers and my software you could duplicate what a 150 page/minute Xerox highspeed printer could do for about 10% of the cost.

Being in the mailing business we had to be clever about preprinted forms.  But, because my system was based on PageMaker, we could design the forms and the mailing job in one application.  And because we used the same application and files for both the preprinting and variable alignment was guaranteed.

The reason for my interest in the time with Xeikon was that in mailing you always have "spoilage" - which are letters that get damaged in the process of printing through getting the mail out the door.  Those pieces have to be reproduced and mailed.  Doing this involved keeping around all the preprinted paper and matching the reprinting to the right paper forms.  Managing spoilage was expensive and time consuming.

At the time I reasoned that for small jobs - even though the cost was high - as well as for spoilage - color digital press work the time and money saved more than justified the extra cost.  I think the cost was around $1.00 US per page at the time.  Fortunately we could charge significantly more per page for the finished work at that time.

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