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What do you consider the best source for proofing?

I believe it’s best to proof with the printer that is printing the job because all of their equipment is calibrated together. Yet, some people have their service bureaus create the proofs. What do you consider the best source for proofing?

C. L.

Proofing is all about output. A good proof is a good match of the final output. It stands to reason that the proof made by a printer for his or her press conditions should be the most accurate possible since it should be profiled and calibrated with that piece of equipment in mind.

Since every single input and output device is known to have a different color range (gamut) it is critical that for maximum accuracy, the actual final output device is known.

Of course we live in a real world, not a perfect one. Most printers don't make different proofs for every single press in the shop. It isn't good economics. And even though they all print a little differently, they should print within an acceptable range.

The whole idea of proofing to a standard instead of to a specific press is this: the standard is designed so that just about any press running under normal range of variable conditions (and all presses run under variable conditions) can match that standard. SWOP (Standards for Web Offset Printing) is one such standard that any web press can meet. (

In truth, if you want a premium printed piece, you want better than SWOP. Fortunately there are also standards like GRACOL that are established for sheetfed offset presses using today's digital technology. If you are printing on a sheetfed press and asking for or receiving SWOP proofs, chances are you'll be happier with the printed results than with the proof.

Printers generally try to do two things in a proof: to give the customer something they like, and to give the pressman a target they can hit. The best way to do that is to make proofs that match as closely as possible the quality of the job that will come off that press. Service bureaus are much more likely to base their proofs on a set of standards. Printers are more likely to calibrate their proofs to their press.

But this is not written in stone. Some service providers will tailor their proofing to specific presses when they know who will be printing the job, and some printers will run off proofs to a set of standards rather than a press. So the real test is not who makes the proof, but what target they are shooting at.

Stephen Beals is a digital pre-press manager and has been writing for major print publications for many years. He is the author of A Practical Primer for Painless Print Production. He can be reached at

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