Random Thoughts on Proofing
A client of mine is considering
buying a high-end proofing device for their magazine.
By this I mean an ink-jet printer of sufficient quality
to produce what is called a “contract proof”
(reasonably comparable in detail and color fidelity to an
analog proof such as a Matchprint). Unlike high-end proofers,
most ink-jet and laser printers will provide only a close
facsimile of the final printed product. The color will be
somewhat inaccurate, but in some cases “good enough”
is good enough.
The particular client in question pays
for their magazine with ad revenue, and advertisers want
high-quality ads faithful in color and crisp in detail.
Many of these advertisers don’t supply hard-copy proofs,
so my client is considering the purchase of a high-end proofing
device to the tune of almost $30,000. Of this amount, more
than $3,000 is for set-up and shipping. Keep in mind that
the output and color accuracy of such a machine dwarf those
of the $80.00 ink-jet you can buy at Costco. This high-end
ink-jet proofer blows Costco’s ink-jet proofer out
of the water in terms of color range, image sharpness, and
When asked for my advice, I had these
initial thoughts, which I hope will benefit readers who
are also considering such a purchase.
I first asked why the client
needed this level of color fidelity and whether the offset
printer that produces the magazine could provide contract
proofs. This was being done already, but the client
wanted a faster turn-around for last-minute changes within
tight deadlines. I asked if any other firms in the area
had such a proofer my client could occasionally pay to use.
(Of course, this would be a cumbersome process, since this
ink-jet proofing device would need to be calibrated to the
offset press, and most firms would hesitate to recalibrate
their proofer for an occasional client. Awkward logistical
problems might also arise.)
Then I asked whether my client
needed to see halftone dots. The ink-jet proofer
in question was “continuous tone,” that is,
incapable of showing dot structure. Therefore, the potential
for “moiré” patterning on press would
not be revealed. If my client were a purist and wanted very
high-quality printed images, risking the possibility of
“moiré” patterning on press would be
unacceptable and would rule out the high-end proofer.
Another question was how many
proofs my client would actually need to produce
when the magazine is published each week. In this particular
case, the design team would want only a few, including the
cover image. Unless the advertising department would also
be using the device (to provide proofs for advertisers for
a reasonable fee), my conclusion was that this would not
be a cost-effective purchase.
There is also the potential
for obsolescence with this proofing device, as
the technology will surely change and mature over the next
few years. You must also factor in the amount of time it
would take to keep the device color-calibrated, and clean
and filled with distilled water--tasks integral to machine
I wondered if soft-proofing
(proofing on a monitor) was an option. I explained
that color produced on-screen with light differs from the
color produced with pigments or dyes used in ink-jet proofing.
The monitor would need to be shielded from surrounding light
so the color would be consistent throughout the day. Even
though the color gamut of monitors (color produced with
light) and the color gamut of ink-jet proofers (color produced
with ink) are not exactly the same, color calibration software
now exists to help match the output from the two proofing
technologies, allowing you to see a good representation
on-screen of what to expect on-press.
In the final analysis, this is a hard
decision to make. A color monitor is not completely accurate,
although color calibration methods have improved significantly
over the years. On the other hand, an actual high-end ink-jet
may soon become obsolete and would no doubt involve the
cost of consumables and upkeep.
For now there are more questions
than answers, but I did suggest that my client consider
using OPM (other people’s money), as opposed to purchasing
a costly, imperfect machine that may become obsolete over
time. When in doubt, it is always preferable to loosen up
tight deadlines to allow your offset print provider the
time he needs to create one or more proofs.
Accordion vs. Wrap Fold
Folding is a complex art, and so is
describing a fold to a printer. If you’re creating
a one-page brochure that includes a fold (no staples or
glue), you may want to become familiar with the following
terms before discussing specifications with your print provider.
Accordion Fold: This
is a zig-zag fold in which each panel of your brochure folds
the opposite direction from the last one, back and forth,
like the fabric in an accordion.
- Barrel Fold or Wrap Fold: All
panels fold in the same direction. You are essentially folding
the flat brochure, panel over panel over panel, until you
get your final, finished size.
Remember that no verbal description
of a fold can match a three-dimensional folded prototype:
that is, a laser mock-up of your final printed piece.
[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He 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.]