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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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Book Printing: How to Review a Book “Blueline” Proof

I realize they’re not really “bluelines” anymore, now that printer’s proofs are produced via inkjet technology, but the term is resilient, and some printers still call these digital inkjet proofs by their former name.

I received a printer’s digital blueline for a print book I’m designing and print brokering. It is a directory, composed of covers that print on both sides of the press sheet (ads on three covers, plus the art for the spine and front cover), 36 pages of four-color front matter (editorial, photos, and ads), and a 144-page, two-color directory listing. The book is 180 pages in length.

I approached the task of checking the proof before handing it off to my client in the following way. I thought you might find this useful information as you craft your own approach to reviewing a print book proof.

What I Looked For in the Proof

As a designer, I was clear that this proof was my last chance to check everything. According to commercial printing industry standards, once I (and my client) had approved the proof, any errors would no longer be the book printer’s responsibility.

Checking for Completeness of Copy

First I compared the hard-copy proof to the final, on-screen PDF of the job. I wanted to make sure all elements were present. That is, I checked the ads I had placed on the book covers and in the front matter. Since I had placed them as PDFs (as provided by the ad clients of this particular nonprofit agency), I knew it was very unlikely that any problems would have arisen.

Although I had provided the covers and book front-matter as InDesign files (editable by the commercial printing vendor, if necessary), I knew the PDFs of the ads were pretty much indestructible. In contrast, I carefully checked the completeness of all editorial copy (produced from editable, InDesign data) as well as line breaks and use of italics, boldface, and color in the text.

I also checked the running headers (knowing that since I had placed them on InDesign master pages they would probably be fine, or at least that they would all be the same). And I checked the folios (to make sure they were all present, accurate, and in order).

Checking Margin, Trim, and Placement of Design Elements

This includes the alignment of facing pages. They were off in some cases, not aligning across the top margin. I assumed that the misalignment was due to the printer’s having hand-trimmed the inkjet proof. However, to be certain, I noted the pages that did not align. When I met with my client to hand off the proof, I also pointed out the quantity, color usage, cover coating, and paper specifications noted on the book printer’s proof sign-off sheets.

In addition, I checked the cropping of the photos on the proof. Had I provided PDF files (which some printers prefer), I would have been less meticulous about all this checking. After all, it’s a trade-off. Starting with an InDesign file rather than a PDF, the printer could easily repair any problems he found, rather than having me correct the files and resubmit them, but he could also inadvertently introduce errors into the InDesign files.

Checking Color

Knowing that the color in the ads and editorial photos would not be as brilliant as they had appeared on the computer screen (i.e., reflective art in the proof vs. a backlit, on-screen image on the computer), I checked the color in the book. Since it was pleasing (editorial images were essentially snapshots, and the ads were imaged exactly as provided by the ad agency), I passed the proof on to my client at the non-profit agency.

Checking the Cover

I had submitted the cover as individual pages and a spine. Some printers prefer this. When they have figured out the thickness of the spine based on the caliper of the interior pages, they stitch the covers and spine together onto one large InDesign page. Again, since the printer did this to the InDesign file I had provided, I checked the proof very carefully. The type on the spine seemed to ride a little high (it didn’t seem to be floating on the spine exactly halfway between the front and back covers), so I noted this on the correction list.

Checking the Directory Listings

Since I had provided the directory listings section of the book as a high-res PDF, I knew these proof pages would pretty much be perfect. After all, PDFs are locked-down files. You can edit them in minor ways with preflight software, but they are not easily damaged (unlike InDesign files).

That said, I still checked the running footers one last time to make sure they accurately reflected the contents of the directory pages (the categories of the listings). I also checked the table of contents page numbers for accuracy as well as the advertiser index page numbers (after all, advertisers had paid good money to be listed in the print book, and I wanted them to be happy).

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Remember that reviewing a book printer’s proof is not a good time for editing. However, if you see a glaring error, this is the time to fix it. You can always ask the printer how much a correction will cost, and then make your decision whether to proceed. And always ask the printer to send you a revised PDF proof of any pages you change.
  2. Don’t try to check all items in one pass through the print book proof. You’ll miss something. Check the folios throughout the book, then the running headers—or create a system that works for you. Draft a checklist of what needs to be reviewed, and then make a pass through the book for each item (or a few items).
  3. Mark the corrections in the book proof with a red pen (so the notations will stand out), but also include a list of corrections (by page number).
  4. Make sure you check the production specifications on the proof sign-off sheet before you approve the proof. That is, check the quantity, paper specs, color usage, etc. Also note whether you’ll need to see a revised proof.

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