Proofing: your options

March 02, 2014

Proofing: Your Options, AM-Insider article by Sarah Ritchie

Your client needs to be able to see what their job will look like before it is printed, published, uploaded, distributed, viewed, etc. There are various ways we can show our clients a proof of their job. It will be up to you - as the Account Manager - to recommend which type(s) of proofing method should be adopted.

Proofing choices will depend on quite a number of factors, including:

  • timelines and deadlines
  • speed of proofing turnaround
  • accuracy of colour representation
  • cost of the proof
  • cost of the whole job (e.g. for a $50K Annual Report you will run out a colour proof, but for a $500 job you may not)
  • is the project for print or for web?
  • client's preference. 

You may choose to use different proofing methods at different stages. For example, for the initial drafts you may send a pdf file, and for final checking you may run out a hard proof. Some clients are happy to print after viewing a pdf file alone.


Contract Proof

Once a proof (no matter the type) is "signed off" by your client, this is the agreement - between your client and you, or your client, you and the printer - that the proof is accepted, and permission is given to progress to the next stage, or to print the job. Consider this contract proof your "insurance policy".

The contract proof is your client's verification that the job is accurate. This is your safeguard if any errors are discovered after the job has been printed. As an Account Manager you should do all you can to ensure that the job is error-free prior to going to print, but the final approval (and, therefore, responsibility) lies with the client - which is why the proofing process is so essential.

Press-time is the most expensive part of producing printed media. If errors are found during the printing process (on the press), correcting them can be a very costly exercise for either your client, your company, or both parties.


What proofs won't show you

None of the proofing options will be able to show you "finishing" techniques. That means if your project includes special finishing such as lamination, foiling, spot UV, die cutting, etc, then this will not be visible on a standard proof.


Can you print without a hard copy proof?

Yes, of course you can. Should you? Sometimes yes; for the most part, no. Without a hard copy proof you are taking a great risk, and you are agreeing to rely on the judgement of the press operator. They will run the job to standard ink densities, but just remember they will deny all responsibility if the final colour result is not as you expected!


Here are the main types of proofing methods in use currently:


Soft Proofs

Soft proofs will attempt to emulate the final print result on your computer monitor. This is the cheapest solution as it requires no additional equipment or substrates. The most common form of soft proofing is via a pdf (Portable Document Format) file.

The major problem inherent with soft proofing is the difference of colour spaces. Monitors display colours via RGB (red, green, blue) and printing presses use CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black). Soft proofs are merely attempting to represent CMYK colours as RGB, so immediately there will be a colour variation. Another point to keep in mind is that all computer devices will display colours differently. If colour accuracy is vital, then you will need to look at a hard proofing option.



The main reason for proofing via pdf file is to save money. You are saving on hard proof costs, courier costs, time costs and remake/author's alteration costs.

Other great reasons to proof via pdf are:

  • ideal for sending out to multiple people for their feedback and approval
  • client can mark up the pdf with changes (in the Pro-version)
  • you can easily use them as a contract proof via email
  • it's a print-industry standard format
  • it's an internet standard format
  • very small file size
  • the pdf reader is free
  • can handle multi-page documents in any size

The downsides to pdf proofing are 'what you see is not always what you'll get' and the lack of colour accuracy.


Other file formats

Proofs might also be supplied in file formats such as .jpg, .ai, .eps, .png, etc. It would be unusual to supply a print job proof in this manner as most of these formats require the client to have the correct software installed to view the files - and most are design industry-specific. Proofing via jpeg is more common when working on digital and web projects.



Hard Proofs

Hard proofs will provide the client a physical example of the final printed product. However, you need to be aware of how colour accuracy differs between hard proofing methods. There are various industry names and brand names for hard proofs, but here are the common (generic) options available:


Colour lasers (from laser, inkjet printers or dye sublimation printers)

These are proofs that you could generate from your own office. They are quick and cheap to produce and they give the client the ability to proof a hard copy, possibly at actual size. The downsides are that the colour will not be accurate, and the stock will be whatever you can put through your printer.


Colour proof

This is the industry-standard for colour-reliable/accurate reproduction of the job you are printing. The proofs are usually generated with inkjet or thermal sublimation printers in combination with an intelligent pre-press colour management and calibration system.

Proofing is usually at 100% size, and this colour proof will serve as the colour guideline for the printing press operator. The downside is that the proofing substrate comes in a standard gloss or matte finish, and will not show exactly how the inks will appear on the stock you will eventually print on.


Press proof

This is the most expensive, and the most accurate of all proofing methods. It is a test print of the job directly on the printing press where your client can see exactly what the inks will look like, on the actual stock you are using, on the press you will be using.

Times when a press proof becomes economically viable:

  • if the job will be extremely costly to print
  • to mitigate high losses if the job doesn't turn out the way the client or designer envisaged
  • extremely long run jobs
  • packaging jobs
  • where colour is being questioned
  • to see how the inks will look on the stock.

The main costs for this type of proof is the make-ready for the press and the press operation, though there may also be significant costs for the stock and inks if the printer has to buy them in especially for the proof. By the time the operator does the run up on the press, you could easily receive 50 to 100 copies of the proof - which could be an added bonus for the client.


Press Pass

A press pass is when either yourself (as your client's representative) or your client (or both) ask to be present while the job is running on the press.

Do you need to be there? That's really up to you. If it is a job where colour is vital, then the answer would be yes. Some Account Managers make a point of being at the press for as many jobs as they can. Some will leave the print checking to the printer. A lot comes down to how long you have been working with your printer, and the trust relationship that you have built, and much will depend on the individual job requirements. Depending on the printing company, a press pass may require you to be present at any hour of the day or night, and you may not get much warning!



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