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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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Archive for the ‘Proofing’ Category

Commercial Printing: Making Corrections to Your Files at the Proof Stage

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

I recently received a digital proof for a small poetry book I had designed for a client. The following paragraphs describe the items I looked for in checking the proof. You may want to take a similar approach in reviewing your proofs.

The Proofing Method

First of all, my proof was a single copy produced on an HP Indigo press as a prototype for a longer press run. The Indigo is a xerographic digital press. Think “ultra-high-end color xerox.” The commercial printer produced the proof on this equipment because the rest of the run would also be produced on this press. It was a prototype, exactly matching the remainder of the run.

In your case, you may (or may not) be printing via offset lithography instead of digital technology. If this is true, you will most likely receive an inkjet proof instead of a xerographic proof. In either case your custom printing vendor will have “fingerprinted” the proof to the final press output. That is, the two will match as closely as possible. In the first case, the digital xerographic proof from the Indigo is exactly the same as all successive copies of the press run. In the case of the offset job, the inkjet proof closely resembles the final output from the offset press.

The Substrate Used for the Proof

“Substrate” is printer’s lingo for the paper on which the job will be produced. If you are printing a digital job on an Indigo or other xerographic press, you can request that your commercial printer produce the proof on the exact stock on which the final job will be printed. This is prudent. For instance, if you decide at the proof stage that the job would look better on a coated or uncoated stock, or perhaps a heavier stock, you can make these changes without incurring additional expense.

If your job will be printed on an offset press, your proof will probably not be produced on the same stock as the final job. Commercial printers usually have only a limited selection of paper stocks for their inkjet proofing devices. Often you can request a coated or uncoated sheet, but the proof may not be provided on a paper that will be as thick as the stock used for the actual press run. Don’t worry. Just bring it to your custom printing supplier’s attention, and he will explain whether it is a mistake or just an example of the limits of the proofing device.

How to Check a Proof

  1. Check for complete copy. Match the proof to your final laser copy to make sure nothing has been inadvertently lost.
  2. Check the photos. Make sure they are neither too light nor too dark. Check their cropping. Check their color accuracy.
  3. Check the margins, page numbers, and running headers and footers. Is everything placed on the page as you had intended? Do images bleed as intended? Are the pages in the proper order?
  4. Check any solid colors or screens. Should the type be in color? Is the color accurate? Compare the color to your PMS swatch book. Keep in mind that a digital proofing device will print spot colors as 4-color process builds. Therefore, the color may differ from a PMS ink mixed for an offset press run. If there are problems with color on a digital xerographic proof used for an Indigo press, that’s important to note, since your proof is exactly what your final job will be (and since both the proof and the final job are usually produced with only cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks rather than PMS colors).

Usually your proof will flawlessly match your last PDF of the job. (In fact, it’s wise to send a PDF of the job to your custom printing vendor along with the native InDesign file. This way your commercial printer will know exactly how you want the final job to look.) However, if there are any glitches introduced inadvertently by the printer’s equipment—or if there are any emergency edits—now is the time to make corrections.

If you have sent your commercial printer a high-res PDF of the job instead of a native InDesign file, it would be extremely rare for this file not to print exactly as expected. Occasionally, however, things do happen—hiccups during the RIPing process (the conversion of PostScript code into into a grid of printer dots imaged on the proof or the printing plates). Don’t assume anything. Check everything carefully. Once you have signed off on the proof, any errors you missed are your responsibility, not your custom printing supplier‘s. If you waive the option of a proof altogether, any error is your responsibility.

Uploading Corrections

If you catch errors, make corrections in your native file. Save the file under a different name (“File v1,” “File v2,” and so forth, to indicate different versions). Or, use another naming convention as long as it is clear that you are submitting a new file.

Ask for a complete second proof (not just selected pages). Probably a PDF will suffice. After all, you will have seen the photos, solids, and area screens on the first proof. However, if your corrections involve photos (particularly color photos), you will probably want a hard-copy proof of these individual pages. But still ask for a complete PDF proof as well. Why? Just to ensure that no other errors have crept into the process. If you get a PDF of the entire job for the second proof, you can be sure that all pages are in place and accurate in the second proof as well as the first. You never know. It’s better to be safe.

Custom Printing of Photo Notecards: A Case Study

Monday, December 5th, 2011

A client of mine is a professional photographer. Among other items, she sells gorgeous, full-color photo notecards of a myriad of multicolored flower species.

Quality is paramount with this client—understandably.

She recently received digital (inkjet) proofs of eight of her cards from a commercial printer with a small-format 4-color press. The contract proofer had been “fingerprinted” to the vendor’s press, so the digital output my client saw would very closely resemble the final offset custom printing of her cards.

She was unhappy with six of the eight prints. “Too dark,” she said.

Fortunately, this client is a consummate professional. She had submitted 8-bit TIFF images in CMYK color space, which I had placed in InDesign files and then distilled into “press-quality” PDFs. My client took responsibility for the error and requested second proofs prior to printing. She looked closely into the process to determine exactly what had happened, prior to adjusting the files and resubmitting them to the custom printing vendor.

Possible Causes of the Problem

First of all, the highlights and mid-tones were acceptable. Only the shadows of the photos concerned my client.

My client works in her basement, so she can control the ambient light in the room (i.e., the room light does not change as the sun rises and sets). She also calibrates her monitor regularly to ensure color fidelity. Both of these steps are essential, but most people (I would venture to guess) do not do either with the necessary frequency and precision.

As an additional consideration, LCD monitors, which most designers possess, “run hot.” This term, provided by a commercial printer with whom I used to work, means that colors on an LCD monitor appear lighter and brighter than they will appear in an actual custom printing job. It is all too easy to forget that an image on a computer monitor created with red, green, and blue light will not exactly match the image printed with ink—or even toner—on paper. However, knowing that images on an LCD monitor will print darker than they appear will help you avoid mistakes.

Using her knowledge of color and light, my client determined that the problem had occurred in the conversion from the RGB color space to the CMYK color space prior to her sending me the photos. For whatever reason, the color shift appeared most intensely in the shadows during the translation from RGB to CMYK. It is good to keep in mind that scanners usually capture images within a Red/Green/Blue (light-based rather than ink-based) color space. This is not as large a color space (does not include as many distinct colors) as “all visible color,” but is is larger than the Cyan/Magenta/Yellow/Black color space. It has a larger color gamut (number of reproducible colors).

For the most part, designers and photographers work within the RGB color space up until the last possible moment, and then convert the image to CMYK just prior to sending the job to the commercial printer. Colors that exist within the RGB color space and the CMYK color space transition without a problem. Colors that exist within the RGB color space but not within the CMYK color space shift to the nearest color match. This often causes a visible color shift.

Color Corrections and Final Proofs

My client determined that the problem had occurred during the color conversion. Therefore, she lightened the shadows in the RGB color space, converted the images to CMYK, and re-checked them to make sure the final CMYK output would be acceptable (accounting for the tendency of the monitor to lighten colors, and having confirmed the accuracy of the calibration of the monitor).

I received the amended 8-bit TIFF CMYK photo files and repositioned them within the InDesign art files for the photo notecards. The difference was dramatic. The images were lighter—but only in the shadows.

When the second set of proofs arrived, my client was happy. She approved them and released the job to the custom printing vendor for final production.

What We Can Learn from This

  1. Always color calibrate your monitor. Do this regularly.
  2. Control the ambient light in your computer room. The surrounding light will alter your perception of the color on the monitor.
  3. Assume that the final image will print darker than the image on the monitor. Ask your prepress provider at your commercial printer how to compensate for this using Photoshop’s “levels” and “curves” commands.
  4. Make your own inkjet proofs. Then, if these are ok, have your commercial printer make proofs. Adjust your files as necessary. It’s better to make—and pay for–multiple proofs than print the job too dark, too light, or with a color cast.

Online Printing Services: Book Printing Options for Proofing- Hard-Copy vs. Remote Virtual Proof

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

A client recently contacted me regarding a book printing job, a perfect-bound textbook for high school students. The 312-page book has black-only ink for the text, while the cover is 4-color plus one PMS ink. The online printing company manufacturing this book for my client has recently installed a new virtual proofing system called Rampage Remote.

I personally have used this technology before (and another vendor’s remote proofing technology called InSite). In both cases, the business printing service provides a virtual link on the computer to a proof of the preflighted, imposed, press-ready files from which the final plates will be burned. The actual product the designer or print buyer will see is a PDF of each individual page on his or her computer monitor.

Which to choose?

My client wanted advice on what to do: request a virtual proof or a hard-copy proof from the custom printing service.

First of all, I noted that the virtual proof would be produced from the actual, final files from which plates would be burned. This all but assured my client that no errors could creep into the process. Since the file used to produce an inkjet proof and the file used to produce a press-ready plate are usually slightly different, an error not visible on the proof occasionally will show up on press. By using a Rampage Remote proofing workflow, the online printing vendor would eliminate this chance.

I also noted that the price would be the same either way, for hard-proof or soft-proof, and the schedule would be the same as well. That said, it was possible that not needing to send the proof both ways by courier or UPS would save a little time.

I encouraged my client to ask the book printer for a hard-copy inkjet contract proof for the textbook cover and a Rampage Remote virtual proof for the text.

Why did I offer this advice?

Color on an LCD, CRT, or TFT display is composed of the additive primaries: red, green, and blue. In contrast, color on a digital inkjet proof is composed of the same subtractive primary colors used on an offset printing press: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Granted, algorithms have been devised to coordinate these two color spaces, but they do not always exactly match. Color presented on a monitor may be slightly different from the same color on an inkjet proof. In addition, even if the digital information driving the color monitor is accurate, an improperly calibrated monitor will display inaccurate color. I felt that since my client had the time for an inkjet proof of the 4-color cover, it would be prudent for her to request one.

The text of the book printing job was another matter. Since the book was to be all black ink inside, there would be no potential color shift to address, so there was no reason not to request a Rampage Remote proof. My client would get the soft proof a day earlier than a hard-copy proof (i.e., no courier), and she could print out a copy of the text on her laser printer to facilitate proof review prior to the book printing.

Avoiding moire patterns

One thing that bears repeating here, however, is that the color inkjet hard-copy proof of the cover would not show the actual halftone dot structure of the final press job produced by the book printer. For that matter, neither would the hard-copy laser proofs she could have received for the text. Both inkjet proofs and laser proofs have their own halftone screening algorithms. If you look at a laser print under a high-powered loupe, you will see a dot pattern (but it won’t be the same as a PostScript halftone pattern on a platesetter). If you look at an inkjet proof under a loupe, it will appear to be almost continuous tone (actually, it’s made up of “dithered” color, also known as FM screening–minuscule spots of ink distributed randomly rather than in a regular AM screening pattern). The halftone screening patterns visible in an enlarged view of your digital printing service’s Rampage Remote PDF might actually approximate the dot pattern of the final printed piece more accurately.

Why is this “technospeak” relevant to you? In some cases, if the halftone grids conflict with regular patterns in the images themselves (for instance, with a checkerboard pattern or a Scottish tartan), undesirable moire patterns may be visible in the business printing vendor’s final book printing run. The only way to catch this prior to printing is with a true PostScript halftone dot proof, such as the Kodak Approval, which is rare and expensive these days. If you think this may happen to your job, point out the potential patterns and screen conflicts to your custom printing supplier, and ask for his advice.

Custom Book Printing Case Study: Deciding Which Printing Errors to Fix

Monday, June 6th, 2011

Custom book printing is a process, not a commodity. It involves many people, many skills, and many steps. To some extent, things go wrong in every press run. The challenge is to determine what constitutes an actual printing error and to work with the business printing service to correct it.

Identifying the Printing Problems

Upon reviewing F&G’s for a case-bound book project, a client contacted me and said she had found some printing errors. Based on my client’s descriptions, it appeared that all errors were smudges, ink streaks, scratches, or faint white text images within the black solids. The printing problems affected six pages within four press signatures.

To begin with, here’s a useful definition: F&G’s are the printed, folded, and gathered (but untrimmed and unbound) signatures of a perfect-bound or case-bound book. A book printing error caught at this point is expensive to fix, but it is easier and cheaper to reprint one signature or a few signatures and then bind the entire press run than it is to find the error after the books have been bound. At that point, a complete reprint by the book printing company might be necessary (or at least tearing off the covers, reprinting one or more signatures, and then rebinding and retrimming the books).

What Is Reasonable, and What Is Not?

The first step is to define the problem and determine if it is unacceptable or merely an annoyance. For my client, the scratches and smudges, as well as the light white type in the black solid areas, were unacceptable errors. They didn’t impede readability, but they made the workmanship of the custom book printer look shoddy. The misting (faint trails of ink on a block of text on one page, like fringes on the letterforms) was noticeable and irritating but not as bad.

The next step is to determine the number of pages affected by the problem or problems. For my client, the problems were confined to six pages within a 600-page book.

The final step, with the custom book printer’s help, is to determine the extent of the problem (how many copies of your book have been affected).

In my client’s case, the problems fell into three categories: press blanket issues, misting, and plate scratches. The light type caused by press blanket problems may have affected only some of the books (probably more rather than fewer, since the printer would have needed to see the error in the sample review sheets pulled from the press and then change the press blanket). Nevertheless, these pages were very unattractive, regardless of the number of copies affected, and therefore the book printer was willing to reprint the press signature.

The misting problems were less noticeable and probably did not extend throughout the entire press run. They reflected difficulties with the ink consistency and composition. The book printer probably saw the errors and made adjustments rather quickly.

Finally, the scratched plates probably affected every copy of the book, since plates are usually not changed during the press run. Because the error was so visible, and because it probably occurred in every book, a reprint of the signature was in order. Fortunately the book printer agreed.

It is common industry practice for the custom book printer to pull press sheets periodically throughout the run to check for all manner of errors, make appropriate changes to correct them, and remove problematic press sheets from the stack. Sometimes the printer doesn’t catch every error. That is why you need to look carefully at the F&G’s and work with the book printing vendor to determine the extent of any problems you catch. Fortunately, as mentioned earlier, it is easier and cheaper to do this now than wait until the book has been bound.

Why Is Reaching a Compromise with Printing Companies Often a Wise Move?

This was a true compromise between the custom book printer and my client. The printing vendor reprinted the most egregious errors, and my client forgave one of the less noticeable problems. This compromise has allowed both the book printer and the client to feel comfortable about working together again on future projects.

Custom Book Printers Provide One Final Chance to Proof the Hardcover Case

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Of all the different printing services you will purchase as a print buyer, hardcover books will cost more than most business printing jobs. It therefore pays to get everything right with these projects. Print companies that specialize in custom book printing will often send you a sample case upon request so you can review the part of the book the reader will see first, one last time before the book has been bound.

The Problem: The Book Printer’s Sample Case Saves Lives (or at Least Jobs)

A client called me today with a problem. She had found a typo in the foil stamped text on the sample case she had just received. It was an additional digit in the ISBN number, so it had to be deleted. Period.

The good news: 1) She caught the error (that’s the purpose of a proof). 2) The digit was an extra “9” at the beginning of the ISBN number. The book printer was able to hone off the number on the foil stamping die so it would not print (although the extra space where the printer removed the digit would remain).

Things could have been much worse. If the printer had not been able to hone off the extra digit, or if the digit had been wrong, rather than superfluous, my client would have provided a new text file for the hardcover case. The book printer would have commissioned a new die, and repeated the proofing process by sending out a new sample case. The new die alone would have cost upwards of $450. And time would have been lost, possibly compromising the book production schedule.

Sample Case: What’s Included?

The sample case of a custom book printing might seem irrelevant when it arrives with the other proofs, but it is unwise to ignore such an important proofing opportunity. Essentially an actual one-off copy of the book cover that will encase the text signatures of your job, the sample case allows you to see:

1. the exact thickness of binder boards used for the casing
2. what fabric will cover the boards (color, thickness, and weave)
3. the quality of the turned edges (how the fabric will adhere to the outside of the boards and how it will look turned over the edges and glued onto the inside of the case)
4. how the foil stamping will adhere to the fabric covering the boards (crispness of the type, consistency of the foil application, and even whether the text will be centered on the spine)

What will be missing?

1. Your sample case will not include the endsheets and flyleaves (the paper covering the inside surface of the binder boards).
2. It will not include the headbands and footbands (small fabric pieces that hide the bind edge of the text signatures).
3. The sample case won’t include the “crash” or “mull” (a mixture of thick mesh and glue attached to the spine of the text signatures to stiffen and reinforce the binding edge of the book).
4. And, of course, the text signatures will be missing.

Check it carefully. Once the book printing company sets the text blocks into the covers, there are no remedies for errors other than tearing off the covers and reprinting. It is wise to review and approve the sample case within 24 hours of receiving it so as not to impede book production.

Printing Companies Offer Three Levels of Proofs

Monday, May 16th, 2011

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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