What does your proof actually prove?

Your proof

proof /pru:f/
• a trial impression of a page, used for making corrections before final printing.

• make a proof of (a printed work, engraving, etc.).
• proofread (a text).
Proofs give us a representation of what we can expect when we print, and they are an important and long-standing part of the book-creation process. I mentioned the important role of accurate proofing in my last BookMachine post about colour management – CMYK is not a colour.

As with many aspects of book publishing, ‘proofs’ is a term that’s not always easy to understand. There are many different types of proofs. Some of them have more than one name. Some have slang names. Some names don’t actually refer to what they are. Some have been superseded by more up-to-date methods.

Different proofs serve different purposes in the book-creation process. Confusing the purpose of proofs can be an expensive waste of both time and money. Spotting typos on a ‘plotter proof’ is a sign of a poor workflow that still happens at too many well-known publishers!

I thought it might be helpful to list what types of proofs exist and when each one should be used. For this post I asked two of the fine people I have met through BookMachine, Jamie Robinson (F1 Colour) and Melanie Thompson (an experienced proofreader), to help me in defining each of the many different proofs available today (and some that should stay in the past) and the pros and cons of each.

I have attempted to arrange these in a rough chronological order. Do let us know in the comments below this post if you have any more to add to the list!

Soft proof
o What it is: An on-screen representation of the job, showing the colours for a particular output condition.
o Pros: Instant; no need for any inks or paper.
o Cons: Can be misleading if the computer screen is not regularly calibrated; can’t show effects of the RIP and halftone screening.

Scatter proof
o What it is: Typically a large (A1 or A2) sheet showing only images, for colour approval.
o Pros: Saves time and money by not proofing every page but instead grouping images.
o Cons: Images are not seen in situ, so very difficult for the printer to use for checking against.

Laser proof
o What it is: A print out from an office laser printer (either printed in-house or supplied by someone else).
o Pros: Quick and disposable; good for layout and content checking; can be written and drawn on to pass comments to people nearby or as reminders to ourselves.
o Cons: Often just black and white to keep costs down; not high quality; not colour accurate.

Uncorrected proof
o What it is: An advance copy of a upcoming novel or text led work. ‘Uncorrected’ meaning it has not yet gone through a final edit or proofread.
o Pros: Publicity can send out an advance copy of a novel to reviewers and internal sales staff; useful for generating a buzz before a book is out.
o Cons: Does not show final edited content, final typography or final cover.

o What it is: Standing for Book Layout And Design this is a mini version of an illustrated book for pre-sales purposes, often used for co-edition sales at book fairs. The BLAD will usually contain example spreads and an early version of the cover and is folded and finished.
o Pros: A tangible sales prop used to show the overall design approach, and the likely content at the finished size.
o Cons: Content is representative only and not final, as the book is not really in existence!

Docucolor proof or Indigo proof
o What it is: A proof (can be in block book, or dummy form). Printed on a digital press. The name comes from the manufacturers of digital presses, but they are interchangeable.
o Pros: Great for providing a concept, including binding, for a tangible pre-print run version.
o Cons: Often isn’t printed on the actual stock (i.e. the paper or other material) that will be used for the final version.

Galley proof
o What it is: A slightly dated term for a proof that shows the proposed final typeset text, set to the column width of the publication. (It’s where we get the term ‘column inches’ in newspaper printing.)
o Pros: Can be a cost-effective way to check text before the layout, to calculate the extent, and to check the content of mono novels and text books.
o Cons: Time consuming to produce and heavy! Every page is printed single sided within a larger A4 sheet.

Page proof
o What it is: A catch-all term for a paper proof or PDF that shows the laid-out pages of the work (rather than the ‘galley’), with all the elements (hopefully) in the right place, ready for a proofreader to check them.
o Pros: Shows the pages (and spreads) as they will be printed; an essential part of the production process when ‘final’ checks are made to text and images.
o Cons: For a book, the page proofs will not include the cover (that is usually sent separately).

FOGRA proof
o What it is: FOGRA together with the European Color Initiative (ECI) set the standards for print in Europe, that are also adopted globally. The FOGRA standards gain ISO certification to assure consistency and control throughout the proofing and printing stages. A FOGRA proof can be from a number of sources, but it’s most commonly mentioned in reference to Epson digital proofs.
o Pros: Best choice for accuracy and quality, for hard-copy proofs.
o Cons: Can be excessive for text-only pages.

Contract proof
o What it is: A proof that is certified by the printer as being accurate to the printed item. A ‘FOGRA-certified’ proof is usual.
o Pros: It has certification, and as long as the printer is printing to the ISO standards (ISO 12647), this proof can be accurately colour-matched on press.
o Cons: There is always the caveat that when on the press other factors of that process, such as tracking, can give variations to the result.

Epson proof
o What it is: A term coined from the manufacturer’s name. These are produced on Epson inkjet proofing machines, but the important element is the higher-quality RIP used to control the output.
o Pros: Providing the RIP (GMG, EFI, Oris etc.) is controlling the output, these are very accurate and reliable for colour approval using the FOGRA standards.
o Cons: Very few really – the majority of hard-copy printers’ proofs are produced on Epson proofers.

Wet proof – not to be confused with damp proof 🙂
o What it is: Provided by the printer, to give an idea of what the final product will look like on the actual stock.
o Pros: Very good for checking any ‘spot’ colours (e.g. special Pantone colours) and how any special finishes may look.
o Cons: Very seldom printed on the press that the final version will be printed on, so colour results may not be reliable.

PDF proof
o What it is: A PDF provided for sign off.
o Pros: Can be delivered by email for speed. See soft proof.
o Cons: As with soft proofing, there are a lot of variables that can happen after ‘sign off’. Often the PDF proof sent back by the printer has not been passed through a RIP so is only an indication of what to expect.

o What it is: These are legacy terms for a contract proof made from film, not digital. However, both brands did have a foray into the digital proofing market, with limited success.
o Pros: The analogue versions were made from the very film that went on to make the plates.
o Cons: With modern day workflows using PDF as the source for printing, rather than film, these are obsolete.

o What it is: Another legacy term (see Matchprint/Chromalin), this is a proof made from exposing the film onto light-sensitive paper, so that text and the position of images can be checked. The ozalid proof is monochrome – often blue (so these proofs are sometimes known as ‘blues’).
o Pros: In the days before digital printing, this proof was a cheaper alternative to a final colour proof.
o Cons: The smell of ammonia from the photographic process (may also be a Pro, if you like that sort of thing).

Plotter/digital plotter proof
o What it is: A low quality proof back from the printer showing how digital files have been made into printing plates, for production to sign off the job before printing.
o Pros: Useful for last minute checks, especially if text black or overprinting is used for co-editions.
o Cons: Can be seen as another opportunity to make text amends.

Insite/XMF proof
o What it is: Refers to the Kodak Insite and Fuji XMF content approval system, where printers put pages online to show the running order and revisions for approval.
o Pros: A final chance to sign off pages after they’ve been submitted to print.
o Cons: Only for content (see contract proofs) so not accurate for colour and often low resolution.

Running sheet
o What it is: A large untrimmed and unfolded sheet pulled from the press during a print run, which shows all the imposed pages for a section.
o Pros: Early advances that will contain printers’ colour bars; useful for production checking with colour management tools.
o Cons: It has come off the press, so we are beyond the stage where any changes can be made for this print run!

Jamie Robinson has been at f1 colour for 24 years, rising through the ranks to Managing Director. Over that time his passion for colour and accuracy has shown no sign of abating, often providing crash courses for production staff at publishers who want to learn more about the ‘dark arts’ of colour and profiling images for print.

Melanie Thompson is an editor, writer and proofreader. She’s currently researching proofreading practices: see www.proofreading2020.co.uk/.

Ken Jones runs Circular Software. He was Technical Production Manager for Penguin and Dorling Kindersley for several years and has since advised publishers such as Parragon, Nosy Crow, Walker Books and Quarto on how to get the best from their print workflow.