Press proofs are the most accurate
proofs, since they simulate the final printed product using
the actual ink and paper stock you have selected for your
job. They are produced with actual plates mounted on a proofing
press. The two other options, digital off-press proofs and
analog off-press proofs, either are produced with products
other than printing ink--such as films or powders (for analog
proofs such as Matchprints and Cromalins) or dyes, toners,
or ink-jet inks (for digital proofs). Furthermore, they
are usually printed on paper stocks that differ in color
or surface texture from that used for the final product.
Press proofs can show how the color of the actual printing
paper will alter the ink colors and how the paper's texture
will affect the "feel" of the printed product.
They also reflect actual dot gain as well as show the true
color of a duotone (since digital proofing devices only
simulate PMS colors with 4-color process inks or toners).
Press proofs are unusually expensive,
since you are essentially paying for two press runs. (You
may pay $500 to $1,000 for a press proof on a five-color
press, as opposed to $350 for a Matchprint or $50 for a
high-end ink-jet proof.) Nevertheless, for certain jobs,
press proofs are worth their weight in gold.
- For example, consider a press proof
for showcase work such as publications including photos
of food, automobiles, fashion, etc., or for a longer press
run in general.
- Also consider a press proof if you
are attempting a design or printing technique that may
not show up accurately on a digital or analog proof and
would be prohibitively expensive to reprint if it were
visually unacceptable. In this case, a press proof might
be your only cost-effective guarantee.
Keep in mind also that you can adjust
the colors in a press proof as needed and then duplicate
the ink settings during the actual press run. Off-press
proofs -- the ones most print buyers request -- although
improving dramatically each year, just aren't accurate enough
in some cases.
Overs / Unders
What is the industry standard
for overruns and underruns? Trade standards warrant
that a printer can provide you with up to 10 percent more
or less than you have requested and bill you for this number.
If you need "at least" a specific number--say
10,000 copies--the printer can double the overage (2,000
copies, in this case) if you request it.
It is wishful thinking to assume that
a printer will always give you overs just because you have
received them in the past. You could just as easily receive
an underrun. If you need a certain quantity to mail to a
specific subscriber base, and you come up short, you will
pay through the nose to go back on press. In general, it's
cheaper to throw some copies away than to print too few.
Having said that, anything is negotiable.
Some printers will agree to smaller percentages of overs/unders.
You need to discuss this early in the process and, if necessary,
shop around. This is the only way to avoid "sticker
shock" when the bill arrives.
What is Merlin?
First of all, MERLIN is not King Arthur's
sorcerer, at least not in the arena of publications management.
This acronym stands for Mail Evaluation Readability Lookup
According to the U.S. Post Office,
MERLIN is "an automated acceptance process for presort
mailings, previously verified by USPS personnel, removing
human error from the equation." The MERLIN equipment
verifies "presort/makeup, weight/piece count, barcode
readability, tray/sack label accuracy, print reflectance,
and mail piece attributes."
How does this
If your mail piece does not pass MERLIN's standards, you
will need to either appeal the decision or pay the additional
postage. Since that additional postage can range from 3¢
to 10¢ per piece, this can quickly add up. On the other
hand, appealing MERLIN's decision is time consuming and
can delay your mailing for several days.
How can you
avoid this problem?
Leave time in your production schedule to fax a copy of
your mail piece to a USPS design analyst for review. An
analyst can be located through your local post office. Being
proactive can help you get the best possible postage rates-and
ensure that your mail piece reaches its destination in a
[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]