One might think that once the files have got to the printer all you need to do is wait for the book to come out. Meanwhile, soft-proofs and reports are dropped into customer email boxes, and sometimes they ask us ‘what’s this soft proof?’ So, let us explain…
What’s the deal with this soft proof?
Simply put, a soft proof is a production file that is technically analysed and checked for compliance with the job order. The customer receives one after sending their files to the printing shop. Soft-proofing allows the customer to decide whether the content can be released for production or it requires any adjustments or corrections. The file with the publication intended for printing is a pdf with annotations and mark-ups made by the printing shop. A report with notes and comments is also included.
What do you do when you get one?
First of all, review the file and read the report. If you ask yourself ‘why do I need to look again at the file I have sent to the printing shop myself?’, let us assure you that after 25 years in the printing and publishing business you can trust us here. Some files go a long and winding road before they reach the printers and mistakes happen. Viewing the file again helps us avoid problems. For example, if an earlier version of a file is inadvertently submitted, only the customer can notice that. Also, our process engineers – however sharp-eyed they are – may not be aware of the customer’s intentions or the expected final form of the product. Moreover, the customer should check if the file is displayed by the software according to their requirements and if everything looks ok. The attached report will contain notes on the technical accuracy of file preparation and its consistency with the job order. The customer is notified of any errors or inconsistencies that require correction.
Let’s imagine the report says that the lines in the graphic design are too thin. It is then the customer’s decision whether they should be thickened or (e.g. due to tight deadlines) the file can be released for printing as it is. Ignoring suggestions contained in the report can be risky. If the lines in the printed book are unclear, the customer may file a complaint.
Ideally, soft-proofing should result in no need for corrections. Yet we know that it is not that easy for the person in charge of the files. To help you get through this difficult stage of producing a book, we have some Guidelines for preparing materials on our website.
What cannot be soft-proofed?
The things that can be checked by soft-proofing are obviously essential for the final result, but there are still things it cannot check and this is where the customers themselves need to pay particular attention.
It must be underlined that soft-proofing is intended to check the files from the technical point of view, and disregards the content. So, typos or other mistakes in the text cannot be identified. Also, please bear in mind that the soft proof file received from us is developed to verify the technical accuracy of file preparation for our digital printing process only. As it happens, while our report shows no problems, the same file requires corrections when submitted to another printing house. This does not mean that our system is not sensitive enough, or it is more tolerant of flaws. The requirements depend on the machines and technologies used, and what works here does not necessarily come out well elsewhere.
There are also purely technical aspects beyond the control of a soft-proofing process. These are listed in the report accompanying the file. For instance, soft-proofing does not include checking colour spaces, the correct sequencing of page numbers, the arrangement of intentionally blank pages, or the correct preparation of centrefolds.
What if soft-proof proves not enough?
You can still order a hard proof, which is one or a few copies of the book for proofing purposes. The materials used for hard-proofing are either identical with the materials to be used in the print run, or their parameters are very similar. However, hard-proofing does not include enhancements, and we can only see the chosen laminate.
We must note that making a hard proof is rather expensive, especially in the case of a hardcover. It is cheaper to prepare a paperback hard proof. Another option, for those customers who feel better seeing their book in a physical form, is to order a plain proof, which is sheets printed on the intended substrate, or just a book block without binding.
As you can see, there are quite a few ways to check the appearance of the book before printing.