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					From DMIA Business Printing Technology
Document Management Industries Association

Three Approaches to Forms Composition
Last issue, we looked at the current state of forms composition, including the three major approaches to
producing forms today: using legacy systems like F3, using forms composition software from suppliers like
Amgraf and Digicomp, and using traditional page layout programs like QuarkXPress or Adobe InDesign. We also
discussed the benefits of moving from legacy systems to one of these three approaches.

Assuming that forms manufacturers have decided to make the switch, which one of these options is right for you?
Today, everyone is facing the dual challenge of doing more in less time. But depending on what you are trying to
accomplish, one approach might be more appropriate than another. There are also workflow, budget, and
training considerations.

For those who have not yet upgraded from legacy systems, or who might be interested in what other solutions
have to offer, this article will take a look at the three primary software approaches—Amgraf's Mecca 2000 and
OneForm Designer; DigiComp's FormsX and eFormsX; and traditional page layout programs like QuarkXPress and

Amgraf Mecca 2000
Mecca is a UNIX-based composition software for the creation of paper-based business forms, labels, and security
documents, largely in the high-volume environment. Although Mecca creates proprietary files, it imports and
outputs PostScript and PDF files for compatibility with digital and offset production systems.

Working in much the same way as AutoCAD, Mecca is a robust system intended for use by a full-time, trained
operator. Among Mecca's primary benefits is that it is optimized for print production to both digital and
conventional presses, with special attention to print requirements like the ability to do up to 32 separations and
handle complex document security.

Mecca also has a particularly useful batch feature. If you are producing lots of similar products, such as checks,
you can let Mecca handle the repetition robotically. "Imagine composing personal checks, with names, addresses,
special backgrounds, or pictures, and everybody has his or her own version," says Franklin Garner, president and
CEO of Amgraf. "In Mecca, you can set up the batch composition feature to gang all of these products and
process thousands of orders per day."

Another benefit is that, by setting up an online portal, where customers can view, modify, and order their forms,
this automates the prepress portion of the process, reducing the manufacturer's burden and maximizing

"Our customers have a keen understanding of the potential for prepress as a driver for the business," Garner
says. "Rather than thinking of prepress as a necessary evil, many of our customers realize that they can use it as
a way to capture end user loyalty. If you provide them with the tools, libraries, and techniques for creating and
managing their own documents, this is a powerful value-added. At the same time, it ties them into a long-term
relationship with their forms manufacturer."

Among those using this feature is PrintManage Inc., Baltimore, MD. Until recently, the shop considered itself a
distributor, but when it decided to branch into on-demand print manufacturing with the purchase of HP/Indigo
and Oce digital presses, it brought forms design in-house, too. It has been using Mecca's Internet interface
functionality for about a year now.

"Our first customer in this area has very distributed operations, and its workforce is always in need of advertising
literature to be sent to specific areas," says Bill Pate, vice president of business development and technology.
"Initially, they had some very laborious, expensive manual processes in place. Their marketing department
couldn't processes all the volume and they couldn't give their sales force the flexibility they needed."

So, with the help of Amgraf's staff, PrintManage Inc. set up an Internet interface that allows the customer's
loosely affiliated sales network to log in, access the literature they need — whether letters, postcards, product
brochures, or others — customize it, if necessary, and order it on-demand. "People are looking for solutions to
their marketing problems," says Pate. "This gives them a great deal more flexibility and an opportunity to think
about the best way to target their market needs."

While the basic design features of Mecca have remained consistent over the years, one area of Amgraf's continual
investment is keeping up with today's production standards, such as CIP3/4 and JDF, which allow users to specify
settings, not just for prepress, but for finishing and delivery. Manufacturers with these workflows can preset
settings for inserts, covers, binding, and finishing, for example, by simply scanning a barcode. They can even
automatically calculate how much the job will cost to package and ship. These specifications are made upfront, at
the design stage, so Mecca is continually being refined and upgraded.

Mecca is also continually being refined to be compatible with today's XML workflows, such as those designed for
enterprise-wide document management and content management.

OneForm Designer
While Amgraf's business has been built on its print-optimized Mecca software, approximately half of its sales now
come from its Internet forms product, OneForm Designer Plus. Unlike Mecca, OneForm Designer is a Windows-
based software that is designed for the more casual user. OneForm Designer will create simple paper-based
forms, but its strength is the ability to create e-forms, Internet forms, PDF forms, and connect to databases,
collect information, and handle other online and database-connected processes.

A great example of this approach comes from the U.S. government. Most, if not all, of the forms downloadable
from were created in OneForm Designer. "The IRS chose to go this route because it wanted to make its
forms fillable, so people could bring up their forms in Adobe Reader, fill them out, print them, and mail them in,"
says Garner. "Our PDF Forms Generator [an option within OneForm Designer] makes that possible."

Most IRS forms on are created using Amgraf's OneForm Designer.

Although e-forms is an area that Garner expects to grow considerably, what excites Garner most isn't standard
online forms. It's the ability to allow Internet users to do design and composition themselves, in their own time
frame. "When the customer presses the purchase button, all the prepress work is being funneled, by XML, into
robotic systems that drive digital printing presses to do on-demand printing from the whole Web-to-print, online
interface," he says.

Digicomp FormsX
FormsX, the main competitor to Mecca, is a QuarkXPress XTensions Module (i.e., a plug-in to QuarkXPress) that
both serves as a standalone composition system and offers F3 and Mecca conversions into QuarkXPress files. It
will soon be available as an extension to InDesign.
One of the advantage of FormsX is that it looks and acts like QuarkXPress, so if your designers can work in
Quark, they can work in FormsX. If you have legacy F3 ProDesigner or Mecca files, you simply open them into
QuarkXPress. This results in fully editable QuarkXPress files, with the customer's existing library fully preserved.
And because the resulting file is a Quark file, even customers who don't have Forms X can open them.

For new forms, FormsX is a drop-down menu in QuarkXPress. It adds floating palettes, as well as additional tools,
that give users the ability to create barcodes, pantographs, check borders, frameworks, and specialty objects
that QuarkXPress doesn't natively support.

Because the user is working in QuarkXPress, they still have access to all of the benefits of QuarkXPress, such as
the ability to create separations and handle spot colors and any image format. This makes FormsX compatible
with all preflight tools, such as Markzware's FlightCheck, as well as CIP3/4 and JDF workflows and a variety of
soft proofing tools. New Quark versions offer compatibility with PPML for variable data print, as well as a series of
tools for locking and permissions.

Productivity Hounds
Everything about FormsX is geared toward productivity. "We offer features, for example, that allow users to
‘crank in' objects by coordinate only, so using numeric portion of the keyboard and left hand tab key, the
designer can sit there and — boom, boom, boom — lay objects down across the page at a high rate of speed,"
notes Dave Leland, president of Digicomp.

The software also offers features such as cloning, splitting of objects into sub-components, and simplified copying
to various pages. It also has a feature called "text entry mode," so that, once the designer has created a series of
boxes, they can use the keyboard to insert the text from box to box without having to individually select each

"The idea behind our software is to create operations that allow users to eliminate using the mouse," says Leland.
"We really like the use of keyboard short-cuts."

While FormsX looks and acts like a Quark or InDesign file, former F3 users will also find that many features are
carried over from F3, and there are many dialog boxes and features that — while not exact copies — they will
recognize. And when they convert F3 files (as well as files designed in other forms design software) with FormsX,
FormsX reads the native file, so it preserves all of the document's structure and styles. There is no need to work
the file once the conversion is complete.

Digicomp eForms X
Digicomp also offers eformsX, an option to FormsX that allows users to create Internet form fields and PDF
electronic forms, as well as SecureX for creating security documents. It is offered in both desktop and server
versions. So like Mecca, this software can be used to create Internet-based portals, where customers can log in,
access files, make modifications, and click to order.

SecureX, which is an option with FormsX, has been a strong area of business for Digicomp and, more
importantly, a "shining profit center" for its customers. "Forms manufacturers can sell anything with security
added at a premium," says Leland. "So we have commercial printers and others who, if they use nothing else,
buy it for that."

How secure is secure? When Leland received the birth certificates for his triplet girls, he immediately recognized
that they were produced using SecureX.

A Different Way to Use QuarkXPress
Scott Silverstine, proprietor Doxpress, a print distributor in Harrisburg, PA, is among those using FormsX.
Silverstine does his own forms design, which he sees as a competitive differentiator. He switched from F3 to
FormsX after repeatedly encountering driver issues and other problems as the Windows operating systems
upgraded beyond the capabilities of F3.

"FormsX is great because it works as an adjunct to Quark. Quark is a rock solid program, and your files are saved
in Quark format, which most prepress departments can open," Silverstine says. "FormsX saves time, as many of
the complex design tools, text placement, and unique standard and secure pantographs with blends can be added
with a click of your mouse."

Mike Daughenbaugh, graphics manager for Quick Tab II, Inc., is using FormsX 6.0 with Quark 6.5. He particularly
likes the security features, since more than half of the company's business is high-security checks. "We often use
dozens of security features in a single document, whether void pantographs, different linear pantographs, border
warnings, or a host of others. Not that they couldn't be done manually, but it would be very time-consuming. And
if we were using traditional page layout software, some of them would be physically impossible."

Among the most commonly used features at Quick Tab II have to do with boxes and lists. The split box feature,
for example, allows the designer to draw a box, then split it evenly by the designed number of sections, or
specify the width of individual sections. It also likes the "replace color" feature, which allows the designer to
simply select a color and replace it with another without manually selecting every instance of that color.
Traditional Page Layout Programs
For those who are not ready to invest in new software, the option exists of using traditional page layout
programs. The software is inexpensive and readily available, and designers are already familiar with it. There is
really no risk. The drawback is time. Tasks that take seconds in Mecca or FormsX can take minutes or hours.
Depending on the volume running through your job, this can be a profit-killer or a non-issue.

Another major issue for forms manufacturers goes beyond cost and learning curve, however. If they switch to
forms-specific software, will they still be able to take in the wide variety of files that comes to them from
distributors? Often, they receive snippets and samples in a wide variety of programs, including PDF,
QuarkXPress, Word— anything.

Daughenbaugh, however, points out that without the task-specific software, QuickTab II could never handle its
volume. "We put 2,000 jobs per month through here," he says. "I have three designers. Do the math. On a 20-
day per month basis, compare taking two hours to add security features by hand versus two minutes. The
difference is astronomical."

Cost vs. Risk
When evaluating task-specific software versus traditional page layout software, manufacturers must weight the
benefits of a risk-free design environment with the value of their time. Another consideration is if designers were
not creating forms, what else could they be doing? Designing marketing materials to promote and market their
businesses? Sometimes the impact on the bottom line isn't what's being done, but what isn't.

Certainly, there are differentiators between competitive forms composition software, but one must wonder
whether one of the most important steps a forms manufacturer can take is simply to pick one of them. Because
in a tight-margin business, your time is too valuable to lose.

How Do the Options Compare?

                         Mecca       OneForm                                             Page Layout
                                                      FormsX            eFormsX
                         2000        Designer                                             Programs

Conversion from F3         Yes          Yes             Yes                 N/A              No

Conversion from          Via PDF      Via PDF       Directly From      Directly From
other design software     Import       Import      Proprietary File   Proprietary File

Learning Curve            High          Low             Low                Low              Low

Proprietary Output
                           Yes          Yes              No                 No               No

Security Features          Yes          No              Yes                 No              Yes

Batch [Automated]
                           Yes          No              Yes                Yes

Option for Online
                           No           Yes             Yes                Yes               No

Handles Color
                           Yes          Yes             Yes                Yes               No

Time-Saving Features      High          High            High               High              No

                           Yes          Yes             Yes                Yes               No
Forms Customization

All of the information in this chart is supplied by vendors.

Heidi Tolliver-Nigro is an industry analyst and writer specializing in digital and variable data printing technologies.
She is the former editor of Printing News, a consultant and writer for TrendWatch Graphic Arts. She can be
reached at