Respect the Proof

What do you look for on a proof? That seems like an easy question and it used to be a little easier to answer than it is now. The first thing you need to understand is that your signature on the proof releases the printer, or the broker, from all responsibility for the printed piece. By that I mean, if the product is a close match to the proof, but you don’t like it after all, or you found an error, the problem is yours.  Don’t blame the printers even if they were the ones who introduced the mistake. Proofs are your chance, often your last chance, to make sure everything is right before printing. I often hear customers say they don’t need a proof, or they don’t want a press check. That, in my opinion, is a big mistake. More than once I’ve seen jobs get  all the way to the press before the customer notices a critical error like a wrong phone number, or address.

wrong + wrong = right

Printing, in general, is an imperfect process. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating, you start with the premise that oil (ink) and water (fountain solution) don’t mix and proceed to make it work. It’s a case of two wrongs making a right.

Back to the question of checking a proof. What you look for depends on the kind of proof you received. Most printers are now using direct-to-plate technology. Direct-to-plate has revolutionized the plate making process. A print shop of not too many years past used to have large rooms with big light tables throughout. The light tables were used to strip the film. Now the tables are gone and the rooms are empty, leaving lots of space for an arcade, or shuffleboard. I’m kidding, but what do they do with the extra space? Maybe shuffleboard isn’t a bad idea. In the era of the light table and hand stripping proofs they were  either bluelines (for one color printing), or color-keys (for four color printing). You aren’t likely to come across these terms anymore, but you might, so I’m telling you about them. There were other kinds of proofs too like Matchprints, or Chromalins. No matter what kind of proof was presented to the customer there was always one flaw–the color proofs were good for four color process, but if you used a PMS color from the Pantone book, you had to guess at the result. Kind of like looking at a small  paint chip vs. painting a large wall. Most printers will provide a digital hard-copy proof.

What do I look for?

Generally you want to check a hard-copy proof for:

  • Color. Does it look like the color you expected to get? Remember though, the color that appears on your computer monitor might not be the actual color. Ripped (separating the colors into dots) color is different. Your monitor’s pixels are RGB (red, green,blue) and ripped color is CYMK (cyan, yellow,magenta, black). If the color is way off, you might have to go back and fix some things or have the printer help you fix it. If the color is close, don’t make yourself crazy, let it pass.
  • Size. If your image was supposed to be 8 1/2″X11″ and it comes out as 4″X6″ there is a problem.
  • Type. Because computer design is done in layers, it is very easy to cover a portion of your type block with a window. You may not see it on your screen, so you need to watch for it on the proof.
  • Reflow. This is becoming less of a problem than it used to be, but you should still watch for it. Reflow usually happens when the font you are using doesn’t match the font in the printer’s system. If you haven’t downloaded your fonts they will default to the printer’s defaults. Small sizing or kerning (the space between letters) can throw your document off. Particularly if you are using a PC and the printer is on Mac.
  • Missing or Added elements. I think this one is self-explanatory.
  • Bleeds. If you want your piece to bleed (ink goes to the edge of the sheet) did you allow a 1/8″ overhang beyond the trims?
  • Back up. Does the front back up correctly with the back? You might need a second low-res proof to see this, but unless back up isn’t important, be sure you get a folded proof.
wait til the press check

What to ignore or save for the press check.

  • PMS or Spot color. Ripped proofs are still using four color process dots to create approximate color. It can be way off. If you are concerned about the spot color, do yourself a favor and attend a press check.
  • Small dots. The computer picks up very small dots and reproduces them on the digital proof. A 1% to 3% dot may not appear on the plate. If those dots are important to the design be aware that they could disappear. If the dots are fighting your design the same is true. To be sure, go to a press check.
  • Paper. The proof you see will be different when ink touches paper, particularly if it is an uncoated sheet. All proofs are approximations. To know for sure you have to see the ink on paper.

Respect the proof. That might sound funny, but if you attempt to glance at the proof and give it a cursory approval, you are bound to have mistakes. Stop, take a deep breath, and concentrate on the proof. You’ll have fewer errors. And maybe, fewer times called on the carpet.

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