What to look for in a press proof

Published by | Wednesday, August 7th, 2013
What to look for in a print proof

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Going on a press check can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but it doesn’t need to be. In this checklist from Print Production Fundamentals, author Claudia McCue shows you what to bring and what to look for when approving a proof.

What should you bring with you?
• Contract proof (if you have it)
Folding dummy (if you have it)
• Original hardcopy design comps and visual prototypes
• Color swatches used as a reference when beginning the job

Be prepared and bring everything you need with you. And remember that the pressroom has a schedule to keep. Don’t be on time—be early!

Press proof checklist

• Confirm the paper stock is what you specified or agreed on.
• Check any corrections against the contract proof or marked-up proofs that were used as reference for the final version.

• Look for missing text and ensure all correct fonts were used.
• Check to see if any text has reflowed.
• Look for typos and missing edits from your correction check earlier.

• Confirm the image crops on the printed sheet match your proof.
• Check for broken type.
• Make sure there’s an adequate bleed.
• Take a look at the position of artwork, with respect to folds and trims. Consult the folding dummy to make sure everything’s placed correctly.
• Ensure no elements are too close to the fold or to the trim.

• Make sure the general color of the piece matches your contract proof.
• Check color consistency across the printed sheet; you should compare multiple printed sheets to confirm pages that print across from each other look consistent.
• In large color areas, check for mottling or any sort of irregularity in the appearance of the color.
• Trapping is where one color abuts another color and there is a small overlap; make sure you don’t see a gap there.
• Confirm that lines between color areas aren’t too dark, which may mean too heavy or too wide a trap. This is something you should catch early on in the contract proof.
• Make sure that color break is correct; that is, the colors are the ones you specified in your design files.

Printing issues
• Look for hickeys (a spot or imperfection), picking (where inks flake, or “pick” off of the paper), and pinholes (a tiny area missing ink), especially in large areas, as well as any other little printing problems.
• Make sure white areas of the page are white; check for any ink residue or “scum.”

Before the Press Check
It’s important to point out that by the time you attend a press check, you will have already been through a round (or more) of examining and approving contract proofs (for content, mechanics, and color) and folding dummies (for pagination).

During the proofing stage, you should look for:

Content & Mechanics
• Graphics: check crop and size.
• Text: check for font substitution, line break changes, broken type, misspelled words (which you should have caught before submitting the file, but it’s better to catch typos on a proof than to discover them on the press!).
• Layout: check for adequate bleed, and correct relation of content to folds and trims (e.g., an image on a panel of a 3-panel brochure that needs to stop at the fold, without showing on the adjacent panel).

• Check that process and spot colors are correct: make sure nothing is printing as spot color that should be CMYK, and vice versa. Make sure the spot color is correct, and compare to your own Pantone reference guide. Keep in mind that inkjet contract proofs, while very close, may not perfectly render spot colors. If the color seems off, ask the printer for assurance that the spot content will be printed in your designated spot color (e.g., PANTONE 485, not PANTONE 484!).
• Examine images and graphics for correct color, especially product shots, skin tones, and other critical color.

Folding Dummies
• Check for correct pagination: e.g., p.2 should face p.3 when viewed in the assembled dummy
• Check for crossovers: images and other components that cross the gutter should align across the spread on facing pages
• Check for correct shingling to handle “creep”—interior pages being pushed out because of paper thickness. “Shingling” is applied during imposition to minimize cropping of content at trim; content is shifted slightly to compensate for creep. Make sure there are no awkward effects as a result—for example, a border close to the trim, which might be obviously closer to the trim on interior pages than on outer pages in a signature. And keep this in mind when you design.

If you follow these guidelines, take your time, and ask lots of questions, you should have a smooth press check, and a successful printing experience!

Interested in more?
Watch the entire Print Production Fundamentals course.

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3 Responses to “What to look for in a press proof”

  1. phyllis wier says:

    I usually think all your tips are outstanding, this one confuses what you should be looking for in advance when you receive the proof from the printer and what you should have with you for the actual press check. Again there are difference when printing PMS inks vs CMYK.
    Printer would have the proofs you signed off on and the folding dummy, first thing is to make sure they have your initial and dated proof for you when they bring the press sheet out.
    You should check for typos on the proof, not the press check. You’re right to compare any edits, we make our designers bring the list or copy of the edits with them. Always double check your clients logo, contact info, etc. Even if you missed it on the proof. Be aware of the added costs to stop a press and fix anything.
    Always bring your own Pantone book with you so you’re comparing yours to the printers.
    If using a coating, make sure you’re approving a press sheet with the coating.
    The list goes on and on . . .

  2. Kristin Ellison says:

    Hi Phyllis,

    Thank you for your comment. Yes, you are correct in saying that many of the same issues should be addressed during the proofing stage. This post was intended to address only press checks, but we’ve added a section here to remind designers of the things they should look at during the earlier proofing stage, long before the job goes to press.

  3. Katherine says:

    Thank you for sharing this very detailed information. We shared this article and hope this will help designers and business owners understand this important part of the printing process.

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