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Digital Color Proofing -- Proof or Consequences

January 2001

Like a pit bull on a mail carrier's ankle, there are some issues that just won't seem to loosen their hold on the graphic arts industry. Font-related issues are the best case in point, having caused problems since the earliest days of desktop publishing and still hindering the processing of many jobs today.

Similarly, digital proofing has presented challenges for most of that same time period. There is no solution that is perfect for everyone, so debate has raged about what is the best—or even just an acceptable—approach to digital color proofing. The points of disagreement usually are rooted in the differing needs of individual printers/prepress operations and, by extension, their clients.

After all, this is a subjective process. One level of proofing may truly be acceptable for a particular user and application, but inadequate to meet the needs of another user and the same or a different application.

There are a number of attributes that can be factors in whether a proof is deemed acceptable. Some of the concerns and issues raised recently at industry conferences and in online forums will be reviewed later in this article. What it all comes down to, though, is the level of risk (re: liability) the parties involved must assume by trusting that a given proof is an accurate representation of the printed result.

It's a pay now or, maybe, pay more later scenario. In general, the closer a digital proof comes to matching all the attributes (color, halftone dots, substrates, special colors, etc.) of the printed sheet, the more it will cost. Conversely, the smaller the investment in proofing, the greater the chance that there will be an unexpected result in the printed piece, which could necessitate a costly remake.

An intriguing aspect to the adoption of digital proofing is the high level of resistance among users to making any compromises in order to enjoy gains in process speed, convenience and control. Most people will concede that a level of craftsmanship has at times been sacrificed in the areas of typesetting/page layout and scanning/digital photography to reap these benefits of digital processes. However, any type of quality tradeoff has been a tough sell when it comes to digital proofing.

Halftone dots were the first area of compromise faced by the industry and, to this day, remain a make-or-break feature of digital proofing for many. Obviously, halftone dots are required if the proof is to reveal potential moiré, but even if that isn't a big concern, some printers won't accept output without dots as a contract proof.

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