Multiple displays save many dollars in production

Blognosticator Head

I work at a Macintosh computer with two 24-inch Apple Cinema Displays in front of me. It looks like the console of an air traffic controller. The two displays give me 39 inches (measured) of horizontal view, and just about 13 on the vertical. Sometimes visitors see this and exclaim that computer greed has taken me over.

Cinema Display pair

This is my two-display set-up with screen captures inserted (just like the ads in the paper!). Notice that I have Photoshop palettes open on the left display (and one of my hard drives is open). On the right is the image with no interference from the palettes.

I respond that having two displays improves my productivity. It’s quite simple: I never open or close a palette; I never have to remember where to get a tool while working in Photoshop or InDesign, and I just move about, clicking and choosing to get my work done. The left display is primarily for tools and palettes. The right display is clear for my work area. It’s not hindered by floating tool palettes or color pickers. It’s just the page or the photo – unhindered by software clutter.

Prepress productivity
Years ago I did a productivity study of prepress shops in California. I studies the use of film, masking materials (does anyone remember Rubylith?) and time to produce composite color pages. In some shops the productivity was low, in others it was extraordinarily high. In the cases of the high-productivity, it was access to the right material – in the correct size – at an arm’s length that seemed to make the difference. Shops that went to the trouble of cutting materials to useful sizes, and having a stock of these materials handy were measurably better at getting work done.

So, with that analogy at hand, isn’t it better to reach and get, rather than search around, floundering, trying to find something you need?

Money is time, and vice versa
A 27-inch Cinema Display (or similar device from another manufacturer) is $999 list price (and usually the street price, too). Buying one is a good move for any prepress workstation (managers make note: give them good tools, and they get more work done!). Getting a second one is moderately expensive on initial analysis, but it’s a bargain when you consider improved productivity. Budgeted Hourly Rates for prepress are in the $3.00 per minute range ($180 per hour).

How much does a menu cost?
I tried this hundreds of times to get an average, and it works out to about six seconds to access most first-level menus, and nine seconds to access second- and third-level menus in most of the Adobe applications (Image>Adjustments>Shadow/Highlight, for example). If I work on images in Photoshop, I find that I must use two to three palettes per image, so that’s about 25 seconds total. If those palettes are already open, it takes about half the time to run the mouse over and get the tool (unfortunately, menus can’t be left open like palettes can). I figure I can I save approximately 48 cents per image by not having to get the palettes every time I need one.

Extrapolating this into a shift-long savings, the not-going-to-get-menus value is proportionate to the number of images and the number of jobs you process. But, I would proffer that an average prepress operator handles over 100 images and other files a day. If I estimate that I can save 48 cents per image, and I handle 100 per shift, that’s $48.00 per day in saved time not accessing palettes. Now, let’s look at that $999 Cinema Display once again, and consider how long it takes to pay for it with improved productivity… a payback of just under four weeks. That means that the other 48 or so working weeks of the year are free.

Of course it’s easier to justify this purchase by the savings of time (as opposed to money). If prepress pros save a few seconds here and a few more there, the time adds up. In a single shift, the time saved is significant, allowing more work to be done in the same shift. Everyone benefits, especially the customer, because there is less time spent getting their job ready to print.

The economy of two displays
A second display is not an act of gluttony, it’s a commitment to productivity.


About Brian Lawler

Brian Lawler is an Emeritus Professor of Graphic Communication at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and was a Guest Professor at Hochschule München from September, 2021 to September, 2022. He writes about graphic arts processes and technologies for various industry publications, and on his blog, The Blognosticator.
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2 Responses to Multiple displays save many dollars in production

  1. Vishal says:

    Thanks for this, post like this make me come back to your blog. Keep on the good work.

  2. Ellis Myers says:

    But, Brian, payback time for someone like me is far in excess of actuarial life expectancy. Could I use my ancient iMac 24-in. computer (currently running Tiger) alongside my iMac 27-in. Snow Leopard to achieve the same result?

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