I was thankful to attend Drupa 2016 and spent most of my time in Halls 7 and 7a looking at the range of online editors from around the world. The following five online editing solutions stood out for me from among the 15 or so that I explored.
2Imagine: Real InDesign On the Web
I have known 2Imagine for some time, and while they didn’t have a lot of news to share at this show, they are a well-established, important player and one of the best. While most of the online editing solutions at the show were focused on editing simple documents with PDF engines, 2Imagine lets users edit arbitrary InDesign files themselves. This is crucial, because for some workflows the InDesign file is essential: InDesign is, after all, the world’s creative tool of choice. 2Imagine’s solution is not for every use case, however. It is more for internal brand management than public-facing B2C, but it is certainly a solid and powerful solution that has a depth of engineering and capability beyond the lighter-weight systems.
With 2imagine you start in InDesign, and define what’s allowable for users to edit online. Then you can output directly for publishing, or save to native InDesign. This last step can be critical in certain situations. One of the downsides of PDF-based solutions can be the absence of such a native file.
Aleyant: Simple, Quick, and Inexpensive
Aleyant is a widely-used system that manages to provide a very low-cost entry point for Web to Print. By punting on the challenges/cost of InDesign Server and avoiding the perils of on-canvas editing, they provide a customizable solution that is PDF-based with fast server-side rendition of individual page objects.
Their “eDocBuilder” does a great job of using minimalist tactics to give even small printers flexible tools for web to print, including shopping cart options with interfaces into numerous back end systems. They also seem to do better than many at letting end users control the look and feel of their user interface, which they showcased in diverse examples of different customer implementations.
Print Science: Another Quick and Easy Contender
Very similar to Aleyant in technical aspects, yet one I hadn’t met until now, PrintScience also seems to do well at efficient, PDF-based server-side rendition that enables a very low entry point for powerful online editing. You set up templates in Acrobat with a very simple free plugin. This seems extremely easy-to-use and great for small printers.
By integrating with Open Source shopping carts, they take a different approach than Aleyant, one that is perhaps even easier for someone getting started with Web to Print. It really seemed quite nice and I was surprised to learn that they are from the US, as I don’t remember seeing them before (of course Maine is quite a ways from Silicon Valley).
PrintBox: Photo Products with Business Thought Through
I was quite fascinated by PrintBox, which in stark contrast to Aleyant and most other solutions, is not so much about letting the user customize and extend the application, but instead seeks to offer a ready-to-go, well thought-out approach to everything from the target products to the best editing approaches for those products.
In the first place, PrintBox are photo product-centric. They do photobooks, canvas, photo cards, and prints, having identified these as top products in a rich market. Beyond their products, their UI is prescribed rather than made extensible. They will let a customer white label the solution, but they have thought through the UX themselves, with notable creativity and energy. Thus, this is really more of a franchise opportunity than a strictly “make it your own” platform. I was impressed at how they approached different products with attention to the uniqueness of each, expressed through product-specific user experience. They are from Poland and don’t (yet) have much presence in America.
Tweak: a Template for Everything, a New Cloud
Tweak is one of the established tools that (like 2Imagine), also uses an InDesign engine, but Tweak aims more at the market the three other tools go after. Similarly to PrintBox, they put serious energy into making the solution “ready to sell”, most notably by providing a vast array of well-designed templates across nearly every document type and industry. Given the stock photo background of founder Jerry Kennelly, it’s natural they would have something of a content focus. Tweak has been thoroughly thought out and includes some quite amazing document resizing functionality.
New this year is the “Tweak Cloud” which lets users upload their own templates to be shared and made editable online.
Online Editors take diverse forms
There are certainly many ways to skin the online editing cat and it is fun to see continued energy and evolution in this space. It is also fascinating to me the diversity of approaches, there are certainly a wide range of use cases for document personalization and no one-size-fits-all tool.