What is a Proof and What Do I Do With It?

Creating a print media project and sending it off to the printing company sounds like it would be an easy, straightforward task. Take the design, package everything into a zip file, upload to the service companies FTP site, and wait for the final printed piece to come back to you looking just like it did on your screen. Unfortunately there are about a million and one things that could go wrong between how the design looks on your computer and the final printed piece.

A way to be sure that what is going to be printed will look exactly how you want it to, is for the printing company to provide a proof for you to look at and go over before the job is printed. A proof is your last chance to make corrections to mistakes or changes to your project. There are a few different types of proofs you can ask for depending on the complexity of the project.

Types of Proofs

PDF Proof

A PDF proof, sometimes referred to as an electronic proof, is the quickest proof to produce. Most print companies use a CTP (Computer to Plate) workflow that uses high resolution PDF files for proofs and plates. The software used to rip the PDF and generate a plate for the press, will also produce a PDF proof.

PDF Proof Pros: Quick - electronic proofs are generated when the file is ripped and can be emailed to the client for approval and returned by email quickly saving production time. Be sure to print the PDF proof at 100% to check the final size of your project.

PDF Proof Cons: Low quality images - you can request a high resolution PDF proof, but it most likely will not be able to be emailed to you. In order to be a size that can be emailed, the PDF file size will need to be reduced, causing the images to become low resolution. If image color is critical, a different proof should be requested.

Plotter Proof

This type of proof can also be referred to as a blueline proof (a throwback name from before direct to plate technology). A plotter proof is generated on an inkjet printer and will give you a decent representation of your final print.

Plotter Proof Pros: Accurate size - plotter proofs are trimmed out to the size specifications of the job, if there is a size difference between the proof and what you are looking for, this type of proof will show that. Plotter proofs are produced using the same imposition that will print on the press, allowing you to check the pagination of your job. The person proofing your job will take the imposed sheets and trim them out then assemble them into the saddle stitch or perfect bound book. If by chance the proof pages are out of order, you will be able to check if your files are incorrect or if the proof was assembled wrong.

Plotter Proof Cons: Color - these proofs are printed on an inkjet printer with more colors than what is on the press. Although the printer is calibrated to closely match color on the press, there can be a slight variance in color. PMS colors can also be incorrect because of this.

Color/Hard Proof

The best representation of color and size will be a color or hard proof. This proof is usually generated on the same printer as the plotter proof, but is printed at a higher resolution and best resembles your final colors. Again, it could be off slightly because of the number of colors the inkjet can print.

Color Proof Pros: Colors and clarity - although the colors can be off slightly, this proof is still the best representation of your final piece. Images on the color proof should be clear and sharp; if they are not, then the image is a low resolution image, or was enlarged too much. Any trapping issues caused by the ripping software will be visible as well as any black overprinting issues.

Color Proof Cons: Simulated paper - unless your print job is printing on the same paper as the proof is generated (proofs are usually printed on a white gloss, heavy, text weight paper), ink color on the press could change slightly. Uncoated papers allow the ink to soak into the paper, darkening the colors, and ivory and natural colored papers will give a tint to the printed colors.

Press Proof

The exact representation of how your project will print is a press proof. A press proof is usually generated after an electronic and hard proof have been created.

Press Proof Pros: Exactly what will be printed. Press proofs are basically the first printed sheets of your print job. If ok'd, the press will run the remainder of your job.

Press Proof Cons: Expensive - because a press proof is a print directly off of the printing press, it is expensive to make. Plates will be made, loaded into the press, and the pressman will register the plates and get the color adjusted. The paper that will be used will be loaded and a press sheet will be created. Any changes or corrections will need to have plates recreated and put back onto the press for another sheet to be printed.

What to Do with a Proof

When you receive any type of proof from your service provider, you should review it very carefully. If you are the only one who has worked on the project, give it to someone else to look over. Many times we will overlook things after we have seen them so many times. Once you ok the proof with your signature or email, and send it back to the printing company, they will proceed to print your job. If you happen to see an error after you have approved the proof, it could result in extra charges if plates have been created, or the job has been printed, it will need to be reprinted.

What to Look for on a Proof

Here are some points to look at when you receive your proof.

Colors: do the colors look like you thought they would?
PMS colors can change when converted to CMYK process colors.

Images: are your images all high resolution?
Look for bitmapping in your images to make sure that they have been updated in the file. If an image is not linked, it could result in an image that looks low resolution.

Image placement: have your images moved?
Check the crop of your images. When linking images at the service provider, there can be a chance of an image moving or changing its crop.

Bleeds: are all of the elements bleeding that need to be?
Look for any white areas close to images or colors that should bleed. Proofs are trimmed out by hand and the paper could move. If you see an area that looks off, question it.

Size: is the proof the correct size?
Measure your proof to double check that it matches the specifications of the job. The proof may be under trimmed slightly and should be checked.

Pagination: are all of your pages in order?
A saddle stitch or perfect bound book should be proofed in the order of the final job. If any pages are out of order, check your document to be sure that your file is in proper order, or if the proof was put together incorrectly. Any project with single pages that need to be in a particular order, should be in the correct order as the proof.

Grammar: are there any typos or grammatical errors?
Read over your proof carefully. Other than a press proof, correcting errors on a proof is much less expensive than reprinting the job because of typos.

Fonts: are the fonts the same as your original design?
If the service provider does not use the fonts you sent with the job, there is a chance your fonts will look different. Even fonts with the same name can have different weights or widths.

Panel sizes: does your layout look good when it folds?
Unless you get final panel sizes from your service provider, your panels could be off slightly. Check to make sure that you can not see any elements from one panel to the next on the folded proof.

Proofs are your final chance to review and make corrections before your job is printed. All printing companies will have a proof sheet for you to sign, that specifies your responsibility for reviewing and approving or making changes to the proof. Once you have signed off on a proof, the service provider will put your project into production and any corrections or changes will be an extra expense.

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