Thursday, May 2, 2013

GUEST BLOG: AutoPrint – ImagePrint’s best kept secret?

This is an article I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but I simply haven’t found the time to do it. Colorbyte ImagePrint 9 is an excellent product that produces the highest quality print results for two reasons:

  1. They have fantastic color profiles – profiles are the #1 most important thing to get a great print, and they’ve got thousands of great profiles for pretty much any paper you want AND each profile offers several versions that are tuned for your lighting conditions too!
  2. They bypass the printer driver and talk directly to the printer to get you better results than the printer driver itself! Don’t believe me? Download the free trial and try it for yourself! B&W and duo-tone lovers will be blown away at the tonal range and control this product offers!

For those who had version 8, the UI has been DRASTICALLY improved to make it much more usable. The workflow is WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY better and much more logical.

I personally asked the folks at ColorByte if they could write an article about a great feature they have that even existing ColorByte owners rarely exploit. It’s called AutoPrint and what you’ll see is this is an easy way to set up a desktop shortcut/folder where you can just drag and drop your image files on it (including PSD’s) and have the perfect print come out of your printer. Imagine – your desktop has folders for doing a letter size print on Exhibition Fiber and a 13x19 for Metallic. Just load the printer, drop the file on the shortcut and viola – mission accomplished. A great print every time without looking at your notes and spending 10 minutes to make sure you don’t have any mistakes in the printer driver before you reluctantly hit print.

This is a super powerful feature I love, but I just couldn’t do this justice so Daniel at ColorByte has stepped up to the challenge and written a wonderful article to help you learn more about this cool feature. I hope you enjoy it!


Any photographer who’s ever considered making their own prints is probably aware of ColorByte Software’s ImagePrint RIP. Its huge selection of high quality paper profiles, tons of workflow features and easy print queue management make it a serious consideration for anyone with an Epson inkjet printer.  Here’s Ron’s review of version 8.  If you haven’t tried ImagePrint and have a supported Epson printer, you can download a trial version for Mac or PC here.


But there’s more to ImagePrint then just, well, ImagePrint. The software also ships with a free utility that’s not so well known.  It uses the same output technology and the same excellent paper profiles, but it has a completely different interface with some unique features all its own.  The name of this hidden gem is AutoPrint, and in this article we’re going to give it a little long overdue attention.  (If your copy of ImagePrint doesn’t have AutoPrint, or you want the latest version, you can download it along with the PDF user manual here.)

Hot, Hot, Hot

AutoPrint does just what the name implies—automates your printing. It does this through the use of a Hot Folders. Hot folders aren’t really anything special—they’re just normal folders on your computer that AutoPrint has been told to constantly monitor for image files. Drag a JPEG, TIFF or Photoshop PSD file to the folder, and AutoPrint prints them according to parameters you set ahead of time. When they’re done printing, AutoPrint moves or deletes the files per your specification.


With hot folders, just dragging a file to a folder prints it

Who needs it?

While most ImagePrint users will be perfectly fine using the “normal” ImagePrint interface, there are some workflows that can benefit from bypassing ImagePrint’s more graphical, hands-on one.

For instance, say you want to…

  • Print large volumes of images  
    It’s much easier (and quicker) to drop hundreds of images into a folder than it is to open them in ImagePrint.  AutoPrint will churn away, laying out images and sending them to the printer long after you’ve left for the day.
  • Avoid training and installing software
    Once you’ve set it up, your users just need to know how to drag and drop (or save) an image into a folder.  AutoPrint takes care of all the details, avoiding the need to teach users the ins and outs of ImagePrint while also reducing the potential for  mistakes. And you only have to have ImagePrint installed on the computer connected to the printer—just map a folder from that computer to act as a hot folder, and anyone on your network can take advantage of hands-free printing.
  • Do something a bit… different
    There’s also a category of ImagePrint users who sometimes use AutoPrint simply because it does something they need to do that ImagePrint can’t. For instance, ImagePrint’s annotation feature can put filename and date below each image in a fixed font size, but that’s as far as it goes. AutoPrint allows a lot more options-- including annotating with EXIF data from jpeg files.  Plus, it doesn’t restrict you to the text appearing at just the bottom of the image—you can place the annotation on any side and pick from a variety of fonts, sizes and colors. So, if you have to have EXIF information or annotations on the side of the image, AutoPrint would be the workflow to use.  Another thing that many find useful is automatic watermarks—AutoPrint can emboss your company name, or the word demo, on every image it prints—something ImagePrint can’t (at least not yet).

The Great Wall of Settings

AutoPrint is all about the settings, and it sure has a lot of them. In fact, the sheer number available may seem a bit daunting at first. You’ll find settings for sizing, spacing and rotating, settings for annotations, crop marks, templates, and automatic cropping, settings for adding frames, for watermarks, for page repeats and image copies and sorting and cut channels and on and on and on.  Its options have options. Luckily, hovering your mouse over most of them pops up a description of what the setting does, and for the most part, they make perfect sense. There’s just a lot of them.  Too many to cover all of them here. Instead, we’ll run through the basics of setting AutoPrint up for a standard workflow, then touch on some of the more useful things it can do.

Settings? I got your settings right here.

Getting started

To use AutoPrint, you need to have first installed ImagePrint and set up a printer.  Remember: AutoPrint shares the same spooler (SpoolFace) as ImagePrint, and the same paper profiles, so those have to be in place first. Since AutoPrint can be a little less intuitive than ImagePrint, I usually recommend getting a few prints out via ImagePrint before jumping into AutoPrint.  It’s easer to spot a problem within ImagePrint’s visual, soft proofed layout screen than in AutoPrint’s mostly textual one.

Once you’re ready, AutoPrint can be launched from your ImagePrint folder.   On Macs, that’s /Applications/ImagePrint, on Windows, c:\Program Files\ImagePrint. 


AutoPrint’s Main Window (Mac version)

The first thing you need to do after launching AutoPrint is choose your printer and choose a page size.  You do both via the drop-down button menus in the center of the window.  (If you don’t see a page size in the Page Size list, you can easily make a custom size by choosing that option from the drop down.)

Next, you’ll need to tell AutoPrint what folder it should check for image files.  By default, it looks for them to appear in a folder called “Watch” within the ImagePrint folder on your system, but you can click the “Browse…” button and specify any local or mapped folder on your system.  This makes it simple to include everyone on your network in your printing workflow without having to install ImagePrint on each computer.

We’re almost ready to start laying out images.  But there’s two things we have to do first. 

  1. Set some options so AutoPrint will know how we want images laid out on the page. 
  2. Tell AutoPrint when to consider a page ready to print. 

Trigger Happy

There are three “triggers” that AutoPrint uses to determine that a page is ready to print. 

  • It can wait for a certain quantity of images on the page. 
  • It can wait for a certain percentage of the page to be filled.
  • Or it can wait until a certain amount of time has elapsed since it began adding images.


Triggers are set in the General Settings window

To set the triggers AutoPrint will use, choose General from the Settings menu at the top of the AutoPrint screen.  You’ll see Print Triggers listed, with each of the 3 trigger options.

Now, it’s very important to remember that triggers are inclusive—you can set 1, 2 or all 3 triggers, and the first one reached will cause the job to go to the printer.  This allows for a lot of flexibility in your workflow, and can ensure that you’re not stuck forever waiting for one trigger to be met.

For instance—imagine setting a trigger that waits for ten images to be placed on each page.  Now, drop 88 images into your hot folder.  You’ll get eight pages filled and printed, no problem.  But the ninth page will only have eight images on it—not enough to trigger your trigger!  That last page will wait  forever if no new images are dropped in the folder.  The solution is to set a 2nd trigger that waits for an amount of time to elapse since the first images was placed on the page.  (Say, thirty minutes or so).  That way, you can be sure that that last page will eventually be sent even if it doesn’t have the full ten images on it.

Sized (and spaced, and rotated) to order

OK, now that we’ve set our triggers, we just need to tell AutoPrint where and how to put the images on the page.  You’ll find those options under the Settings menu at the top of the AutoPrint screen under Layout Settings.

The Layout Settings window has a lot of clutter hidden behind it’s expandable sections.  For this overview, we’ll just take a quick look at the most critical ones—namely, those related to sizing, spacing, and rotating the images.

options You may not use every AutoPrint feature, but pretty much all workflows need to set position and sizing parameters

Click the little triangle symbol beside the Image Placement Settings label.  You can set various things here you may or may not ever use, but one thing everyone needs to understand is Gutters.  That’s the distance between images.  Right now, it’s set to a quarter of an inch (.25) in both directions. Change those values to put more or less space between images in the horizontal (X) or vertical (Y) directions.

Now close the Image Placement Settings by clicking the little triangle and again, and expand the Image Sizing Settings section. Here’s where you can force all images to come in at a certain size, or leave it at it’s default 100% to have them sized at their original dimensions. 

Once you’re satisfied with your image sizing settings, close that section and take a look at Image Rotation Settings.  The most important setting here is “Auto Rotate”.  With that checked, AutoPrint will rotate an image 90 degrees if it can’t fit on the page.  You can also force all images to be placed in a landscape or portrait orientation regardless of their original orientation. 

As I said, there’s lots more settings to customize your workflow, but those are the most critical. 

Don’t forget the profiles!

I won’t go much in the way of details on setting up Color Management—just know that AutoPrint works essentially the same as ImagePrint and shares access to the very same profiles. To get to AutoPrint’s Color Management window, choose Color Settings under the Settings menu.  The default settings work for most people, but be very sure that in the Printer Profile field of this window you’ve picked a valid paper profile for your media.  If you don’t see the profile for your media listed there, you may need to launch ImagePrint and download it via the Profile Valet (or use the Profile Manager utility located in your ImagePrint folder).

aprint_color_both AutoPrint’s color management settings are similar to those found in ImagePrint

 Let ‘er RIP

Now that we’ve take a look at the basics, we’re ready to put AutoPrint through its paces.

Back in AutoPrint’s main window, you’ll notice a big, wide button with the words “AutoPrint is not running, click here to start”. That’s your Start button—click it, and AutoPrint will start checking your hot folder for new images—you’ll know it’s doing its job when the text in that big button starts scrolling with the words “AutoPrint is currently running”.  To pause AutoPrint in it’s folder-checking, just click the button again. 

Go ahead and click it.  Then watch in wonder as… nothing much happens.

That’s because we haven’t add any images to the hot folder.  The hot folder is the one listed in the Main AutoPrint window by the Watch Folder label.  By default, it’s a folder called “Watch” located in your ImagePrint folder. To open it quickly, without having to delve into your file system, choose “Open Watch Folder” from AutoPrint’s FILE menu.

Once it’s open, you’ll see it actually isn’t empty—AutoPrint puts some “bookkeeping” files in it as it’s running which can be ignored.  Now…drag some images in to the folder (if you don’t have any handy, drag the “sample portrait.tiff” file from the “Test Images” folder inside your ImagePrint folder.) 

Now we’re getting somewhere!

As AutoPrint places the images it finds in the hot folder on the page, it shows its progress at the bottom of its Main window—you’ll see a running tally of the number of images, the time since the first was placed on the current page, and the percentage of page area the images take up.  The layout is shown visually, too—that little white rectangle you see there represents the page, and tiny colored rectangles  representing the images, will appear as they’re placed. 


As images are places, information is shown at the bottom of the main AutoPrint window

That little rectangle is small though.  Want to see a bigger version?  Click the little one, and its big brother—“The Layout Window”—will appear.  This shows a much larger version of the page—and here you can choose to show thumbnails of the images instead of rectangle place holders.  Hover your mouse over one and you’ll see its name and size and coordinates.  And, if you don’t want to wait for the triggers you’ve set to be reached—say you have a trigger for 8 images but the last page only has 7 on it--the Layout Window has a handy Queue Now button that will immediately send the layout to print regardless of what triggers have been met.


The Layout Window with previews turned on

When the page is sent to the spooler you’ll see the layout window flash red for a moment.  Then the job for that page will appear in the Active Jobs side of SpoolFace (ImagePrint’s spooler) just like any ImagePrint job.  Also just like any ImagePrint job, when the page is done printing, it will pop down to the Saved side of SpoolFace—and that’s when, behind the scenes, AutoPrint will move the image files that were on that page out of the hot folder.  That’s why it’s important to keep AutoPrint running while the images it sent to print are processed by SpoolFace.

As each page is filled and sent to the spooler, the the process starts anew--a new, empty page is shown in AutoPrint, and any images in the hot folder that have not been placed yet will start filling the new page up.

Beyond the basics

Ok, now you’ve seen a little bit of how AutoPrint works.  You’ve set some triggers, adjusted some parameters, and had AutoPrint automatically place images on a page and send them to the ImagePrint spooler. (Or at least you’ve read about it.)   But AutoPrint has a few features you should be aware of—features not directly related to the nuts and bolts of laying out image, but instead can be used to automate it’s hands-free workflow even more.

Launch Scripts – Automating the automation

Normally, you have to start AutoPrint by double-clicking its icon, choosing a printer and page size, then clicking the 'Start AutoPrinting” button.  OK, that’s actually pretty easy, but you can make it even easier with an Auto Launcher script.  Double-clicking one of these and AutoPrint will do all that and minimize AutoPrint to the top of the screen in its own little mini-menu that shows it’s status.  You can then put the shortcut in your Mac or Windows Startup items folder to launch AutoPrint and monitor your hot folder every time you’re computer boots.


Double-click an AutoLauncher to start AutoPrint’ing in a minimized window

To create it, just choose “Create AutoPrint Launch Script” from the File menu at the top of the AutoPrint screen.  The script will appear on your desktop, but you can put it anywhere on your computer.  When coupled with different QUEUES (see below) this can be a powerful tool for automating AutoPrint even further.

Multiple printers and multiple Queues

AutoPrint can work with any printer you use with ImagePrint—just choose the one you want from its Printer drop down, choose your settings and your off.  But… what if you want to work with multiple printers at the same time? 

Easy!  Just launch a 2nd (or 3rd, or 4th) instance of AutoPrint, and point each running copy at the printer you wish it to send jobs to.  Each printer can have it’s own unique AutoPrint options and triggers. Be very sure to set a unique hot (watch) folder for each, though, or things will get ugly as different instances of AutoPrint are all fighting over the same files.

And the multi-tasking doesn’t stop there.  AutoPrint has a feature, called Queues, that are basically saved sets of options.  You can create and save any number of Queues, all with their own unique AutoPrint settings and triggers.  You can even create Launch Scripts (see above) for each Queue. 

To create a new queue, click the little triangle in the middle of the AutoPrint main window.  The window will open up to reveal the super secret Queue settings section.  These settings are pretty self-explanatory—choose New Queue, then give the queue a name.  Now you can pick that Queue from this section to put it in effect, and any changes you make to AutoPrint will be for the currently selected Queue.


Behold the AutoPrint hidden Queue menu

One great use for Queues is in creating what are essentially hold queues where users can send their images to wait until the printer is ready for a given workflow.  For instance, say you have Matte paper loaded on the printer in the morning, but don’t plan to load Glossy paper in the afternoon.  Just set up one Queue with all your settings for Matte--including the paper profile for your matte media.  Create a 2nd Queue for your Photo paper workflow. 

Now, your users don’t have to worry about what’s loaded on the printer—they just need to know to put their images in the right folder throughout the day.  You, and AutoPrint, will take care of the rest.  Simply launch the right Launch script for each paper (Matte or Glossy) when that paper is loaded on the printer and it will churn through those accumulated files. 

A few minuses

AutoPrint is basically a big script and as such, it’s not as polished looking or acting as ImagePrint, ColorByte’s flagship product.  On the other hand, as a script it is much easier to customize and ColorByte has been known to add features to accommodate a user’s particular needs.

Also, while it does things that ImagePrint doesn’t, be aware that it also doesn’t do some things that ImagePrint does.  No shuffle feature.  No different images in template packages. No soft proofing. 

And while it’s easy to use as hot folder applications go, it still requires some investment of time to learns its ins and outs, at least from the person setting it up.  Of course, the payoff is, once it is setup, then sending a file to print is as simple as dragging a file to a folder.  

Need more?

Here’s a tutorial from ColorByte on using AutoPrint.  If you have ImagePrint, you can download the very latest version of AutoPrint along with its PDF manual here.

ColorByte’s AutoPrint Tutorial 


AutoPrint is not for everyone. In fact, most ImagePrint users will likely prefer the ImagePrint graphical interface and will never need the “power user” features AutoPrint can provide.  But for those willing to venture into the “wall of options” world of this powerful little hot folder utility, the endlessly customizable, hands-free, high-volume automation it offers can be a lifesaver.

[RON: This is a really cool feature that I think is way often overlooked. The ability to give your tech challenged significant other or co-worker a way to just drag and drop their file on to a folder to get pro quality print results is very powerful. It’s also a time saver for busy photographers & print masters! I really love this feature and don’t leverage it as much as I should!]

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