In the print industry, the prepress proofing process is a stage in the production workflow where the designer submits his/her work to be checked and approved by the customer. By sending proofs, both the customer and supplier can minimize the potential for errors on the final product. Proofs can be either physical or digital depending on the requirements of the project. Proofing is considered a best practice in the print industry today.
When a printing service provider receives any editing instructions from a client, these instructions are forwarded to a graphics specialist. These instructions can range from making simple edits to an existing design, to creating a completely original design. Proofing takes place immediately after the client’s instructions have been implemented. The client is shown either a physical or digital proof which allows them to verify that their instructions have been implemented. While reviewing proofs, a client can either approve a design or request further edits or corrections. Once a client approval is received, print production can commence.
Depending on the requirements of a project, either digital or physical proofs will be used. In the print industry these two types of proofs are commonly referred to as soft proofs and hard proofs. Soft proofs are digital proofs that can be viewed on a monitor. Hard proofs are physical proofs that are literal examples of the finished product. There are various factors that determine which type of proof is most appropriate for any situation. Factors such as color and materials will typically require hard proofs. Review of a design and layout are typically done with soft proofs.
Soft proofs are usually sent to a client via email. However, they can be sent by other means such as SMS messages or data storage devices such as flash drives. Some common formats would include PDF, EPS, and JPEG. Soft proofs are far more common than hard proofs. They are optimal for judging if a layout or design is acceptable for printing. This reviewing process includes checking for spelling errors as well as the accuracy of the information on the proof. Soft proofing is typically done even if a hard proof is anticipated.
Hard proofs are usually shown to customer when material and color accuracy need to be accurately judged. Precise color and texture cannot be accurately displayed on a monitor, therefore soft proofs would not an optimal solution. The main drawback of hard proofs are their production costs. In many cases, a hard proof can cost almost as much as the actual production run. An example of this would be a hard proof of a business card versus printing a whole box of business cards. The individual cost for either may be very close.
Most professional printing companies will require that proofs are sent and approved before any printing is initiated. Some companies have an entirely automated system that allows a client to select a template, customize it, then view a proof online.