Print proofing in a digital age

Solutions Online PDF Proofing 5 min read , February 23, 2021

by Andrew Bailes-Collins, Senior Product Manager, Enfocus

Why we proof print jobs

The purpose of proofing a print job is to create a contract between the printer and customer. It’s an agreement that the printer will deliver to the customer, exactly what is expected. Content, color and quality are agreed upon and upheld. A proof proves to the customer that the printer’s process can produce the materials that are ordered.

The way we used to do it

Historically, the proofing process has been a manually output, physical representation of the printed piece. There are drawbacks in the time it took to create a proof. As far as production processes go and by today’s standards, a contract proof was relatively downstream. That means if changes to the content were required, producing another proof pulls the job back several stages in production.

Photographer: Olivier Giboulot | Source: Unsplash

Running a press used to be a craft with learned nuances that couldn’t necessarily be taught. An experienced, talented pressman could be relied upon to match a proof. The color would be accurate and consistent from first saved impressions to the end of the run. Technology has come a long way with both color systems on presses and plating software. Having ink key settings sent to the press for each plate extremely improves make-ready and the number of impressions to start saving sheets. Advanced press controls with precise quality systems translate into far more efficient results when training new press operators. Matching a proof became more objective than subjective.

Proofing Timeline

  • Late 1940’s – first overlay system, GAF Ozachrome
  • 1965 – 3M Color Key
  • 1970’s – 3M technology became Kodak Match Print
  • Late 1970’s – Dupont Cromalin
  • 1987 – Iris inkjet
  • 1990’s – Dye sublimation and laser sublimation
  • 2003 – Soft proofing emerges
  • 2005 – First spectrophotometers integrated with inkjet printers
  • 2010 – Majority of hard proofs are produced on an inkjet

How print proofing is done today

The printing industry threw up its collective hands when PDF technology first crept into its world. “There is no way that will ever work for a quality print job!” In the same vein, the idea of approving a job on-screen instead of by hard proof seemed ludicrous. Soft proofing by email or website took some time to take hold as an acceptable contract proof. The accuracy of soft proofing has greatly improved in recent years. It’s become a typical, expected, desirable way to approve a print job.

Photographer: YorKun Cheng | Source: Unsplash

Color calibrated monitors are a requirement for accurately assessing a soft proof. However, there is a great distance between what customers and designers are seeing to what printers are seeing either in prepress or at a press-side viewing screen. Aligning these assorted devices is what color profiles are for, but there are shortcomings in the implementation. Verifying content is quite simple via soft proof, but without a hard proof, there needs to be some contractually definitive way to approve color.

An agreement on CMYK mix and specifying Pantone color are two places to start. When color is critical for continuous tone images, the best way to ensure accuracy is providing a hard proof. With the quality of modern digital presses, it’s possible to run only two or three sheets and present those to the customer as a proof. The time it takes to get files into a print shop and on press is mere minutes. Automation combined with digital press technology facilitates the plausibility of press sheets used as contract proofs regarding time, cost and convenience. It also provides customers with proof of the process.

Soft proofing methods

The common methods of soft proofing used today boil down to sending PDF files by email or serving up a print job rendered in a web portal. There are disadvantages to both. For instance, neither method ensures color management from file design to proof viewing. Even with adherence to ICC profiles and device calibration, viewing environments and rendering engine variances do not guarantee color accuracy. As technology progresses, this final hurdle will eventually be overcome.

To send a PDF by email can be the easiest way to get proofs to customers since no additional software is required by the printer or the customer. Emailing PDFs as a soft proof does have some caveats. File sizes can lead to issues with attachments. Prepress technicians reduce or optimize the production PDF using various software. Adobe Acrobat Pro has a feature to perform file size reduction. Viewing PDF files happens on a wide array of devices, software and render engines. There is no way to ensure that prepress departments are seeing the same content on screen as the customer. Transparency can be one of the biggest uncertainties, leading to unexpected content in the printed piece.

Transparency issues caused by white overprint

Online soft proofing requires the printer to integrate and maintain a method of providing that service. The cost of such a service is relatively low and it is convenient to customers. The use of a web portal to provide soft proofs can also have a downside. Managing users, administering the system and seamless integration with production systems contributes to overhead. As with an emailed PDF, the file being viewed is likely not the one that will be sent to press.

Enfocus PDF Review Module, PitStop Server, Switch

Enfocus has listened to printers and developed an online PDF proofing system that integrates with web-to-print, MIS and production.

The PDF Review Module is an online proofing solution that automates the online proofing process. Print customers can view production PDFs in a browser window, without the need to install any software. It removes the need for manual PDF proof handling by sending a link via email with no user management required. Proof inspection takes place on any device using a browser.

PDF Review Module advantages

  • Relieves production staff from manually creating and sending PDF proofs
  • Speeds up the response time from file received to proof ready
  • Approvals go straight to production
  • Customer inspects the production PDF file
  • Removes the uncertainty of customer viewing methods
  • Inspection tools can be customized
  • Interface can be branded to your business

The PDF Review Module is an Enfocus Switch module. Switch allows workflow creators to integrate digital print proofing with MIS, W2P and production. As an open print automation platform, Switch gives printers the ability to automate their work the way they want. PitStop Server is the PDF preflight automation solution that brings powerful quality control to PDF production processes.

Preflight and proofing go hand-in-hand at the job onboarding stage of production. Enfocus PitStop Server automates PDF quality control. One of the advantages that come from pairing PitStop Server and the PDF Review Module is the preflight report feature. Customers are able to view the preflight errors layered onto the proof. There is an explicit indication of the errors and which elements caused them.

Switch with the PDF Review Module and PitStop Server allows printers to overcome the challenges of providing automated digital printing proofs. PDF files are received, preflighted, email links to proofs are sent, files are managed after proofing, and communication to existing production systems are performed without human interaction.

PDF Workflow