I developed an automated print file creation system to fulfill orders for custom-sized and -bordered image files. It fulfilled a major business need by enabling speedy and accurate print-on-demand file generation, and dramatically increased productivity in the art department.
A few years ago the art publishing business paradigm shifted from filling warehouses with offset-litho art reproductions to a print-on-demand model, allowing flexible sizing and multiple-choice borders and substrates.
Suddenly the art department, which traditionally juggled larger seasonal projects such as publishing rounds and catalogs, had to be on call to process image files to fulfill the day’s orders, day in and day out.
Suddenly thousands of our image offerings had to be available on-demand, instead of simply produced and archived, and then someday maybe reprinted, maybe not. This also more or less coincided with the contraction from the last financial crash, so there were fewer bodies around to do the work alongside other ongoing tasks.
And: The work to be automated was the worst, most repetitive, most rote tasks in InDesign. It was actually hard to be accurate because it was so boring, just brain death for designers. Automation was clearly needed.
A lot of infrastructure had to be set up. Every image had to be sized to predictable proportions so we could display all available sizes based on proportion and resolution. Databases had to be developed to make the product data available for script manipulation and web display.
The current system grabs current sales order item particulars every half hour. It then generates corresponding custom sized and bordered (e.g. mirrored for canvas) PDF files and sends them to the appropriate substrate print queue. It also tags the items with a credit line including the sales order number, helping the shippers get the orders out the door correctly.
One cool feature of the system is that the script runs two ways: first automatically, executing instructions from the accounting system; and secondly, manually via a dialog box to create one-offs, or to generate an InDesign file that can then be further modified. Thus it can grab items from the image library, or can be pointed at customer-supplied images.
The automation system has been a godsend for the art department. Instead of facing handfuls of orders every day we can get on with other tasks to make the business succeed.
Toolset: bash, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Extendscript (JSX).