Printing & Design Tips: OCTOBER 2005, Issue #51

Press Proofs

One of the most expensive proofs to buy is a press proof, a proof actually printed on an offset press. This, of course, is in contrast to an off-press proof, such as a digital (laser or inkjet) or analog (Cromalin or Matchprint) proof.

Why would anyone want to spend more for a press proof, particularly when one might cost $1,000 to $2,000 per 16-page signature?

A press proof is printed on the actual stock to be used for the final press run. If you have chosen a colored sheet, the paper color will affect the ink colors. If you were to purchase a digital or analog proof, either would be printed on one of a limited number of proofing stocks. Almost all of these stocks are white (gloss or matte). You would have no idea of how the color of the actual paper stock would affect the final product, since most printing inks are transparent and are therefore dramatically influenced by the paper substrate. For example, if you put a blue ink on a yellow paper stock, the resulting color would probably appear green. But that same blue ink on a white paper stock would appear blue.

Another reason to purchase a press proof is if you will include duotones in your design. Digital proofs (the most common these days) are produced with process colors. Duotones are printed with PMS colors. Granted, the newer inkjet proofing devices often have additional colors (up to four more for a total of eight) to help simulate PMS inks. These have become increasingly effective proofing devices. However, the only way to get absolute color fidelity in the proofing of a duotone is to produce it on the press.

A third reason to choose a press proof is to catch "in-line" color conflicts. Visualize a press sheet with eight pages on one side and eight pages on the other. Each side of the press sheet is divided into two rows of four pages, one row above the other. As the sheet travels through the press, color on pages in line with one another can be problematic. If, for example, an image on the top left page of one side of a press sheet has a lot of yellow, and the page immediately below (bottom left) includes Caucasian flesh tones, the flesh tones could look jaundiced. This is because the press needs to use a certain quantity of yellow ink to produce one image, but the next image in line needs less yellow ink to look the way you want it. To avoid this, you could rearrange the images on the press sheet. Even if a press proof of this signature of your publication costs $1,000 to $2,000, it would be far better to know about the in-line color conflict before you commit to the entire press run.

These are only a few reasons to consider a press proof. Most jobs will not require one. However, for an expensive, high-profile job such as an annual report, even the high cost of a press proof can be considered an insurance policy against the much higher cost of reprinting. If an important job is worth doing, it's worth doing right.

Self-Cover vs. Plus Cover

When you specify a booklet or book (made up of signatures) for print, your printer will ask whether you want a "self-cover" or "plus cover" job.

What does this mean?

If you were to print a 16-page booklet, for instance, on 80# text stock, you would call this a 16-page self-cover booklet since all the paper stock in the booklet is the same. If you added a 4-page cover of 80# cover stock to the 16-page booklet, you would have a 16-page plus cover booklet. However, if you added a 4-page cover of the same stock, you would call this a 20-page self-cover booklet.

Knowing this can save you money. First of all, if you aren't explicit, your estimate will not match your final bill. Your printer's estimator might assume you want "plus cover" if you are not clear. As a result, you may end up with two kinds of paper stock, and you may pay a lot more.

For another example, let’s say you're printing a 16-page booklet. Furthermore, let's assume you plan to add a cover but through a few editing and design changes, you cease to need the 4-page cover. In such an instance, you could conceivably print one 16-page self-cover booklet in one pass on the press instead of one 16-page text signature and one 4-page cover signature. Percentage-wise, you would pay dearly for that cover signature. You could save yourself a lot of money by eliminating it.

[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.]