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Soft Proofing: seeing is believing

Sep 1, 2004 12:00 AM

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In our May 2004 issue, contributing editor Hal Hinderliter noted that monitor-based proofing methods can range from PDF files sent via e-mail or FTP sites to systems that allow users to review content and layout, to more complex color-managed systems that seek to emulate hard-copy proofs.

Legally, an approved proof is a contract — printers and customers are agreeing an acceptable reproduction can be made with the designated paper and ink. It's also a communications and quality-control tool used to set printers' and customers' expectations — it predicts the results of a press run and provides a basis for evaluating a press operator's efforts.

Until recently, most soft-proofing options were convenient for checking content, but not a viable substitute for hard-copy contract proofs. But over the last several years, some soft-proofing options have grown more sophisticated — particularly when it comes to color accuracy, viewing conditions and collaborative communication tools.

In the May/June IPA Bulletin, Eric L. Neumann, product manager for scanners and color management, Enovation Graphic Systems, and Dan Caldwell, vice president of operations, Integrated Color Solutions, maintain that certain soft proofs can provide the same capabilities as hard ones. Although users can't fold a monitor-based proof, they can:

  • View it for color and content
  • Mark it up
  • See how the images will print on the final stock
  • View spot colors
  • View two proofs side by side
  • Provide legal sign-off
  • Let several people view the proof simultaneously or consecutively
  • Archive the proof for later viewing.

Most soft proofs are made using one of two methods:

  • Using PDF files (created either by the main prepress RIP or by automatic PostScript to PDF distilling process)
  • Using a dedicated soft-proofing server that can render post-RIPed CMYK files into a series of screen-resolution views that show different areas and zoom levels.

Two vendors, Kodak Polychrome Graphics (KPG) (Norwalk, CT) and Integrated Color Solutions (ICS) (New York City), currently offer SWOP-certified, monitor-based proofing solutions. We asked these proofing pioneers to bring us up to date on their latest developments.

RealTimeProof concentrates on content

Earlier this year, KPG acquired RealTimeImage's graphic-arts division. KPG's Matchprint Virtual proofing system is powered in part by RealTimeProof's Web-based image-viewing and collaboration tools.

According to Rob Pipe, KPG's worldwide director of virtual proofing, RealTimeProof is a workflow tool that offers far more functionality than a low-resolution PDF.

“By putting the original high-resolution production data into one location, everybody working on a job can annotate, collaborate, view and zoom in on the same file,” explains Pipe. “That adds more value than a PDF on a dozen people's computers.”

RealTimeProof also lets users manage approvals, route files and create a document repository.

RealTimeProof configurations include:

  • ASP, an application-service provider version
  • Express, which combines the ASP features with the ability to stream high-res files from a local server
  • Private Label, which can run under the user's brand
  • Partner, a scalable, image-streaming engine that plugs into an existing digital-asset or workflow-management system
  • Classic, the original client-server product that operates as part of the customer's local-area network.

Artwork Systems, EFI, Esko-Graphics and Heidelberg also are integrating RealTimeProof into their workflow products.

Matchprint Virtual manages color

Matchprint Virtual is KPG's contract soft proof. “RealTimeProof takes care of the content,” says Pipe. “Matchprint Virtual then manages the color on top of that. It incorporates ICC color profiles in a controlled viewing environment, including high quality monitor calibration and a color-transformation engine.”

Although Matchprint Virtual originally was adopted by high-end agencies and publishers, Pipe reports increased interest from printers, trade shops and designers “attempting to drive time and geography out of the workflow and ultimately increase efficiency.”

The exec explains that some of these users currently have a workflow with a lot of iterative color-laser proofs. “Before they get to color, they might have multiple rounds of changes and conferences, or approvals that require legal, corporate and production personnel. That complexity is what they're trying to solve.”

What's new

RealTimeProof 5.0 made its debut at Drupa. Enhancements include “multiple-view” and “compare” features said to enable simultaneous streaming, viewing, collaboration, annotation and comparison of several versions in high resolution, identifying and highlighting version differences.

A double-approval authentication feature ensures that only authorized participants can approve a file. After files have been approved by all authorized stakeholders, a “lockout” feature prevents further annotations or changes.

Budget-minded users have a new option — Matchprint Virtual LCD. The system consists of an LCD monitor that has been certified by KPG for the Matchprint Virtual Proofing System; Matchprint Virtual color calibration software; a Matchprint Virtual colorimeter; and a full suite of Web-based proofing tools.

For internal workflows, KPG has shown and soon will introduce the Matchprint Virtual Desktop Proofing System. Photoshop users no longer have to rely on inkjet proofs to check retouching applications. Matchprint Virtual Desktop enables users to view color-accurate proofs from RGB and CMYK data at an earlier stage in the workflow, increasing productivity and accuracy.

KPG will extend monitor proofing into the pressroom with Matchprint Virtual Press Side, a RealTimeProof-powered solution that enables press sheets to be scanned for remote viewing. A website,, lets all involved in the approval process (agencies, creatives, prepress and printer) quickly view and approve or electronically mark up proofs. With Matchprint Virtual Press Side Proofing System, the same proof can be viewed in the pressroom for use during the print run.

Remote Director

ICS offers Remote Director, a SWOP-certified, monitor-based contract proofing system that can run on commercially available hardware. (Apple's 20- and 23-inch Cinema Displays, Eizo's ColorEdge CG21, Sony's 23-inch SDM-P232W LCD display and Sony's Artisan CRT monitor reportedly have all received SWOP certification in conjunction with Remote Director.) In order to run Remote Director, users need only an Apple Macintosh G4, running OS X 10.2 or higher, with 1.5GB RAM and 20 GB hard drive, as well as a GretagMacbeth Eye-One spectrophotometer for verifying the display's color.

The software enables multiple reviewers in different locations to view, collaborate and comment on color as well as content, and build a digital record of the proofing process from start to finish, including legal sign-off.

“Remote Director is designed as a color-accurate proofing system from cradle to grave,” says Caldwell. “From the back of a digital camera, all the way to press side, including customer sign-off, it should replace all paper proofing. You can start digital and stay digital until plates are created.”

Unlike Matchprint Virtual, Remote Direct isn't browser-based. “You can think of it as a color Instant Messenger [IM],” suggests Caldwell. “You're specifically communicating color just like an Instant Messenger is specifically designed to communicate chat. Just as an IM does not run within your Web page, neither does Remote Director, thus providing the same simple functions to proofing that IM provides to chatting.”

Another unique feature, according to Caldwell, is Remote Director's verification system. “As part of our interface, we have a red/green icon that indicates when your monitor is identical to your customer's,” he explains.

ICS can claim bragging rights in two monitor-proofing areas: It was the first vendor to achieve SWOP certification as well as the first to combine large-format scanning with soft proofing — its PressOK extension debuted at Graph Expo in 2003. Caldwell says, “[SWOP certification was] the key thing that got the product off the ground. It's third-party verification that display-based proofing works.”

The exec reports that press operators, long accustomed to hard proofs, have adapted well to monitor-based proofs. “Typically, when a publication goes to press, the operator gets an 8- or 12-page form — and a mixture of color proofs. One ad might be done on an Epson, another on a Fuji, and so on. Even if all of these various proofs are SWOP-certified, SWOP is a big target. Color spaces can be slightly different.”

By contrast, with Remote Director all of the form's pages are on the monitor in the same color space. “The client can see the form and approve color when the press operator fires up the press,” relates Caldwell. “The operator isn't fighting with a warm Approval vs. a cold Epson proof and so on. All the proofs are in the same space.”

ICS, which previously relied on direct distribution, has made Remote Director available nationwide from dealers such as Enovation and Pitman.

What's next

There's room for several different types of proofs in printers' workflows. Monitor-based options, however, do offer unique communication efficiencies and can reduce production cycles significantly. As with most new technologies, to encourage wider acceptance, printers must educate their clients.

Katherine O'Brien is editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at

Talking SWOP

Currently, only Kodak Polychrome Graphics (KPG) (Norwalk, CT) and Integrated Color Solutions (ICS) (New York City) offer SWOP-certified monitor-based proofing options. But Dalim Software (Kehl, Germany) could soon join this group.

“When looking for soft-proofing solutions, SWOP certification is high on most people's wish list,” says Gee Ranasinha, Dalim Software's director of marketing. “But we believe that having a soft-proofing system that's SWOP-certified is just one piece of a larger color management initiative that companies need to implement for reliable remote contract proofing — either via a monitor or on a substrate. However, consistent with our long-term strategy of offering customer choice, we are currently working on attaining SWOP-certification for DALiM DiALOGUE.”

Dalim Software is best known for its automated workflow solutions, but it offers its DALiM DiALOGUE soft-proofing server as a standalone product. Running on Mac OS X or Red Hat Linux hardware, DALiM DiALOGUE is sold as a software application to allow an unlimited number of clients and proofs. Clients need only a Web browser — no special plug-ins are required.

“Dalim Software gives us a nonproprietary approach,” relates Ed Zepernick, director of technology at Continental Web Press, an $80 million operation with more than 500 employees in plants in Itasca, IL, and Walton, KY. “You can dial up through anything — Netscape, Explorer, Mozilla or what have you — and get to your files via password-protected websites.”

Zepernick concurs that SWOP certification will pave the way for DiALOGUE to be used as a virtual proof. Currently, Continental uses DiALOGUE for imposition proofing. “As soon as you log on, you see the imposition in PDF format,” explains Zepernick. “You can see all the measurements right there. It has job annotation tools and gives you the history as you go along. It's a great communication tool.”

The exec particularly likes a pull-down menu that lets users cope with last-minute paper changes. “Provided the monitor is calibrated, you can see the proof as it will be on the printed piece. Paper profiles are put into the system. It's nice.”

Proofing tidbits

  • Eizo makes a case for its LCD monitors in “LCD Monitors for High-End Graphics: An Overview of the Color Edge Series.” Find it at

  • Sir Speedy has named PROOF-it-ONLINE as the preferred online proofing solution for all new Sir Speedy franchises, and is offering the hosted “no software” solution to all existing Sir Speedy centers throughout the U.S. and abroad. Users upload full-color proofs and PDFs for their clients to review and approve online from any Web browser. They can mark up proofs and make and share comments with other reviewers. See

  • Results of the IPA Color Proofing Roundup are available in an archived webinar and accompanying 42-page report. See or call (800) 255-8141.

  • HELIOS PrintPreview offers last-minute production checks of print jobs prior to final output. Any PostScript job sent to a HELIOS EtherShare spool queue can be previewed as a PDF file. The previews are stored on the HELIOS server. They contain job ticket information and the final pages in composite and/or separation mode. They can be accessed and printed from any client with a PDF browser, e.g. Adobe Acrobat Reader on PC, Macintosh or UNIX. See

Step-by-step soft proofing

Hal Hinderliter, director of the Graphic Communication Institute at Cal Poly State University (San Luis Obispo) and president of Hal Hinderliter Consulting ( offers the following tips for getting started with soft proofing:

  • Get a good monitor. Prices range from $379 for LaCie's electronblue IV 19-inch CRT to $5,699 for Mitsubishi's LCD4000-BK 40-inch LCD.

  • Keep it calibrated. Suction-cup calibrators start at $229.

  • Profile your monitor. Wait until the monitor has been on for at least one hour before calibrating

  • Control ambient light. Create a repeatable environment, which means near-elimination of outside sunlight.

  • Determine your RGB working color space. If you select something non-standard, embed the profile into all your images.

  • Profile your printing press. Color-management profiling applications can cost as little as $99 or as much as $4,250.

  • Profile your scanners and digital cameras.

  • Adjust preferences in your operating system and graphic-arts applications.

  • Establish how proofs will be transferred and annotated.

  • Determine if you'll be soft proofing interpreted files from your RIP.