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March 2002

For more than two decades, the conversion of printing to digital processes has seemed to keep the industry in a constant state of change. At the same time, though, the diversity in print processes, providers and customers means technologies get adopted at different rates across the spectrum of users.

This staggered adoption cycle keeps the industry revisiting the same issues for a time, as each wave of new buyers comes along. Earlier adopters, meanwhile, can be left with a feeling of been there, done that—having bought a now-obsolete piece of equipment, in some cases.

Digital color proofing is a prime example, particularly in regard to the question of whether a contract color proof needs to show a halftone dot or not. This issue cropped up when the first digital proofing systems were introduced, since they were continuous-tone devices. The pro-dot argument was cited as a reason for sticking with analog proofs. The debate evolved with the introduction of digital halftone proofers some years later, but the basic arguments remained largely the same.

With both digital halftone and continuous-tone proofers now firmly established in the market, the growing trend toward adoption of a computer-to-plate workflow has raised the stakes in proofing. Rather than assuming the same arguments apply, it seemed like a good time to check with some digital halftone proofing system users to see if there's been any change in attitude about the requirements for a contract color proof.

Customer expectations continue to drive the digital proofing capabilities installed by Color + Graphics in Cerritos, CA, reports Danny Bishop, operations manager. The shop does fine-art reproductions and high-end commercial work, with prepress, printing (on three six-color sheeted presses) and some finishing handled in-house. It has progressed toward an all-digital workflow in phases, starting with eight-up imagesetting two years ago, digital color proofing a year later and now it is completing the installation of a CTP system.

The printer made the move to digital proofing with the simultaneous installation of a FinalProof thermal halftone unit and a continuous-tone PictroProof device, both from Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. Bishop says the shop needs a high-end halftone proof "in order to simulate printing with a dot at the quality we, and our clients, expect. Our customers have actually asked for proofs with dots," he notes.

Seeing a Pattern

Continuous-tone proofers can come very close to matching the color and quality of thermal halftone technology, but they come up a little short in their representations of pastels, neutral grays and vignettes, Bishop says. The ability to predict moiré also is a big reason to have a dot, and so is showing banding, he adds.

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