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SOFT PROOFING -- Is Printing Going Soft?

April 2005
BY MARK SMITH

Technology Editor

In terms of the production process, proofing often is the last remaining physical tie between the print buyer and printer—except for the finished product, of course. Both parties have resisted changes to the status quo.

Soft, or monitor-based, proofing is a logical step toward a truly all-digital workflow. The notion of evaluating and approving work on-screen probably was suggested the first time work was produced digitally. Yet, the various solutions that have been introduced are still working to gain acceptance, especially for approval of color.

Issues related to monitor technology can still be sticking points, but the biggest barrier to broader adoption has remained people's trust in and comfort with hard copy proofing. So has soft proofing's time now finally come? As President Clinton infamously pointed out, the answer depends on how one defines that term.

Sending PDFs as e-mail attachments for clients to view on-screen is soft proofing in its simplest form. This is commonly done for content approval only.

Common Traits

Dedicated soft proofing solutions typically provide a similar set of added functionality. Enhanced collaboration tools and capabilities are pretty much standard, including e-mail notification, simultaneous viewing, approval reporting and activity tracking. Color management and evaluation (on-screen densitometer, etc.) features are also must-haves.

Most, but not all, of these systems support file streaming. There are different versions of the technology, but the basic idea is to reduce wait times and bandwidth requirements by eliminating the need to first download the entire high-res source file before viewing a proof.

Another potential point of differentiation is whether the solution is a server-based system or an ASP (Application Service Provider) offering.

With a server-based system, the software resides on a printing company's own Internet-connected server. This affords the printer greater control of the system, enables direct integration with production systems, provides the security of source files remaining within the plant and tends to be more cost-effective for volume users.

ASP solutions are said to make it easier to get started in remote proofing by providing the required infrastructure ready- made. They generally have low start-up costs and assess fees based on usage.

Beyond the basics, two systems stand out for having achieved SWOP (Specifications for Web Offset Publications) certification to support their use in critical-color, contract proofing. Kodak Polychrome Graphics' (KPG) Matchprint Virtual Proofing system and Integrated Color Solutions' (ICS) Remote Director provide similar functionality, but get there in different ways.
 

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