Print Management 4: Proofing

This post was co-authored by Adrienne DiGiovine who wrote Print Managment 3: File Prep

In Part 1 of this four-part series, we talked about assessing the capabilities needed for your print job so that you could select the right printer for the job. Part 2 covered the bidding process and Part 3 discussed preparing the files to send to your printer to assure a smooth process and that your final product fulfilled your expectations. Now that your job is at the printer, the last thing you need to do before celebrating the delivery of the finished product is to check the printer’s proof.

Each printer may have a slightly different process depending on their capabilities and the specific print job they’re handling for you. But these are the essential elements of the proofing process.

Review Low- and High- Resolution Proofs

Typically a printer will send you two proofs. One is a low-resolution proof that is a “dummy” of your piece mocked-up so that all of the pages are in order and are bound as close to the actual final piece as possible. This proof allows you to check pagination, the location of art and text, font rendering, bleeds, and trim. Any issue you see should be circled with a bright red marker! Look for “creep”, the annoying variation in margins that printers should accommodate during pre-press, due to book thickness.

High-resolution proofs are presented as “flats”, pages composed exactly as they will print on the press. This high-resolution proof is produced using the same digital file that will be used to produce the printing plates for the press and should have a very high level of color accuracy. Use these flats to check color accuracy, image quality, typography, crop marks relative to bleeds and page edge, and anything else that is critical. Now is the time to be very critical. Err on the side of caution and ask questions about anything that doesn’t look perfect. Flats should be beautiful and should illustrate your vision for your piece. If these high-resolution proofs don’t look good, the final piece won’t look good, so correct what’s wrong now — you won’t have another chance.

Make Changes

While you should never use this proofing phase as an opportunity to start changing content and making design tweaks, if you do see critical errors, by all means correct them. If the changes you are asking the printer to make were part of the file you provided to them, you will most likely have to pay for them, but it’s well worth it. If the changes were caused by the printer’s processing of your files, they will normally not charge for those. Once the changes are made the printer will normally ask you to sign-off on a corrected PDF proof. If an image needs adjusting or color correction, they will produce a new high-resolution proof of just that page or image.

Ensure You Have Copies of the Final Files

Once you have signed off on the proof ask the printer for a copy of the final file for your records. This way, if you need to update information in a year or two, you will have the most accurate and up-to-date file in your possession.

Press Checks (Remember Those?)

Back in the day, before the digital era (yep we’re that old,) printers would take your file of a job, RIP film for each signature, create a matchprint proof from that film and then make actual printing plates from that film. In those days, people did press checks on a lot of jobs because you couldn’t trust the proofing system to be 100% accurate.

So you would go on a press check. You would take the day, go to the printer’s facility, and do a lot of hanging around while they printed each of the signatures for your job so that you could scrutinize a press sheet to make sure that it looked exactly the way you wanted. If not, the press operator could make minor adjustments, but in the case of a major flub, the process for that signature would have to be started from scratch.

In 2016, a printer takes your digital file, creates a digital proof, and uses that same file to create the printing plates. Their press calibrated is to match their proofing system. If you have hired a quality printer whom you trust, the proof you see should be almost identical to what you get off the press — thus eliminating the need for a press check. There may be an occasion when you’re using a special design element, specialty ink or paper stock, in which case a press check may be in order. Otherwise, stay at your desk.

Unfortunately, this means that you don't get out of the office for the day and be pampered by your printer with snacks, the blue ribbon tour, and lunch at a fancy restaurant with your salesperson. (Ah…those were the days!)

Enjoy the Printed Piece

Once your piece is delivered to you sit back and admire it. Often you’ll zero in on something that’s not quite right and wonder how you let this slip by. Try not to be too hard on yourself — most people won’t notice the hairline stroke that is off or the image that’s slightly darker than the rest. Enjoy your printed piece, knowing that others will, too!