Visualizing a printed piece can be a daunting task, even for the most seasoned graphic designer. To ensure your printed piece is successful, we often tell designers to communicate with their printer, early and often. Proofs should be thought of as a vital communication tool in the creation of a printed piece—when proofs are involved; there should be no doubt that a designer and a printer are on the same page.
Most creative professionals tend to think of proofing as something that only occurs once during a project. In my experience, I’ve learned that requesting several different types of proofs often leads to the best result, especially for very important projects. Here’s a list of different types of proofs a designer can request.
Stage 1 Proofs – Proofs to ask for during the design process. Most professionals tend to think of a proofing as a process that takes place after the files have been submitted. Truthfully, proofing should take place throughout the entire process, especially for important projects. The proofs listed below not only give a graphic designer a better understanding of the result, they can also be extremely helpful when communicating with clients.
- Ink drawdowns – Does your printed piece use specific spot colors, metallic inks or inline varnishes? Are you printing on a paper that’s not white, like Lynx® Cream White or Cougar® Natural? With an ink drawdown, you can expect to see a sample of how the ink will look on the specified paper.
- Bindery proof, using the specified paper – If you ask any seasoned graphic design or print professional, they will tell you that most print disasters occur in bindery. My theory on why is simple: bindery is often taken for granted and not given the consideration it deserves by graphic designers during the creative process. Admittingly, I used to fall into this category but had to learn the hard way. Don’t make the same mistake I did: request a sample mock-up featuring the bindery requested and using specified paper in the specified weights. This is the best way to make sure your final printed piece functions well and meets your expectations.
- Technique tests and samples – Printing techniques are often a splurge, so it’s a little disheartening when they don’t perform as expected. If possible, requesting samples of the requested technique on the specified paper is a great way to communicate what you’re trying to achieve with your printer. For example, before a printed piece with an emboss is printed, the die maker will usually provide a proof. This gives the designer the opportunity check a variety of things, such as the depth of the emboss.
Stage 2 Proofs – Proofs you’ll receive from your printer after your files have been submitted. What I categorize a “stage two proofs” are the proofs that typically come to mind for most designers. In addition to being your last chance to catch errors, they’re also your last chance to view the project before its printed or you go on-press.
- Soft proof – Soft Proofs are a term often used to describe a digital proof, usually sent in an email or via a printer’s online portal. In most cases, a soft proof is used for content ONLY. Unless your monitor is calibrated, you will not be able to proof color. Even if your monitor is calibrated, you will miss out on the experience of interacting with the printed piece and assuring that you and your printer are on the same page. I only use soft proofs during a reprint or as a secondary proof to ensure minor corrections were made.
- Blueline proof – You might recognize the name of this proof: we named our communication platform Blueline By Domtar® as an homage to printing processes of the past. Historically, a blueline proof is a print made on lightsensitive paper and used as a proof for checking the position of stripped-up negatives or positives and copy prior to platemaking. The final result was similar to a blueprint, hence the name. These days, when printers refer to a blueline proof, they’re referring to a 4-color proof that a designer would use to check things like fold positioning, order of pages, etc. A blueline would NOT be used to check color.
- Color Contract proof – This is the most common version of a hard proof. When you receive a color contract proof, you’ll receive a proof of your printed piece on a coated, shiny stock. This is the proof you use to check for color, as well as image clarity and reproduction. We call this is the color contract proof because this proof is often used as a contract of sorts between a designer and a printer. Once this proof is approved, the printer will use it as a guide during production.
- Press proof – A press proof is a proof of your printed piece utilizing your specified paper and printed on the same equipment that your project will ultimately run on. When it comes to proofing color and images, this is absolutely your best representation of the final outcome. The downside: compared to other proofs, press proofs are expensive and will impact your budget. Therefore, if your printed piece is important enough for a press proof to be considered, include room for the cost when planning the project.