Your proofs don’t match mine. Why?

One of the most consistent issues in print is the comment “your proofs don’t match mine.  Why is that?”  Most of the time these comments are made by folk who are not experienced in print production or print buying.  Sometimes even seasoned pros can make these kind of comments.  So let’s explore WHY your proofs may not match – and often WON’T match – the proofs your client has.


Often the first indicator that your client is not experienced in color proofing is when they say that your proof doesn’t look like their monitor.  Designers or administrative assistants who’ve been tasked with design see the color on their monitors and like it, and then when they see the proofs, they are disappointed, because what they saw on their LCD or LED monitor does not match what you’re showing.  The biggest reasons for this is that a monitor is in the RGB color gamut, and it uses transmissive light.  RGB is how monitors generate colors, and when the RGB all meet they become white.  The light is then transmitted through the monitor screen to your eyes.  Color is representative, not accurate.  The fix in this is for the designer or admin to purchase and use a monitor calibration device, which will correct the color of the monitor and make it accurate.  However, this is a step that must be done regularly to insure color accuracy of the monitor.  But one must realize that this is STILL and RGB representation of a color, so even with calibration, you cannot trust that the monitor is true to color.


Most designers and even administrative assistants have access to a color laser or color inkjet printer.  And most of these have their own simple internal calibration.  Epson and  HP make printers that can print in just CMYK, or you can add 2nd sets of C or M toner to richen up the color.  These printers can handle up to 11 x 17″ or even 12 x 18″ sheets, and can be calibrated to a certain extent.  They use ink or toner and lay it down on the surface of the substrate, which is the closest process to printing you can get.  However, if the designer or admin is developing color critical content, it would be advisable to purchase a high-end proofing device, such as an Epson or Kodak large format printer, and create different profiles for the various print service providers you may use and their end RIP.  For example, one in-house marketing firm for a large pharmaceutical company has an Epson Stylus Pro 9900, which offers high-end color proofs that can be calibrated, and imaged using profiles of the printers and even papers that they use.  This allows them to get the most accurate color, which they match against the print service provider’s color proofs.



Proofing for print has evolved over the decades from the old 3M Color Keys that were hand-processed with an alcohol-based solution (during the summer you could faint from the fumes), to proofing methods such as the Kodak Waterproof system, or the Epson Stylus system.  However, many printers are making sure that their proofs match their press sheets by setting up profiles that account for the idiosyncrasies of each press.  Most printers are now GraCol 7 certified, meaning that they have invested the time, energy, hardware and software to footprint their presses so there is NO difference between them, and that the proofs will match the press sheet.  This is imperative, since you want the client proofs to match what they’ll see on press, not what the client provided.  That is often why the statement “your proofs don’t match mine” comes up.  The client has seen the visual on the monitor (calibrated or not), has generated color proofs on their printer (calibrated or not), but they do not understand that the ultimate color proof is the one provided by the print service provider that is profiled to specific presses or substrates.


As a printer, the best thing we can do to help our clients is get their devices and monitors calibrated.  Doesn’t it make sense?  Don’t we want the client to be happy and understand why colors don’t come out the same from device to device?  Take the time to send one of your prepress team members to the client’s office to help in calibration, or even set up profiles on their Macs or PCs that can get them closer to creating proofs that are accurate.  Another solution is to provide them with a calibration device, which is an expense that could pay for itself in the long run.  The goal is to enable your client to create proofs that are as accurate as possible, and either eliminate or at least mitigate the comments about their proofs and your proofs not matching.

Connect with John on Google+Twitter and LinkedIn.


About John Prothero

John Prothero is a print professional with over 30 years experience in the print industry. Starting out as a driver delivering jobs, he worked in bindery, proofing, plating, traditional prepress (camera and stripping), scheduling, job planning, job management, account management and digital job production. His skills also run in the area of blog authorship, social media management, and lead generation and qualification of prospective clients. John is also a contributor to Rhode Island Creative Magazine, a digital publication that highlights the creative spirit of the state of Rhode Island. You can read their online issues at
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