What am I looking at when I review a printer’s proof?

6a00d834517f9d69e20120a812d1d5970b-800wi As the print industry speeds into the digital age, the skill of reviewing a printer’s proof is becoming lost. Most print clients these days are satisfied with reviewing a PDF proof on their non color-balanced monitor, and are happy with what we call “pleasing color”. But what are things that you as a client or designer need to look for when reviewing an actual “hard” proof?


There are two different styles of proofs: one is accurate for color, and the other is primarily to show final assembly and finishing. The former type will usually be a proof generated by a high-end color inkjet proofing system, say by Epson, Kodak or Fuji. It will be high-resolution (around 3200 dpi), but not on the actual job stock or paper. However, with the closed loop calibration systems offered by GRACoL and other color consortiums, what you are looking at is accurate for color in the CMYK color space.  Subsequently, PMS colorsEpson_Stylus_Pro_9900_EFI_Proofing_Edition_44_Width_Printer__86368_zoom will not be accurate, but will approximate them since they are generated on the proof only in CMYK. This is vital, since the GRACoL and G7 calibrations strive to make the proof match what you’ll see on press. Decades ago, when I used to hand-develop color keys, there was no accuracy – it was truly a crap-shoot. Now, it’s a closed-loop and controlled, accurate for color.  The second proof you will look at might have a few different names, such as Iris (that is a proofing device manufacturer), or digital blueline. This will be lo-resolution (usually around 600 dpi), and is NOT accurate for color. However, it is crucial for checking final copy, pagination, folding, cutting, and any kind of die-cutting that may be involved.


ppcAboutCol02The hi-end proof, such as an Epson, is for color. As I mentioned, print services providers that use the GRACoL or G7 systems are showing you a proof that is accurate for color, and so when they get to the press, the press operator is working to get color to match the proof. Many clients I’ve worked with in the past understand this, and if they come for press checks they may tweak the color a bit. But some will sign off the first press sheet as good. That’s how precise the closed-loop system is. With the Iris proof, you wish to review it for content, copy, spelling, pagination, cross-overs – anything that has to do with how the finished product looks. Please remember, though that it is NOT on the actual paper that the job runs on, and is usually hand-assembled. So crossovers may be a bit off.


I prefer to advise clients at this stage thatoops any changes will incur additional costs, and that this proof is the final proof. So, as a designer or print buyer, the best time to make changes is when you are in PDF stage with the client or with your team. Changes to final proofs can be costly. One thing to remember: it may be a simple type change, but it requires several steps to get that file, make the change, and generate a new proof – even if it is a PDF only. Please keep that in mind before you even submit the files to your print services provider. And recognize that if you DO make changes, just as you’d pay extra if you decided to add a nice row of colored tile to the backsplash in your kitchen remodel, you have to pay extra for changes.

Finally, and this is important, when you sign that proof off, you are assuming all responsibility for its accuracy, as far as color or content, grammar or spelling. Yes, most printers look out for client interests and will catch things and fix them. But some may not – just remember to review the proof carefully and read the proof tag to make sure you understand your liability if the proof is wrong – and you still OK it!

Reviewing proofs carefully can sometimes save you embarrassment, or money! Make sure you take time with your proof, go over it with your sales rep or CSR. Understand it, and ask questions. You’ll be glad you did!

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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 www.ricreativemag.com
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One Response to What am I looking at when I review a printer’s proof?

  1. Earlier this year I had a client come in for a press check AND DIDN’T EVEN REFERENCE THE PROOFS! It’s true – proofing is a lost art as digital natives move on up the chain.

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