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SEPTEMBER 2012





PROOFING:

past, present and future... Opportunities for Dealers

Proofing is an essential part of the printing workflow and has been since the first pages came off of the Gutenberg press. Over time the methods of creating proof sheets have changed as print technology evolved from letterpress beginnings into offset dominance and now digital imaging directions. Proof pages are used for content, format, pagination and imposition. These proofs become approval contracts when verified and signed off by customers. In many ways, proofing is the basis of a legal agreement between printer and customer. The contract proof is the one that says to the printer "Everything looks good, let's go to press."

As most dealers know the trends in proofing has been a fast moving movement from analog to electronic following the changes in prepress technologies from film to digital plating. To put things into perspective Dealer Communicator has organized a historical perspective tracking the movement through key eras in the printing industry - past, present and future.

The Past
Initially proof sheets were printed on small hand operated letterpresses where long columns of text, called galleys, were printed and sent off to the proofreaders. Once approved the galleys were paginated and imposed where the first sheets off the press were used as proof sheets as a final check. As phototypesetting evolved the galleys were generated on photographic paper and final position proofs on a variety of mono-color materials called bluelines, brownlines, vandykes and dyluxes (generically called bluelines) that are light sensitive papers exposed through the same films used for platemaking.

Color proofing followed a similar path insomuch that for letterpress and later progressive proofs of color images were created on small proofing presses and full press sheets produced on full sized printing presses. Most of the major color trade shops installed full sized multi-color presses just to generate proofs. Bluelines were used to check position as well.

Starting in the 1950's changes in color separation technology through companies like Kodak with their Tri-Color product provided the ways and means to create lower cost color separations through a process camera. Around the same era color separation scanners were emerging. This created a need for lower cost proofing methods than the then prevalent process color press proofs. In the 1960's 3M introduced Color Keys that used CMYK overlays (later spot colors as well). While not perfect these proofs provided a good predictability of the printed results. Other analog laminated proofing methods continued to be introduced like: 3M Transfer key (Matchprints now Kodak); Ozalids; and, Dupont's Watercote.

The Present
The current era in printing started in late 1980's when the printing industry began to move from manually assembled pages to ready for plate one piece films. Imposition software introduced around this time from Ultimate Technographics (Impostrip) and Adobe (Presswise) created the market for large format Imagesetters to accommodate this direction. Proofing was still done with the generated proofs but the cost of corrections was significant. This created a need for proofs that can be generated prior to making the films. The early 1990's brought products like Kodak Approvals, 3M /Kodak Digital Matchprints; DuPont's Digital Waterproofs and Chromalins; Fuji's Final Proof; and Polaroid all using laser imaging with layered laminated proof technology that evolved from the analog world.

In the same time frame inkjet technologies began to evolve with the first commercial system coming from Iris. Unlike the layered proofs that emulated analog imaging, by providing halftone proofs, the Iris was a continuous pixelated image (no dots. While producing an excellent color proof the Iris proof had push back by the press room who felt they could not match the iris proofs without seeing the dot structure.

So often this type of proof, along with other small format proofers using dye sublimation technology including products like 3M Rainbow and Kodak DCP9000 and DCP9500, were used mostly as interim proofs.

The movement towards Computer to Plate (CtP) technologies that required a proof be made for every set of plates for color break guidance, press sheet imposition check and image positioning forced printers to look for alternate proofing methods. Wide format inkjet printers provided the means to generate lower cost press proofs, color and monochrome were used for position proofing, while the much more expensive laser layered proofs were used for process color contract proofs mostly due to their having halftone images. This was the state of the industry through the 1990's.

But, things started to change by the start of this millennium when software was introduced for inkjet printers that provided contract proof quality. The pressroom also began to change, learning how to interpret continuous tone inkjet proofs to get color matching results. Over time software has become the dominate enabling technology in proofing, customers realize low cost benefits of being able to use commodity print devices over the laminate based special proofing devices.

Another change evolved in the pressroom: color management began to move from manual adjustments of the ink fountain keys for color matching to setting created in prepress for the ink settings through JDF connectivity. The accuracy of the proofs was essential and color management through the software provided the ways and means to achieve the needed results.

Other methods of proofing also evolved during the past 12 years. PDF's sent to customers (and used internally) are used for content and color breaks and soft proofs using specialize software are used for collaboration with customers. What has increased the interest and use of soft proofs is the compression software that can send high resolution images over the Internet at real time speeds displaying very accurate representations of the final printed results especially on calibrated monitors.

The Future
While much of the history of proofing is old news to dealers, especially those that sell prepress systems and wide format printers it is sometimes good to step back and think about the direction the printing industry is going. We hear a lot about digital printing replacing offset printing and it has in the short run market - where o where have those offset duplicators replaced by digital printers gone? While the workflow for traditional (offset, flexo, etc.) and digital printing have the same elements starting with color management profiles to provide print controls, when it comes to proofing, we are seeing another change in proof creation and delivery. Advances in soft proofing quality and speed of transmission along with end-user customer acceptability of these screen proofs (and companion PDF's) have lowered the dependency on hard copy proofs. Especially in smaller format digital presses. However, for the emerging inkjet based wider format, high speed digital presses it is expected that wide format hard copy proofs will stay around although the monitors of these presses (and the latest offset presses) provide high resolution monitors that can be used to show soft proofs.

In some ways the future is now. One clear direction are advances in proofing software. At Drupa 2012, 32 worldwide exhibitors showing off their proofing software products (http://tiny.cc/y4afkw). These products range from content focused programs that can "proofread" documents and labels for the pharmaceutical industry to virtual software from companies like Kodak and Agfa that match their hardcopy cousins in accuracy along with being able to show accurate proofs press-side to software that drives inkjet printers. While many of the vendors listed are from Europe, we live in a global market and some of these vendors may be interested in North American dealer representation.

Some of the trend setting developments start with a return to the past. Where inkjet proofing was mostly continuous tone moving away from halftone proofs, many of the leading proofing system vendors offered halftone dot software: CGS with their Oris ColorDot (www.cgs.de) and GMG with DotProof (www.gmgcolor.com).

It can be expected that we will see more halftone dot proof software become available in the near future. Slowly but surely the need for dedicated proofing systems is going away. Another good idea is from Hyphen with their ImpoProof product (www.hyphen.com.au) which is a double sided imposition proofer using two Canon iPF 8000S inkjet printers Registration is achieved through a unique camera registration system. Many of your customers want two sided printing but only a few manufactures offer this solution.

DC feels it is important that dealers keep on top of the software and system development for proofing. Many of the solutions offered will work with the wide format printers you are currently selling including those from HP, Epson and Canon. Most dealers probably get it. A look at the workflow and proofing offerings from dealers like EZ Hi Tech (www.ezhitech.com) provide a wide range of proofing opportunities fitting the needs of their customers.

One way to keep up to date on proofing technologies (besides reading Dealer Communicator) is to consider joining organizations like The Color Management Group (www.colormanagement.com) that can provide technical help or to handle sales and support calls on color management and proofing.

In a recent editorial DC featured some thoughts on workflow trends and technologies that should be of interest to dealers. Proofing is an essential part of the prepress workflow. One thing about proofing systems and software is that it will continue to evolve and your customers will invest in technology improvements since a good proofing system will reduce errors and costs. Plus, for graphic arts dealers, there are plenty of opportunities in selling proofing solutions outside the commercial offset and even digital print market. Consider selling softproofing products to include any business that is using production digital presses where high resolution proofs can be delivered onscreen.

The future sales of proofing is positive. It includes sales of wide format printers for hard copy proofs and the potential of selling softproof and calibration software and tools along with calibrated monitors where needed. With printers used for proofing it also means sales of color management software and measuring device and of course the media that is needed. Think proofs.

Definitions (from Wikipedia)
Hard proof is an actual printed sample of a printed product. It is further divided into five general classifications.
Blueprint (originated from conventional platemaking) is a copy printed in one color and used for checking and correcting mistakes in contents, imposition layout and completeness of data.
Imposition proof (Layout proof) is similar to blueprint but the copy is printed in color. Imposition proof is usually done with a large-format color inkjet printer.
Color proof provides the color-reliable/color-true reproduction of the contents of the file intended for printing. Color proof is made with inkjet printers or thermal sublimation printers in combination with powerful color management systems. Proofing is performed in full-size format while in some cases small page format is also acceptable. Color proof serves as a guideline for a printing press operator and usually stands for a contract proof.
Screen or Soft Proof is a method of proofing used for simulating a raster structure of the printed image. Performing this proof makes it possible to recognize different raster-dependent effects such as smoothness, grade and range of tonal gradations, and moiré or rosette patterns. DC

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