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Soft Proofing — Virtually a Lock

June 2006 BY MARK SMITH
Technology Editor
IT HAS taken almost a decade, but the adoption of soft—or virtual—proofing now seems to be on a trajectory similar to the one for computer-to-plate production. Critical color and press-side applications still could be considered in the early adopter stage, but the number of users is growing and a much larger group is becoming open to the possibility.

The product category also continues to expand, both in terms of the solutions offered and the applications they support. In just about a year, the number of vendors offering SWOP (Specifications for Web Offset Publications) certified systems has gone from two to five, for example.

There doesn’t seem to be any development in particular that answers the question, “Why now?” System vendors and printers have been experimenting with soft proofing for decades, and most of the current generation technologies have been available for several years. Also, high-speed Internet access has been a standard business requirement for some time now.

Standard Operations

Certainly, one of the contributing factors has been a growing acceptance of “printing to the numbers” with SWOP and GRACoL. Developments in ink-key presetting and automated color controls have contributed to this trend.

Competition has led to more aggressive moves on the pricing front, with regard to base costs, licensing and ongoing charges, when applicable. Stepping up to critical color proofing, though, adds requirements for monitor calibration and controlled viewing conditions that can boost the investment required.

Publication printing is again among the industry sectors leading the way. Publishers are inclined to jump on any ideas that extend advertising closing dates and editorial deadlines. The technology can be introduced at the blueline stage to ease concerns and then spread to other stages of production once a comfort level with, and confidence in, the technology has been established.

Time Inc. clearly isn’t representative of publishing houses on the whole when it comes to resources and clout (both with its printers and advertisers). It also has earned a reputation for pushing the envelope of new technology. Given the company’s sphere of influence, though, the trickle-down effect does come into play for the broader industry.

Virtual proofing is an area where the publisher recently has been making a big push, starting with its weekly titles, reports Kin wah Lam, director of digital development. It quickly progressed to 100 percent virtual proofing—including into the pressroom—with seven of its publication printing suppliers.
 

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