Unless it’s a birthday party or engagement, it is safe to say that no one likes surprises. This is particularly true when it comes to print. A proof—whether soft or hard, remote or on-site—is a contract between print provider and client. This contract often becomes complicated regarding color, where factors such as consistency and quality are of utmost importance.
Many proofing issues surface as print providers turn from analog to digital. Web-to-print (W2P) systems and Internet-savvy clientele increase the popularity of online proofing for those more concerned with content rather than color. For those that do require color critical output on a digital press, color consistency throughout an entire print run must be addressed as well as the color matching consistency between two or more devices.
For higher-quality print products, proofing is critical for setting customer expectations. "In many cases the proof becomes a binding contract to better control the final quality of the finished product," explains Mark Radogna, group product manager, professional imaging, Epson America, Inc. "For design agencies and printers themselves, the proofing process is also a profitable part of the printing workflow."
Mike Wolfgang, director, digital print systems, CGS Publishing Technologies, believes that color management and proofing in digital print workflows is often lacking. "The biggest challenge right now is that most print providers with digital print in the operation think their color management process is as good as it can be. They’ve come to the realization that ‘I know the output doesn’t match the proof from my offset device, so I have to do some tweaking.’"
He says print providers often aren’t aware of solutions such as CGS’ ORIS Press Matcher, which eliminates the tweaking process. This is especially true to those just entering the digital print space. Wolfgang offers an example of a recent sales call, where a print provider added a Xerox 700 to an equipment line up that already included a Xerox iGen3. Wolfgang asked the client if he expected to do any load balancing between the devices, a situation where output would need to be exactly the same. "The customer said, ‘no, I won’t need to do that.’ Three months later he contacted us and said he really needs to look at our product because he’d really like to be able to load balance between his two devices the output needed to match," he explains.
Color Management and the Contract Proof
A contract proof enables clients to see an exact, color-accurate representation of a print run. Color management and efficient proofing workflows are imperative. "Proofing is about the fundamental communication and agreement of color between stakeholders before a press run," says Chris LaFontaine, global product manger, proofing software and matchprint inkjet, Kodak. "With the variety of devices that can be included within a full proofing workflow, color management is a key component of the underlying structure for successful color communication and production."
Color is important in both digital and conventional print production environments. "A key reflection of this is the upcoming Validation Print standard, which aims to standardize the color quality on xerographic engines to guarantee reproducible color quality close to contract proofing criteria, as well as the existing ISO standard for digital print production for xerographic and the wide/superwide format inkjet production market," says Frank Hueske, proofing product marketing manager, EFI. Print providers must ensure reliable color quality is reflected in the final run, and set customer expectations properly.
Recently, Epson and EFI collaborated to offer an end-to-end solution for virtually all contract proofing applications. "The new Epson Stylus Pro 900 Series Proofing Editions combine the unique proofing advantages of the Epson Stylus Pro 7900 or 9900 wide format inkjet printers, along with EFI’s proofing RIP workflow, EFI Colorproof XF v4.0 for Epson. The end result is a complete solution developed to ensure consistent and accurate proofs for all types of color print work. The package includes an Epson Stylus Pro 7900 or 9000 wide format inkjet printer, a set of Epson UltraChrome HDR ink cartridges, and a 24-inch roll of Epson Standard Proofing Paper 240. EFI Colorproof XF 4.0 for Epson is equipped with pre-installed profiles for Epson’s entire line of proofing papers.
This type of vendor collaboration is important for maintaining color management within a proofing workflow. X-Rite collaborates with a number of hardware and software vendors to incorporate its leading color management solutions into various stages of the proofing workflow.
In a soft—or virtual—proof scenario, "without true representation of color at the client’s site, you still do not have a contract proof and certainly can’t consider utilizing it on a press" says Vicki Blake, VP of product development, Integrated Color Solutions (ICS). Adding color management to production workflows eliminates the need for consumables, courier delivery, and time delays as well as provides tracking and reassurance that a proof is prepared correctly. "As customers begin to accept a monitor as a color accurate display, they begin to expect it in their workflow tools. The globalization efforts of many clients will also require this level of color consistency," she adds.
Tackling the Workflow
Before managing color accuracy on the press, it is important for a printer and client to understand the proofing workflow. Along with the needs of production workflow, the client’s business workflow should also be considered. "There are many stakeholders within the print supply chain, all of whom have a part to play in signing off on proofs," points out Paul Goldberg, CEO, Gap Systems.
It is not uncommon to require a signoff from legal, brand managers, marketers, technicians, and compliance departments on one project. "Attaching PDFs to email is no longer suitable," says Goldberg. Gap Systems’ Approveit is an artwork approval solution that allows users to view the status of projects instantly and reduce the number of iterations.
Goldberg sees a disconnect between print providers and clients. "Too often we see commercial print shops focusing on internal production workflow, but it is essential to look from the client’s perspective—they are interested in their business process. How can you make it more efficient and effective?"
In addition to determining if a proofing workflow should include remote proofing technologies to streamline the turnaround time, it is also important to manage client expectations by differentiating soft proofing from online proofing. "Let’s differentiate the term soft proofing as a color accurate visualization on the monitor versus online proofing, which is a display of the same data on different monitors at different locations," suggests Hueske. From here, he explains that it can be determined that digital hardcopy proofing on a drop on demand inkjet printer is standard; soft proofing is common in certain process steps such as retouching—the full gamut reproduction depends on the monitor and the reference to match; continuous print prediction on a monitor and printer are possible; and hardcopy remote and online proofing solutions are available and more relevant.
Jon Bracken, VP, marketing and channels, Kodak Enterprise Solutions, speaks to the benefits of the soft proof. "Soft proofing is increasingly used in time-critical scenarios and distribute and print applications where customer sign off is achieved quickly." He notes that soft proofing can be incorporated next to presses so the operator can match exactly what the customer sees. A key strength of the Kodak ColorFlow solution is production files used for Web proofing rather than a simulation or composition file. This is achieved through a tight integration of Web and production products within the KODAK Unified Workflow solution.
The graphic arts faces increasing demand for faster turnaround times, greater accuracy, and high quality. In a proofing workflow, it is important that print providers take into account the efficiency of proofing phases in addition to effective client communication. "In this context, EFI sees a high importance in integrated remote proofing solutions—a collaboration of online and hardcopy—working according to standards to speak one language and process control," Hueske continues. The proofing norm is ISO 12747-7, a standard that refers to ICC profile for graphic technology process control for the production of half-tone color separations, proof, and production prints. Part 7 refers to the proofing process working directly from digital data.
Wolfgang sees the importance of collaboration and workflow in the future of color management and proofing. "The print industry has changed dramatically in the past five years, things are becoming so competitive, and integrated solutions are really what people look for. They look to vendors to help save them money and solve their problems."
He sees the situation improving as vendors work together to address challenges. "When we started, it was unheard of to see a digital print manufacturer—let’s say a Xerox representative—go into a non-Xerox account and present a non-Xerox solution, such as color management solutions." Now, Wolfgang explains that it is becoming commonplace to be called on by a digital press manufacturer into an account with competitive devices. "They understand the need to help solve not only their current customers’ problems, but bring in solutions for prospects to help build relationships."
The Significance of the Internet
No discussion would be complete without addressing the influence of the Internet. For many print providers, the Internet offers a chance to grow nationwide, provide current customers with constant contact, and streamline workflow. The proofing process takes a number of steps to accommodate a virtual society. Technologies such as W2P and online proofing aid in this advancement.
EFI urges print providers to separate W2P from the Internet to get a complete understanding of the influence each extends to the proofing segment of digital print. "The Internet continues to affect the proofing process significantly," says Hueske. "The digitalization of production workflow and the Internet are the foundations of hardcopy remote and online proofing." The key parts the Internet plays in this are distribution, centralized monitoring, control of jobs at different sites in a proofing workflow, and online collaboration. "It doesn’t matter whether print buyers or providers work globally or regionally—the benefit applies to all parties involved," he adds.
In addition, the prominence of the Internet spurs the growth of online submission tools and W2P technologies. W2P changes the way customers place print jobs, and so it also influences the proofing process as part of the overall workflow. Depending on the type of print job and required turnaround time, different proofing technologies are available. "Customers can visually check the job online or request a hardcopy proof," suggests Hueske. EFI offers its EFI Digital StoreFront, a print-centric e-commerce solution for print providers interacting with the EFI XF RIP solutions via Job Definition Format.
The notion of cloud or utility computing may infiltrate proofing as part of an on demand workflow. "We’ll see software companies leverage the benefits that on demand computing brings as clients constantly look to Web-enable systems, the print process becomes one of the many processes clients must deal with," explains Goldberg. "Cloud computing brings a cost and scale capability to even the smallest of businesses. The Internet enables a level playing field for retailers such as Amazon to go from start-ups to multi-million dollar revenues and compete with the traditional brick and mortar players in a relatively short space of time. This process will similarly enable businesses to respond on demand and offer the level of security and infrastructure not previously possible by smaller organizations," he adds.
Ultimately, color accurate soft proofing and online proofing will reduce the number of hardcopy proofing, anticipates Hueske. However, hardcopy proofs are still created by print providers for final approval, either by courier or as part of a remote proofing workflow. He expects a co-existence of hardcopy proofing, color accurate soft proofing, and online proofing.
The Proof is in the Print
With the predominance of the Internet in every business, proofing—like every segment—is adapting to fill new needs. Epson’s Radogna believes an emerging development is the ability to completely automate complex color management processes within a production workflow. "Now that Epson offers inline spectrophotometering technology within its latest printer lines, the complex and time-consuming processes of keeping the proofing system calibrated can be eliminated."
He notes an additional benefit of automating the proof verification process and anticipates the centralization of this technology, having proofing technology communicate via the Web in real-time. "This will allow many printing companies to dramatically reduce labor costs while providing faster customer turnaround by centralizing the management of their proofing universe via a single Web site," Radogna concludes.
Monitor proofing—whether true, soft, or virtual—still has a long way to go to gain market penetration within larger parts of the industry. "Segments like publication, catalog, and retail are early adopters, while areas like packaging—with special spot color requirements—are just entering the exploration stage," explains ICS’ Blake.
"Proofing plays a vital part in any production environment," says Forrest Leighton, senior manager, production systems, Canon U.S.A., Inc. Its importance continues because it serves as a visualization tool before commitment. "Although hardcopy proofing is still required for some applications, there tends to be a migration towards soft proofing technologies that streamline business processes," Leighton adds.
It is often stressed that digital print providers harness their client relationships, offering a marketing partnership instead of a commodity printer. Proofing is a vital part of this relationship, and all options should be considered. A proofing workflow should reflect the needs of customers—their business workflow in addition to critical color requirements.
On the backend, consider your own workflow and grasp of color management techniques. Click here for more information on specific products.