Late binding

In prepress late binding refers to delaying the conversion of data into a format that is optimized for one specific type of output or printing as long as possible. This applies to a number of production aspects even though in recent years it is mainly used in the context of RGB versus CMYK workflows. So with late binding, a designer working on a magazine will keep as much of the artwork as possible in RGB and it is only late in the prepress process that all the data get converted to the CMYK color space optimal for the specific printing process that is used to print the magazine.

The opposite of late binding is early binding. With this approach a designer will, for example, already incorporate artwork in CMYK into the design, eliminating the need to do extensive conversions in the printer’s prepress department.

Late binding techniques

  • Rendering or ripping pages individually instead of rendering entire flats. After defining an imposition template the bitmaps of the individual pages are merged into a flat. This makes it easier to switch to a different press or press sheet size at the last possible moment.
  • Processing PDF files with live transparency in them instead of using flattened PDF. This allows for easier last-minute corrections on the PDF data.
  • Keeping data in RGB instead of CMYK until the job needs to be rendered. This allows for more flexible and better color management since RGB has a wider gamut than CMYK. It is also easier to re-use archived data for another printing process. Creators have the advantage of being able to stick to a color space – RGB – which is also suitable for web publishing or multimedia work. RGB files are also smaller than CMYK files.

Which one to choose

The choice for using early versus late binding isn’t one that a prepress department can make on their own. It can involve getting the source data in a specific format, which means that the designers supplying files need to be capable and willing to do so.

The choice for a specific production technique doesn’t necessarily have to apply to every single job. It is perfectly feasible to stick to an early binding workflow for the majority of jobs and use late binding for some specific jobs where it offers a tangible advantage.

Obviously using late binding is only possible if the workflow software that is used supports this way of working.

Advantages of late binding

  • Flexibility
  • More efficient and faster processing or data transfer (in some cases)
  • Full control over all aspects of reproduction is in the hands of the prepress operator.

Advantages of early binding

  • Simplicity
  • This has been the way data have been handled for decades. Many people are more familiar with this way of working. For color management there are less issues with inappropriate or forgotten ICC profiles.

Other sources of information

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