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The Lost Art of Press Proofs

When I first started buying printing, we’d get a proof with everything we ordered. The customer always hated paying for the proof but it was the only way we had to confirm that the Quark file submitted (usually on an iomega tape at that time) was in order and that the output would match our expectations for the image. There were a lot of different proofing options; we’d get files from a rainbow or an indigo or some other now outdated piece of equipment that confirmed the files the details of the submitted and did a reasonable job of representing the color.

After we signed off on the proof, the job would go to production. If I couldn’t make the press check, my rep would pull a press sheet off the press and run it by my office. Meanwhile, her pressman and his million dollar piece of equipment sat idle awaiting her speedy return with my approval.

Sometime ago this whole process was dropped in favor of PDF proofing. The idea saves tons time and of money but somewhere in there we’ve also lost touch with the value provided by the process.

Now customers with color printers assume that what they see on their $39 HP DeskJet is representative of what will be produced on a million dollar Heidelberg. Or worse, they’ll only view something “on screen,” taking for granted that their non-color calibrated monitor is an accurate representation of what they’ll see in a PMS color ink.

Needless to say, we’re starting to see a lot of disappointment and I suppose the industry is somewhat to blame. As we all get more comfortable with the technology, we make the assumption that our consumers understand the limitations of their technology and ultimately what they’re committing to when they take the short cut and approve something on-line. Perhaps the message here is that we ought to all take a breather, slow down a little and revert to calmer times when the touch, feel and smell of a proof helped provide a little security in those all-important production runs.

I fear the obstacle will be talking those customers — the ones who have been lured into thinking printing is fast and cheap by online, gang-run provider (like VistaPrint) and quick digital printers (like Kinko’s) —  into spending more money and taking more time to ensure we get it right. It’s a trade off that I think we and they have got to be willing to make.

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