What is a Printing Proof and Why is it Vital?

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So what is print proofing and what’s the main purpose of it? You’ve spent a lot of time and effort to create the design and artwork for your printed item. You know how you want it to look, and how you need to use it. Proofs are an integral part of the entire production process.

There’s an important step between finalising the design, creating print-ready artwork and then actually sending your item to print – and that’s to take a final and detailed examination of how the final print will look.

This is why we need a printing proof (sometimes called a repress). It’s a translation of the artwork into a printed version. It allows you to check content, colour and other important issues like image quality. It shows you what the final product will look like.

Printing proofs are important for every job, but particularly vital for more complex, high-volume, high-value jobs where errors can be costly in terms of materials and time. Remember that what you see on a screen may not accurately represent how your design turns out when it’s printed.

What are the benefits of a print proof?

It’s all about knowledge with print proofing. You want to be as sure as you can be that the final results are your intentions and vision! In short, you want to avoid potentially costly mistakes in order to save time and money.

For the printing company

  • Customer satisfaction – agreeing on a proof keeps the printer on the same page as the customer
  • Producing accurate printing proofs enables the printer to ensure his customer is totally happy with the projected end result
  • It’s an interim stage when any potential issues with the printing job can be addressed and corrected in a timely and professional manner
  • It enables you to demonstrate the intricacies and challenges of the printing process to your customer and improve your understanding of the business
  • It enables both you and your customer to avoid any issues before pressing the button to go to print with the final printed job

For the client

  • Print proofs will illustrate whether a colour palette is correct – on-screen displays cannot show the depth of variation in colour that the final printed item will display
  • You will get a true picture of how the final item will look and can assess whether it will have the impact you need
  • You have a final, final opportunity to check for aspects such as accuracy, placement and image resolution
  • Correcting any issues arising will save you both time and money

“If the artwork supplied is prechecked for spelling, grammar and style, it’s rare we don’t get an approval following supply of the proof to the client. It’s usually when fonts aren’t embedded in the supplied artwork that we experience issues. A printing proof is therefore a belt and braces approach to ensuring the final printed piece matches everyone’s aspirations, in terms of quality and impact.”

Mark Bailey, Director

Different types of print proofs

There are a number of different options when it comes to print proofing in terms of the physical sample, and the choice of the most appropriate option will always depend on the job itself. Some may also have cost implications.

Screen proofs – ripped PDF proofs

An electronic or PDF print proof is the quickest and easiest to produce. CTP (Computer to Plate) printing technology uses software to ‘rip’ the pdf, which not only generates a press plate but also a pdf proof.

This is a great option for speed – it can simply be emailed to the customer for approval. The layout and fonts can be checked. However, images may be low resolution and colour matching may not be exact. For more complex, more costly jobs, a different type of proof should probably be specified for the accuracy of representation.

Low-Resolution proofs – content proofs, plotter proofs, inkjet proofs, scatter proofs

Similarly, Content Proofs, Plotter Proofs, Inkjet Proofs and Scatter Proofs, are printed out on paper using a variety of different printing methods. They are more suited to lower-value projects and are produced when a customer is keen to see an actual printed representation of the job.

Scatter proofs are used for jobs with multiple pages, where pages are proofed on a random basis. These are all low-resolution proofs and are really only suitable for checking page positions, content and placement. They are not accurate to individual Pantone references.

High-resolution proofs – digital proofs, Sherpa proofs

High-resolution proofs require a Pantone calibrated printer to produce proofs which are highly accurate in terms of colour and imagery. They offer a far greater relevance in terms of depicting with clarity and accuracy the finished project.

There will almost certainly be an additional cost for high-resolution proofs because of the complexity of the production process.

Wet proofs

If accuracy is paramount, then a wet proof can be specified. This is the most expensive option, but it will demonstrate exactly how the final item will appear.

Wet proofs are produced on litho printing or digital printing presses, and use the same exact material as the finished item, providing an exact representation.

Press pass proofing

Finally, some printers and their customers like to use what is known as press pass proofing. Here, the job is checked while it is actually on the press, as the printer begins the job.

If errors are identified at this stage, then it can be expensive in terms of time and materials to put them right.

Press pass proofing is sometimes used as a final ‘belt and braces’ approach for important and expensive print projects.

The print proofing process

Before your printer prints your job, it will go through what is known as the proofing process. From soft proof (digital pdf) to hard proofs (actual printed representations) the type of proof you receive will be selected to match the job itself.

This is the stage when you need to look carefully at the proof to assess its suitability for print. If you have any issues, questions or doubts, this is the point at which to address your thoughts with your printer.

Most printers will then require you to indicate your satisfaction or otherwise with the proof before any further work is undertaken and the job proceeds to the final printed piece.

Specialist equipment and expertise

We all have access to reasonable quality printers and digital equipment, but the commercial printer takes his work several steps beyond the consumer stage. He will use sophisticated colour calibration equipment to ensure colours are consistent when used in conjunction with particular inks, different papers and even varying environmental conditions.

It’s a skilled job carried out by specialists and plays a vital role in ensuring that the finished printed piece you receive matches your design, your vision and your aspirations.

Convert to PDF

So a brief summary of the proofing method process. The printer begins by converting the final artwork into a pdf format. This is usually used as a printing proof for the client.

Print the proof

The printer then produces a high-quality proof that normally replicates the materials which will be used in the final printing process. This may also be submitted to the customer for review to ensure it matches the desired outcome.

Make any adjustments

All potential edits are then communicated, discussed and completed. If there are significant changes, then a second round of proofs may be produced before the final job goes to the printing press.

Conclusion

Proofing is a vital aspect of the printing process for every job, particularly for high-value and high-volume print runs where errors can be extremely costly. It’s important to give the proofing job your full attention. It’s a situation where two or more heads really are better than one to ensure the digital proofs are an accurate representation!

This is your last chance to pick up on any potential errors before the job goes to print. If you have any issues at all, talk to your printer – you could save time, money and headaches!

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