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What to Look for When Checking a Print Proof

Rod Kelloway - Sunday, November 09, 2014

A print proof is basically a one-off sample of your printing job. It is the very first print of your job, and the closest approximation to the finished product that a printer can achieve. While a print proof will never be exact (particularly when it comes to colour matching), it will be detailed enough to give you one last chance to check everything is correct (and catch any errors) before your file is sent to the printing presses.

If you haven’t had any proofing experience, checking a print proof can seem daunting, particularly if you’re approving a hundred-page document. But, with our advice below, you can hone your proofing skills, and will be much more able to spot errors and inconsistencies.

1. Find a Quiet Space

Everyone is different, and has different habits when it comes to proofing, but we suggest that you grab a cup of coffee and find somewhere quiet. Proofing requires quite a bit of concentration, and can be difficult to do with ringing phone and dinging email alerts. Make sure you take a print-out, or an electronic copy of your print-ready PDF to check your print proof against. Without a copy of the print-ready artwork, you might not notice that something is actually missing.

2. Double Check Digits and Details

It is always a good idea to call any telephone numbers included in your document, and to type URLs into your browser. Triple checking all these obvious, but easily forgotten, details can save a lot of money on a re-print in a week’s time.

3. Keep in Mind that Colour Can be Tricky

If you have opted for an offset print job, it is important to keep in mind that your print proof will usually not be printed on the same stock earmarked for the final set-up. This is due to extremely expensive set-up costs. As such, it is highly likely that there will be some differences in colour between the proof, and the final product. So, if colour is critical to your document, then it might be a good idea to request either a press check, or an ISO proof. These two options will attract additional charges, but it might save a lot of heartache in the long run.

On the other hand, if your job is of the digital print variety, then the colour in your print proofs will be comprised of what is known as the four-colour process (CMYK). As such, if your job requires spot colour, then you can match it using a Pantone swatch sample. In addition, a print proof can usually be supplied using the same stock earmarked for the final print job, making colour matching a bit more accurate.

Another tip when it comes to colour; make sure that neutral colours are properly balanced. So, pay special attention to whites, greys, and blacks. If they show a significant colour cast (so, if the whites have a yellow or blue tint to them, and the blacks and greys have a brown, green or blue tint to them), then the colour settings on the printer could be out of balance.

It’s also a good idea to check the overall reproduction of colour throughout your document. You can do this by focusing on what are deemed ‘memory’ colours, such as blue skies, green grass, and red tomatoes. These colours can often be the hardest to match, given that we instinctively know what they should look like. Chances are, if you’re happy with the ‘memory’ colours, then you’ll be happy with all the colours.

4. Keep an Eye Out for All the Little Things

There are a variety of little things that you should keep an eye out for when checking a print proof, including:
• Page numbers: make sure all the pages are ordered sequentially.
• Page sequencing: make sure that your pages are laid out in the correct order, and that you know what the end product will look like. For instance, if you don’t like printing on the inside back cover of documents, then make sure there is a blank white page inserted.
• Headlines: while you might be able to get away with a small typo in body text, spelling mistakes and typos in headlines are glaringly obvious. So, triple check all your headlines and sub-headings.
• Photos: make sure that all your images are positioned, scaled, and cropped correctly. There’s nothing worse than finding you’ve chopped someone’s head off on page two. Also, make sure that all your images are of a high enough resolution for their size; if any images appear blurry, then it is likely that they are too low in resolution.
• Special printing effects: if you have decided to embellish your print job with spot varnish, embossing, or coatings, then make sure these effects are clearly indicated.
• Bleed and trim: check that the trim and bleed marks on each page are where they should be. Otherwise, you might end up with vital content being cropped out on the final compilation.
• Copy: read through your copy carefully, keeping an eye out for typos and spelling mistakes. This is the last chance you’ll have for any corrections.

5. Enlist a Fresh Pair of Eyes

After looking at the same document time and time again, you tend to start seeing what your mind’s eye thinks is on the page, rather than what is actually on the page. When you know what is coming next, you are more likely to skim over misspelt words or fail to notice missing words. So, it’s always a good idea to ask someone who has never seen the document to give it one last check once you’re finished with it.

6. Clearly Convey and Check Corrections

If you come across anything that you aren’t happy with in your print proof, make sure that you clearly communicate this to your printing company. Clearly circle every flaw, typo, spelling mistake, colour issue, and anything else that seems wrong. If you want quite a few corrections made, it might even be worth arranging for a second proof. Whether your second proof is of the hard-copy or electronic kind, make sure that you triple check that all your changes have made.

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