Managing Proofing Technologies (Part 1)

By Howie Fenton

While other digital prepress technologies such as scanning and retouching have matured without major incidents the evolution from mechanical to digital proofing has not progressed without objections and incidents. As a result changes in proofing technology, the management of customer expectations, and the acceptance of digital proofs has been slow to develop.

In this, the first part of this article we will discuss: the issues surrounding proofing and other advantages of digital proofing including, a strategy to overcome bottlenecks and a way to increase value added sales

Next month in the second half we will discuss the trends in technologies, which include products in old and new categories such as thermal wax transfer, inkjet, and DDCP (direct digital color proofing).

Film based verse digital proofs

There are two main strategies for creating proofs: film based or film-less or digital proofs. Most excitement and new opportunities for proofing these days revolve around film-less proofs or digital proofs, not press proofs or film-based proofs. The motivations underlying digital proofing include internal uses (e.g. quality control) and external usage (e.g. customer sign), the trend toward computer to plate technology, and customers unending requests for faster turnaround.

Before discussing the advantages of digital proofs lets discuss the problems associated with film-based proofs. First, of course film has to be made which consumes time and expensive materials, especially if several proofs are necessary. Then there is the problem that not all film-based proofs can be printed on the same paper stock. Finally, because film-based proofs were designed to be stable, these proofs were difficult, if not impossible, to calibrated for different presses and dot gains.

Digital or film-less proofing, was born out of the desire to alleviate the problems associated film-based proofing. Therefore the advantages include: speed (e.g. no film), less expensive compared to film based proofs, it can be calibrated to specific presses, and with certain devices you can proof on the same paper.

Since most internal and external customers are more comfortable with film based proofs, motivating them to accept digital proofs is a challenge. I refer to this philosophy as managing customers expectations.

Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter if your client is internal or external, customers are the most comfortable with film-based proofs for contract proofing purposes. However, we can influence or manage our customers expectations. One strategy to increase the likelihood that a customer will accept digital proofs is by sending out parallel proofs. This means sending out a digital proof along with the film-based proof.

In the bag you say “Here is a proof from our latest digital proofing device. We think it matches pretty well. By using digital proofing we can reduce your costs and better achieve on-time delivery schedules. If your interested in digital roofing ask your sales person for more information”

However, they must match! I have one l client in Baltimore who sent both proofs before they matched, and in doing so, probably permanently damaged the customer’s confidence in new digital proofing. Successful employment this strategy will result in the customer eventually asking the service prouder to stop sending the expensive and time consuming film-based proof.

Surfice it to say that once you manage customers expectations and develop customers comfort level, customer’s embrace the new method due to the shortening production time, calibration capability and reduced costs. Service providers also like it because customers were happy with it, and printers like it because it is essential for computer-to-plate production.

Like film based proofs, digital proofs can be used internally and externally. Internal proofs are used inside a company to check quality. External or remote proofing involves customers viewing the proof at their site. The obvious advantage and goal of remote proofing is that it can speed the approval process.

Internal Use of Digital Proofs

Internal proofs are used to check and insure quality internally. The industry has been performing internal proofing since the beginning of time. As a prepress consultant visiting a different plant every week, I find that like many traditional concepts, such as the use of internal proofing tends to be taken for granted and underutilized.

Some clients connect a calibrated digital proofer such as an IRIS or dye sub to the scanner. As the image is scanned it is also output from the proofer. In doing so they proof while scanning and thus increase accuracy of first time scans. If the color is not right the original is rescanned immediately decreasing the number of bad scans. Therefore by increasing the quality of production, one is more productive.

Another internal use of digital proofing is as a value added service that increases the perceived value of your company. Another client is an on-demand printing facility in New York City. They had dissatisfied customers because their Kodak Approval proofs looked better than those that were printed on their on demand presses. They switched to a less expensive digital proofs such as dye sublimation and inkjets and assured the clients that the jobs would look better on press - and was successful because they managed their customers expectations better!

Another problem for that client was their inability to sell scans as electronic files. The problem was their proofing strategy. They were trying to selling either film based proofs or Approval Proofs with their scans. Neither strategy worked very well for their market. Both proofs were too expensive and slow.

However, once they created ICC (International Color Consortium) color profiles to calibrate their several digital proofers (i.e. CLC 700, Kodak dye sub, Kodak Approval) and began offering different proofing options, they became wildly successful. Each option had different degrees of accuracy and pricing. However, when revisited they told me they were selling more scans in one week, than they had sold in any month the previous year.

Proofs to Overcome Bottlenecks

I am amazed how many companies complain of bottlenecks when the problem is that they are using the wrong equipment, such as the imagesetter or the press, as a proofing device. For example, one prepress company in Michigan had seven imagesetters and requested a recommendation for another imagesetter.

In analyzing their workflow it became clear that they were waiting for proofs which, to them, meant that they were waiting for film from the imagesetters. However, what they did not realize is that they are using their imagesetter as a proofing device because a larger percentage of the film that came off the imagesetters were thrown away.

How do you know if your company is using the imagesetter as a proofing device? You need to measure, not estimate, your film or plate remake percentage. It is not uncommon to find film remakes at 50% or plate remakes at 15%. When I say 50 percent, I mean that half of the film output is output twice. If you’re like most people that I work with you don't believe how much film is being throw away until someone independent of your operation proves it.

If you have a high percentage of film rework then you are using your imagesetter like an expensive and time consuming laser printer. Every piece of wasted film translates into somewhere between 1 and 3 hours of wasted time for the entire prepress department. This lost time is not just time that could be used to RIP and output, but may be time spent in transferring, trapping and imposing files, all of which have to be redone when the file is output again.

Even more motivating is the waste of money due to the materials and loss of productivity time. In many companies the imagesetter is the bottleneck and bottlenecks determine the productivity of the entire plant. There are many ways to overcome these problems. One method is to shift quality control from mass inspection at the end of the line to inspection steps throughout the process.

This is even more devastating when with computer to plate workflows because they may not catch an error until it comes off the press. These problems result in using the press as a proofing device.

How can you avoid using your imagesetter or press as a roofing device? You need to create procedures that catch the errors before reaching the imagesetter, computer to plate system and press. Two such procedures would be to create Acrobat files and proof on screen, or buy a large format black and white or color proofer. By employing procedures such as these, proofing can be used to increase the productivity of the prepress department.


If we go back a few decades we would find that the only proofs acceptable were press proofs. Over time we discovered that press schedules constantly changing and prepress departments running late, offering press checks is often impossible.

Fortunately over time the technologies used to create film based proofs has improved. Together with the inconvenience and cost of press proofs today, press proofs are considered the exception and film based proofs are the rule.

Although almost comical when said out loud, the proofing strategy today is NOT to make a proof that predicts how the press will print but rather to make proofs that can be matched on press.

Digital proofs can change the workflow. Digital proofs can more accurately predict specific press conditions. They can be used internally or externally. Not only can they be used to predict how a job will print, it can also be used to reduce bottlenecks and as a value added sales strategy.

In the next article we will review the different digital proofing options, equipment and consumable costs and new strategies for using proofs.

Howard (Howie) Fenton is a senior technical consultant responsible for digital technologies for the NAPL (National Association for Printing Leadership). A well known consultant he consults with printing and publishing companies and conducts management and training seminars worldwide. For more information write

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