First, what are we talking about here? When it comes to Print and Visual Media a 'proof' is often provided to confirm with you, the customer, that the 'file' you provided is what you are seeing as evidence as to what will be reproduced. But it can take many forms.
A Hard Copy Contract Proof -
Which is considered a faithful reproduction for colour and content - this can be expected to be signed as a contractual agreement - hence contract. This is usually produced from a digital proofing system using an inkjet device like a wide format Epson. This hard copy should always be viewed under industry standard ISO 3664 (D50) viewing conditions.
A Content Proof -
This can be provided as a hard copy of soft copy (via online as a PDF) for job content - not for colour accuracy or reproduction.
A Soft Copy Contract Proof -
this is also considered to be a faithful reproduction for colour and content, but is provided as a high resolution PDF and is required to be viewed on a correctly calibrated monitor, using specific colour management (CM) settings that enable an accurate rendition to be displayed on the monitor.
In the many years of industry experience, I have yet to see the same type of proof approval process at Print Service Providers (PSP), print buyers and advertising agencies - some expect a lot whilst others take quite a casual approach. But at least there should be a documented procedure that covers the process so that there is no ambiguity as to what is expected between the PSP and the customer.
Many times, it is the sales team who takes the hard copy contract proof to their client for approval without fully explaining the terms and conditions of the approval process and the print process to be used - it is from here that disagreements arise about responsibility and who is at fault when the final printed result is not as expected due to print quality, finish, and/or colour amongst others.
Many PSP are now not making available hard copy contract proofs - "the client will not pay for them" they say, and "it is a cost we can do without". Or they say that they can run to an international standard, like ISO 12647-2 or GRACoL 2013 (using G7 methodology) - "we measure our results as evidence of producing results to the standard, so we do not need contract proofs". Some PSP still insist making a hard copy contract proof of every job for internal checks and for the press operators as guide for colour, etc. Then many PSP only make available an online low-res PDF for a content check and approval by their clients.
In all of this it best to have a properly documented procedure for your approval process so everyone is clear on the requirements and responsibilities. Sometimes it is best to start with a quick chat and survey of your customers to find out what they would to see and included in the approval process.
Your proof type (hard copy, soft copy or content only) is really governed by the market and type of product. Online web to print often uses checking the file on the monitor for only content. High end commercial jobs, packaging and labels often requires multiple iterations for colour and content plus the ability to validate bar codes and other regulatory items, etc.
Your proof type and approval process should then be set up to match your market and client needs.
At the outset we briefly outlined the types and their purpose.
Let's Look at the Details of Each:
Hard copy digital contract proof (including on-press samples using the production press)
a) For colour approval. This in essence forms a contract as it is known to be the colour target or master that the final produced result should 'match' <IMPORTANT> We put match in inverted commas as this needs to be defined and clearly explained in the procedure and to the client
b) This type of should always be verified to the correct colour standard and workflow
c) There should always be an ISO 12647-7 validation report summary and/or sticker as evidence of a colour verification PASS.
d) Instructions that it be viewed under the correct ISO 3664 (D50) lighting conditions or a clearly stated and agreed alternative.
Soft copy contract proofs as a hi-res PDF
a) How do you communicate to safeguard that the hi-res PDF will be viewed by your customer using a suitable hardware calibrated and profiled, colour stable and accurate display (monitor) using the correct CM settings?
b) Do you provide a separate set of notes or cover page in the PDF with details on how to view and approve the hi-res PDF?
c) How does the customer communicate formal go-ahead and/or comments when viewing the PDF?
Content proofs - hard and soft copy (PDF)
a) Have you communicated clearly to the customer that this type of is for the content only and NOT for accurate colour approval?
b) Has the above been made clear to all in the clients organisation who may view this type?
c) How does the client approve and/or comment on the content? By email? Using Acrobat comments function? Or?
Revision proofs with corrections
a) Has it been communicated that the revision type is for colour or content or both of these?
b) Does the customer check only the corrected areas or the whole job sample again? Has this been made clear to the customer?
c) Is there an accompanying document outlining the confirmation and green light process and revision stage?
Once the above is managed correctly, agreed by all parties and understood this can mean that the technicalities of the approval process are in place.
Hard copy contract proofs will have a verification summary report and/or label showing validation within ISO 12647-7 tolerances to the correct colour standard or colour target
Also, in point 1 the source and destination ICC profiles will be listed and a clear explanation that ISO 3664 (D50) viewing conditions are to be used
A clearly understood approval workflow is in place
Hard copy content samples are clearly labelled for that function - Content only - NOT for colour!
Soft copy content samples (PDF's) are clearly labelled for that function - Content only - NOT for colour!
Soft copy hi-res PDF's are clearly marked or labelled for the designated purpose - including the monitor and CM settings and requirements
Revision proofs are clearly labelled as to how and what the client is expected to check
In the end there is a degree of managing this process correctly and following the appropriate procedures.
Notation and recording of the each iteration shall be provided and looked after. Is this the first or second or another within the checking process?
Within the process of corrections/changes/alterations to the job - who is performing these? (you, aka prepress or is your customer going to provide a new file or files?) And how are the previous versions of the files managed?
To confirm the corrections/changes/alterations to the job - does the customer require the same type again?
Customer final sign off and approval process shall be documented and recorded
How is the cost process for revisions managed and is this clear to the customer? (i.e. cost advice provided to the customer? Are they required to approve costs in writing?)
To aid the approval process many PSP utilise a type of form on the contract proof that the customer must clearly mark, fill out and sign - whether for OK or for corrections, etc.
This is also possible online - the point is that whatever process you use it should be clear and understood by you and the customer with regards to the responsibilities, etc.
Lastly, in the case of online checks and approvals for PDF's. Using the latest Adobe Acrobat Professional is always going the recommendation as many lower cost or free PDF viewers may not display the full file requirements correctly - i.e. Process and spot separations, overprints, hairlines, crop box, media box, etc.
To find out more about the above and printer calibration & printer colour management please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org