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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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Commercial Printing: Proofing Options

Here are some options from which you may choose when proofing anything from a print book to a brochure. Some are more expensive, some less, but in all cases it’s wise to first decide what you are trying to see on the proof and then think about price.

Paper Dummy (or Folding Dummy)

It never hurts to see an unprinted (but folded and trimmed) sample of your custom printing product on the actual paper stock. Your printer usually doesn’t create a folding dummy himself (although he might do so); usually his paper merchant does this. And it’s usually free.

Virtual Proof (Also Called a Screen Proof or Soft Proof)

These are the least expensive proofs. You view them online through such computer portals as InSite or Rampage Remote. Besides the price, one benefit is that no physical proof travels from the custom printing supplier to you and back. This can shave a lot of time off the production schedule.

In addition, these are “post-RIP proofs.” Your printer has already turned all PostScript vector data (lines and curves) into bitmapped data the platesetter can read. It is extremely unlikely that any unforeseen technical errors will occur after this point (such as font substitution or any other flaws). What you see on the proof is what you’ll get in the final press run.

That said, I’d be careful about approving color on a soft proof. Usually a commercial printing vendor will not certify accurate color on a virtual proof. In addition, your monitor may be out of calibration, or you may be viewing the file in different ambient lighting than your printer (i.e., sunlight coming through the window, no sunlight because it’s nighttime, etc.).

Low-Quality Inkjet Proofs

One of the printers I work with calls these “Level 3” proofs to distinguish them from the higher quality “Level 1” proofs. You can check completeness and position of images and text elements with these proofs, as well as the margins and trim of your job. They’re inexpensive and useful but not adequate for proofing color work. Some printers also call these “plotter proofs” because they’re plotted as large, low-res flats on inkjet equipment and then folded down into press signatures.

High Quality Inkjet Proofs

Many printers will use the name of the inkjet printer in their description of such a proof. These are the “Level 1” proofs noted above. They are more expensive than a plotter proof; however, they are still only continuous tone inkjet proofs (not halftone dot proofs).

One of my clients recently saw some pixellation on a few Level 3 proof pages of a print book she had sent to press. The printer then produced Level 1 proofs of these pages. The pixellation disappeared due to the higher quality of the proof. Problem solved.

These high-resolution, high quality proofs are good for ensuring an exact color match in a job. For a color critical job, it’s smart to request both a plotter proof and a high-quality contract proof (an Epson, an HP, a Fuji, or whatever other “contract” proofing device the your custom printing supplier owns).

Halftone Dot Proofs

The Kodak Approval is an example of a proofing device that simulates the actual halftone dot patterns that you will see on an offset press. It is a laminate-based, laser imaging system that can print CMYK and spot colors. The Approval prints donor sheets, which then transfer the images to the actual custom printing paper. This is especially good for producing one-off packaging proofs on the actual stock to be used. Another benefit of such a proof is that it will reflect such artifacts as “moire” patterns, undesirable conflicts between halftone screens and patterns within the images, which you cannot see on a continuous tone inkjet proof.

Not many printers have these proofing devices, and the proofs are expensive. Similar dot proofing machines include the Fuji FinalProof and Kodak/Creo Spectrum.

Digital Proofs

If your job will print on an HP Indigo digital press (or a Xeikon), your proof can be produced using the actual press. If you’re custom printing a job via offset lithography, all of your proofing options except for a press proof provide only a close simulation of the final product. In contrast, if you’re printing your job digitally, the proof is an exact copy of the final digital product.

Proofs for Variable Data Jobs

Let’s say your job is an invitation or brochure that is personalized for every recipient. How do you make sure all the names and addresses are correct? You can either request virtual proofs of some (or all) of the addresses, or you can ask for hard-copy proofs. Keep in mind that for such a job you will be using a digital press (like the HP Indigo), so what you see is what you will get.

Proofs of Die Cut Jobs

Let’s say you’re producing a packaging job and you want to see one copy of the job to make sure that the color is accurate, the placement of all images and text is correct, and the die cutting will be done right. This is the time to ask for a packaging comp. If your printer has a digital diecutting machine (one that uses digital information rather than a metal die to cut the paper stock), he can usually print a copy of the art right on the comp, and then cut, fold, and glue the sample as it comes off the digital press and the digital cutter.

Offset Press Proofs

Trust me. You don’t want to do this. It’s extremely expensive to actually fire up the press to produce a press proof. That said, if your book cover includes a duotone made with two spot colors, a press proof is the only way to actually see the PMS colors on the actual stock. For some custom printing jobs, this is worth the expense—but not for many, given all the other proofing options available.

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