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Require Proof

Printing Professional Checking Colors

Require Proof

Author’s Note: This post is going to be half rant/half advice. 

Although The Creative Offices primarily provides website-related services, we do work with local printers in order to get physical materials made — like business cards, or van wraps, yard signs, brochures, and so on.

There are many steps in the creative process from conception to production, and at any one of these steps, something can go wrong. Much to my chagrin, sometimes mistakes are made. But even when mistakes aren’t made, there are many variables that affect output.

On a standard four-color digital press, colors are created by mixing cyan, magenta, yellow, and black toners/inks. Despite great strides in digital printing technology, even if a designer provides an exact build-up formula, the result isn’t always what’s expected. The reasons are myriad; different brands of base toner/inks can mix differently; some paper or vinyl stocks have properties that alter the richness, brightness, and/or density of colors; color may vary over a long production run unless active color management processes are in place.

None of this is the fault of the designer or the printer. It’s an expected characteristic of the production process. And a good press operator will take steps to reduce or eliminate those effects.

The Proof is in the Pudding

To ensure that the final product looks the way we want it to look, the common practice is to review a proof.

A proof is a test. It allows all stakeholders — printers, designers, and business owners — to see what comes off of or out of the machinery. And one of the greatest advantages of digital printing is that small quantities are so easy to produce that the proof is almost always a precise replica of the final product – color, layout, media and possibly binding as well, just as it will look post production.

Maybe the rhodamine has come out looking too red on vinyl due to the way cyan and magenta mixed (or didn’t) on that material. Or perhaps it’s come out too dark on a very porous uncoated card-stock.

Regardless of what’s happened, a proof allows us to see the reality of our work, and to make adjustments required based on that reality. It’s not about ego; it’s about a final product that is correct and satisfies the customer.

So if, some day when you’re trying to get printed products made for your business, you hear these words: “If the artwork you sent is correct that is what will print,” run away as fast as you can. Because those, ladies and gentlemen, are the words of a poser and a dilettante, not a printer.

And your business deserves the real deal.


I’d like to extend a very special thanks to Dominic Harwood with Minuteman Press East Dallas and to Kim Schlossberg with Kim Schlossberg Designs for taking time out of their busy days to help proof this post, verify technical accuracy, and contribute ideas to make it better.

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