Generate a Contract Proof Early and Often

???Try on my Tux before the wedding, Who???s got time for that???? Said no-one Ever.

??While not taking 5 minutes to try on your tux weeks before the wedding is just crazy, you would be shocked if knew how often Prepress Providers are asked to proof a design days before it is scheduled to hit the press. Assuming everyone understands the importance of a calibrated contract proof, the only reasonable explanation is that the resources required to produce one just aren???t available to the small to mid sized design agency.

??There is a solution, but before we talk about that lets take a look at the evolution of the process. Tasked with finalizing your design and furnishing that first Contract Proof, It was my job to shoot art boards in the 70s, place final films in position in the 80s and output imposed films in the 90s. The last step was alway furnish a final proof and submit it for approval. Now that the entire process is digital there is no reason not to make the proof as the first step in the process. Todays technology allows you to generate a proof while your design is in its early concept stages. Still, most of the files I make ready for press today have not been proofed to a commercial printing standard like GRACol, SWOP or FOGRA.

??While proofing as a final step made sense in the analog days, digital prepress and proofing allows you to proof a design as it goes through its many iterations. So why isn???t everyone embracing the new way of doing things? My guess is that old school thinking is alive and well so we still proof at the end of the process ???like always???. The good news is our clients are getting away with not ???trying on the tux??? roughly 80% of the time. That???s a pretty good average, right?

??Applying that success rate to our wedding day would go something like this: You get married 5 times (could happen). The first 4 go off without a hitch (so to speak). Then the 5th ???Big Day??? comes along and things don???t quite as planned. You hike up those drawers but you can???t get the waist buttoned. All you can do at this late date is suck in that gut, pray nobody notices and hope those rental buttons are sewed on good and tight. I don???t know about you, but if there is going to be a problem I need to know ahead of time.

??All kidding aside, I understand why most projects don???t get a contract proof until they get into production. In the 70s and 80s proofing systems were both extremely expensive and needed to be set up in an industrial work space. It???s 2016 and while Commercial Grade, Color Managed Proofing Software and Certified Inkjet Printers are within reach, a system is still fairly expensive. In lieu of taking out a small business loan it makes sense to buy a really nice inkjet printer and follow the instructions to ???calibrate??? it. After all even an inexpensive printer will produce a beautiful page. Problem solved right? For almost no money you are blowing away your clients with eye popping graphics. On the surface this appears to be a viable proofing solution but not so fast???

??Here???s the catch, Eye Popping Graphics are difficult to produce when your putting ink on paper or board at a rate of 12,000 sheets per minute. That beautiful print, the one your client fell in love with, may not be achievable in a commercial printing environment and you won???t find that out until your printer presents a contract proof. With expectations based on a print that is beyond the limits of the commercial printing process your client can only be disappointed when they see a calibrated proof and to matters worse it???s just days before your going press. No worries though, you have a great relationship with your printer and he???s got your back.

??In an effort to defuse the situation and keep your deadline your printer tells the client that he will do his best to ???punch it up??? on press saving everyone precious time and resources. In a effort to fix things, a bad situation just got exponentially worse. You may just spend the entire morning on a press proof ???punching up the color??? only to find yourself pulling the job anyway.

??A contract proof targets a particular set of printing parameters like GRACoL, SWOP or FOGRA. It is designed to show you, for better or worse, just what you will get on press under normal conditions. If it could be ???punched up??? your proof would reflect that. Sure, there is a little leeway in the process but the reality of the situation is that if your client is unhappy with the contract proof, no amount of ???punching up on press??? is going to make them happy with the final product. There goes the budget and your deadline. All starting with a client who fell in love with an uncalibrated proof that gave him unrealistic expectations.


Here???s some sage advice and a simple solution.

Never, ever, ever let your client fall in love with anything that can???t be achieved in a production environment. When you send a PDF for initial approval make sure everyone understands why they cannot use the color on the screen as a predictor of how the final product will look. Color can only be predicted by reviewing a Contract Proof targeted to specific print standard like GRACoL, SWOP or FOGRA.

??When your client gets a look at your initial PDF and starts gushing about how much that they love the color they see, just thank them for the compliment then ask them to tip their screen down a little and see if they still like the color (it will get darker), then have them tip the screen up and check it again. Suggest they also look at the PDF on their phone or tablet. Then have them hold the phone up to their computer screen and tell you which version they prefer. If they don???t like any of those options suggest they to go to another computer and see if it is any better. Have some fun with it. If you do it right you will have taught your client about the importance of reviewing a contract proof for color and have had a little fun in the process.

??The sooner you can share a calibrated proof, the more opportunities you will have to perfect the color. Once you have a design concept close, or the first time your client talks about color, upload a PDF (PDF/X4:2008 format) to have a contract proof made. Have a new proof made every time you change the color of an element. A single page contract proof is going to run you roughly $20.00 delivered to your door. If time is of the essence, have it shipped to your client directly.

??Lastly (but no less important), make sure to proof the final file. Furnish your final Contract Proof to the printer along with the file. When the printer is done getting the file ready they will produce their own proof designed to emulate their printing process. Their proof should match your proof. If that is not the case it can mean only one of two things. Either they are printing to a different standard or they need to tighten up their production/proofing process.

??When you logged onto there were several options relative to proofing standards. Below each option is an explanation of the printing process related to each proofing standard. Ask your printer which standard they run to. Once you have determined why your contract proof does not match theirs you can make an informed decision to either move forward with your current printer targeting his proof or find another who prints to a tighter tolerance. Keep in mind that a printing company who maintains tighter tolerances has to continually invest time and money to maintain calibration. They will tend to charge more but you???ll usually get what you pay for.

??Give your client a chance to ???try on the color??? before the big day??? or wait till the last minute and hope for the best. Just remember what your mother always said, ???its all fun and games until someone gets a button in the eye???.


October 2016