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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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Custom Printing: Choosing an InSite Digital Proofing Workflow

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Back in the 1990s when I was an art director, I actually sent our print books to press as pasted-up “mechanicals.” From these, the printers would make negatives and from these blueline proofs. Finally they would “burn” plates from the same negatives used for the bluelines. Late in the ‘90s I had switched to submitting artwork as digital files rather than as mechanicals, and the printers had begun to expose and process custom printing plates without the interim step of creating negatives.

During this decade I reviewed bluelines for placement and completeness of copy, accuracy of photo cropping (which was done by the printer), and trim margins. I also looked for broken copy (indicating dust on the negatives from which the plates were to be made).

For color work I reviewed analog color proofs made with films or toners. In fact, at one point it was a big deal to finally have all the colors on one sheet (with the Matchprints and Cromalins I used to check) and not on registered acetate overlay sheets.

Then I would attend press inspections to review press sheets in the printers’ 5000K lighting booths on their pressroom floors. Sometimes I had to do this in the middle of the night, or every six hours as the printer completed one press signature and started the next. I spent a lot of nights sleeping on couches or the floor of commercial printing establishments.

Enter Digital

So now that everything has been computerized, and printers even offer the option of online proofing only—via the Kodak InSite platform, for instance—I have mixed thoughts and emotions. And I have a particular way of approaching this issue with my clients, when I suggest either online virtual proofing (through a portal such as InSite) or hard-copy proofs.

First of all, what are the options?

Digital hard-copy proofs have replaced film-based bluelines, Cromalins, and Matchprints. These are no longer necessary, or accurate, since they are film-based proofs and since printers skip film entirely and go directly “to plate.”

For the most part, digital proofs are incredibly accurate facsimiles made via inkjet technology. Printers refer to them as “contract proofs.” This is a term you need to look for or hear, because it means the printer will match the proof exactly when printing the job. If they don’t succeed, that’s their problem, not yours. Moreover, with the new closed-loop electric eye systems on commercial printing presses continuously feeding color information back from the press sheets to the press console to automatically adjust the color, the consistency and accuracy of color management throughout a press run is much, much better than it was when I was doing press inspections in the ‘90s.

In fact, if you are a graphic designer or an art director, you may never need to attend a press inspection at a printer’s plant. The only reason to do this now is for ultra-high-profile color-critical work, such as food, fashion, and automotive advertising jobs.

So What About Virtual vs. Hard-Copy?

Virtual online proofs, also referred to as PDF proofs, show for the most part only what the prior blueline technology showed: the positioning (and completeness) of design elements on a page or double-page spread. This is very important. It’s better to find out at the proofing stage that some kind of error occurred and copy reflowed (very unlikely now). Digital virtual proofs also show bleeds, trim sizes, and fold positions, indicating that maybe your copy is too close to the margin and may be cut off during trimming. Again, better to find this out before the job is printed.

So digital virtual proofs are ideal for showing correctness and completeness of copy, as well as whether the copy blocks are centered on a page, too close to a margin, etc. However, they don’t accurately reflect color information.

From the point of view of a commercial printing establishment, however, they actually do show accurate color information because the printer has rigidly controlled the ambient lighting in the prepress and press areas (and perhaps has even added a hood over the monitor to keep ambient light off the screen).

In addition, printers’ color monitors and color management software (as well as their proofing devices) are all calibrated to be both accurate and consistent with one another. Chances are, yours aren’t (mine never were when I was an art director, and they aren’t now, since this is a time-consuming process that you need to repeat often, and since you need absolutely consistent environmental lighting—i.e., no windows).

So what can you do? Personally, I always suggest that my clients request hard-copy proofs for color work (for an additional price). Not all of my clients use InSite, which fits into the category of virtual proofing (although it’s much more than just digital proofing), but most do use virtual proofs for black-only work (such as the text matter of print books). Then they also request contract-quality hard-copy proofs for any color work, like the covers of the print books.

Pros and Cons

One of the major benefits of digital virtual proofing is that the proof files get to you immediately via computer link. You don’t have to wait for delivery from the printer to your office, or for return delivery of the proofs to your printer. This can shave a week off your schedule (especially important since most printers require your proofs in their hands before resuming production of your job).

If you’re using a Kodak InSite workflow, you get other benefits as well. You have a portal through which you can easily upload all of your PDF files (not native InDesign or Photoshop files, since this is a PDF workflow). If you have issues with your files, they will not be correctable at the printer’s shop because the printer will not have your native InDesign and Photoshop files. However, if you have prepared the final art files as per the printer’s specifications, this should not be a problem.

InSite can also be used with Kodak Matchprint virtual proofing (which could benefit you if you actually have a color-controlled environment). Moreover, you can provide password access to the proofs so that any number of people anywhere on the planet can collaborate to view and annotate the online proofs.

Then you can use InSite to upload corrected files. Finally, everyone can give a digital thumbs-up (final approval), and the job can move to plating and then to the pressroom. (More than anything, InSite is great for coordinating the activities of the large number of people who must either review or correct digital files or process them in the printer’s physical plant.)

So the entire InSite process is intended to interact with color proofing software, online review and correction processes, and even the Prinergy Workflow standard used by many, if not most, commercial printing establishments.

Really, as long as you have a color-managed workflow, this is a “no-brainer.” However, if your monitor isn’t calibrated, or if you’re working at home or in an office with a window, my personal belief is that physical proofs—for color at least—are best.

I’m sure this will change soon, and everyone will be foregoing physical proofs, just as pre-plating negatives disappeared from the process when I was an art director.

But if I can leave you with one thought, this is it: Trust your eyes. Do not (completely) trust a computer monitor to match color using RGB light (and backlighting) to represent a product that will be produced using CMYK inks.

And the caveat is, this will be more important or less important based on how critical the color is. Does it have to be “dead on” for showcase work, or is “pleasing color” acceptable?

A Bit About InSite

First of all, keep in mind that InSite is much more than digital proofing. If you work with a small commercial printing plant, you may already be reviewing color PDF proofs (after imposition and RIP’ing) that your printer just sends to you as a PDF file. These are great (under the stipulations noted above).

    1. InSite is much more, and in preparing for this blog article I did some research into its technology. Not the least of the points I absorbed was that Kodak is and has been a major player (if not the major player) in the field of color since before I had my first camera as a child. You can trust Kodak, and Kodak developed InSite.


    1. InSite works in both a Windows environment and an Apple-OS environment, according to its literature. You can even use an iPad within the InSite workflow.


    1. If you’re interested, you might want to Google “Kodak Prinergy Workflow,” “Matchprint Virtual Proofing,” “Kodak Pressproof Software,” and “InSite Enterprise.” You will get a good handle on the logic and process behind this collaborative, enterprise-based product and learn how it can coordinate the efforts of multiple editorial and print professionals to ensure a color-correct, stunning, and accurate printed product.


  1. InSite and Prinergy Workflow are compatible with preflight-review applications, so you can make sure your PDF files are accurate, printable, and appropriate for your press early in the process, well before the proofing stage.

So the gist of the matter is, if you can create accurate PDF files and find a way to ensure color accuracy (such as keying your in-house monitor and proofing device to the color-management specs of your commercial printing supplier), you can become incredibly efficient in processing and proofing your offset and digital print projects.

The future is already here.

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