Printing & Design Tips: August 2002, Issue #13

Two New Directions in Color Proofing

Ink-Jet Contract Proofs
You may have noticed recently that blueline proofs from some of your printers have been replaced with color ink-jet proofs. If your job is bypassing film and going direct-to-plate, this would be your only viable option, since bluelines, Matchprints, Cromalins, etc., require film. But even for jobs in which plates will be burned from film output, many printers have moved from blueline proofs to large-format ink-jet proofs keyed to their presses. These signature proofs, which often show, in color, full folded eight- or sixteen-page signatures, can speed up the prepress stage considerably. After all, no film needs to be produced, and no bluelines need to be burned prior to plating. The digital proof can bypass these steps completely at this stage. Furthermore, since client corrections noted on the proof can be made before any film has been output, your authors' alterations costs should decrease as well. In this case you will only be paying for computer system time and not for revised film or a revised blueline.

The quality of such proofs has improved dramatically in recent years. Output is consistent and colors are faithful. However, there are limited paper stocks available for ink-jet proofs; it is often not possible to produce ink-jet proofs on the actual paper on which the final job will print, particularly if it is an uncoated offset stock. Also, ink-jet is a continuous-tone process. Even though ink-jet output when studied under a loupe is seen to be composed of dots, these are not halftone dots; they are the dots of the dithering process. If you need to see the rosettes (dot patterning of four-color work), ink-jet signature proofing is not right for your job.

Another new technology quickly gaining acceptance is the "soft proof" (or "collaborative proof" or "remote proof"), in which your printer sends you a high-res digital version of your actual plating and proofing files over the Internet. You check the proof on-screen and then return it on-line with annotated corrections. This is particularly efficient if the job requires approvals from many people. It also removes couriers and idle wait time from the workflow since it is an immediate, two-way transfer of the proof. However, your monitor must be accurately (and periodically) calibrated, and you must remember that color produced with light on a monitor will never exactly match color produced with pigment in offset printing.

Varnish as a Design Element

Certainly varnish can be used to protect printed material from scuffing, but it can also be used as a design element. Consider coating portions of a foreground image, for instance, on the cover of a book with a dull varnish and everything else (the background) with a gloss varnish for contrast. When the reader holds the book under the light in one way, the varnished pattern is invisible. When the viewer holds the publication under the light in a slightly different way, the hitherto invisible varnish pattern comes into view. It's subtle and, used with a good sensitivity to design, can add beauty to your printed piece. Or you can reverse the placement of the dull and gloss varnish and produce a slightly different effect.

As an alternative, you can start with a gloss-coated sheet and print certain areas selectively with a dull varnish for contrast. Most printers and paper companies will provide sample books showing how such varnish effects will look. It is prudent to use such books both to see the final effect and to communicate your design goals to your printer.

Another trick with varnish is to add a tint of pigment to an otherwise clear coating to create an almost ghost-like effect. The final image will be a lightly screened image with a slightly metallic sheen of varnish. It will be visible but subtle. You can do this with halftones, line art, or type. Again, when the reader holds the piece under light in a certain way, it will be less visible; held under light in a slightly different way, it will be more visible. As with other design uses of varnish, provide samples to show your printer what you want.

[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.]