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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven 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.

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Printing Companies Offer Three Levels of Proofs

The terms “Level 1, 2, and 3 proofs” are distinctions made by offset printing companies to qualify certain proofs as being of a higher color accuracy than others. Level 1, 2, and 3 are inkjet (not laser) digital proofs. This is a particularly useful designation for multi-page print jobs produced by paperback book printers, hardcover book printers, catalog printers, and magazine printers, since the proofs vary widely in cost, and over the course of a multi-page job, the price difference can really add up.

Level 3 Proofs

Level 3 proofs are not meant for color fidelity, just for position. Also referred to as D4 proofs by some printers, these proofs show placement of all elements, distance of type from trim margin, and general color. They are analogous to the film-based bluelines that used to be provided prior to the direct-to-plate workflow.

Good for: the overall look of your job and completeness of the job (to confirm that no elements are missing or too close to the trim margin)

Level 1 Proofs

Level 1 proofs reflect true color fidelity. They are “fingerprinted” to the press (calibrated to show exactly how the job will print on press) and are considered “contract proofs.” The Spectrum is an example of such a proof. Epson also makes high-quality inkjet proofing devices.

Some high quality Level 1 proofers show the halftone dot structure (rosettes). These include the Spectrum and the Kodak Approval. They also use a colored ink set that is congruent with traditional process C, M, Y, K inks. Other proofers are continuous tone printers that do not display a visible halftone dot pattern. These printers can be calibrated to be color faithful, but their ink sets only simulate traditional process colors, and accuracy and repeatability over time are not as good as for halftone dot proofing devices.

Some people prefer the dot proofs, saying that potential (problematic) moire patterns can be more easily predicted before the printing process. Others believe the continuous tone proofs are fine. In both cases, the accuracy of color, the actual percentages of halftone screens, fine type serifs, etc., are visible. What you see on the Level 1 proof is exactly what you should see on the final printed job.

Good for: accuracy of color, confirming that the screen percentages you specified are not too light or dark, showing accurate contrast between area screens and any type surprinted over them

Some printing companies will offer a mid-range proofing option between the Level 1 and Level 3 proofs. Many of these vendors regard only those proofs showing the actual dot structure as being Level 1 proofs, and consider the mid-range Level 2 proofs to include the high-quality continuous tone inkjet output. Level 3 would be the position-only lower quality proofs.

How to Proceed

If you are producing a case-bound book, for instance, with black-only text and a two-color dust jacket, the best plan would be to start with a Level 3 proof of your entire book. Then request Level 1 proofs for any color work, including the book cover, dust jacket, and the like.

Level 1 proofs are more expensive, so you would not want to pay for an entire set for a black-ink-only book. It would be of no benefit to you.

That said, if you see problems in the Level 3 proofs (perhaps type on a screen looks too light or too dark), you can request a Level 1 proof for a sample page, and then make a more informed decision as to whether to change anything.

Knowing how and when to request the various levels of proofs, whether from paperback book printers, hardcover book printers, catalog printers, magazine printers, even vendors that print newsletters or provide brochure printing, can help you see a more accurate representation of the final printed product.

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