The Lost Art of Press Proofs

December 10, 2008

When I first started buying printing, we’d get a proof with everything we ordered. The customer always hated paying for the proof but it was the only way we had to confirm that the Quark file submitted (usually on an iomega tape at that time) was in order and that the output would match our expectations for the image. There were a lot of different proofing options; we’d get files from a rainbow or an indigo or some other now outdated piece of equipment that confirmed the files the details of the submitted and did a reasonable job of representing the color.

After we signed off on the proof, the job would go to production. If I couldn’t make the press check, my rep would pull a press sheet off the press and run it by my office. Meanwhile, her pressman and his million dollar piece of equipment sat idle awaiting her speedy return with my approval.

Sometime ago this whole process was dropped in favor of PDF proofing. The idea saves tons time and of money but somewhere in there we’ve also lost touch with the value provided by the process.

Now customers with color printers assume that what they see on their $39 HP DeskJet is representative of what will be produced on a million dollar Heidelberg. Or worse, they’ll only view something “on screen,” taking for granted that their non-color calibrated monitor is an accurate representation of what they’ll see in a PMS color ink.

Needless to say, we’re starting to see a lot of disappointment and I suppose the industry is somewhat to blame. As we all get more comfortable with the technology, we make the assumption that our consumers understand the limitations of their technology and ultimately what they’re committing to when they take the short cut and approve something on-line. Perhaps the message here is that we ought to all take a breather, slow down a little and revert to calmer times when the touch, feel and smell of a proof helped provide a little security in those all-important production runs.

I fear the obstacle will be talking those customers — the ones who have been lured into thinking printing is fast and cheap by online, gang-run provider (like VistaPrint) and quick digital printers (like Kinko’s) —  into spending more money and taking more time to ensure we get it right. It’s a trade off that I think we and they have got to be willing to make.


Although I never recommend that you adhere labels to envelopes…

August 21, 2008

There are times when I do actually recommend clients buy labels. Usually as part of a promotion — where you might use them to highlight a special offer — or to personalize collateral that was pre-printed by someone else.

The second instance is one we encountered recently, where it made good economic sense for my client to make use of the high quality materials provided for a product he resells. Before passing the brochures along to his customers/prospects, we’re labeling them with his contact information so when they receive it, they’ll be sure to call him for more information. I ordered his labels from They have a great selection and easy to use downloaded templates that you can use to setup your labels inside of Word. Read the rest of this entry »

Ordering printing is getting easier but that doesn’t mean you should DIY

August 5, 2008

It seems that every day I run into a better, faster, cheaper option for printing everything from postcards to business cards to banners. 

Printing is a perfect example of a product or service that has been radically changed by the Internet. Individual buyers no longer have to go through professionals to make purchases of their corporate communications materials. First they were able to take the short cut by going to quick print locations like Minute Man Press or Sir Speedy. Then they just started ordering their printing on-line. And each time they show me the results they are so proud of how cheap they got it. Well sometimes you get what you pay for. Read the rest of this entry »

What You See is Not Always What You Get, and Other Problems with Online Printers

February 7, 2008

I’m constantly getting challenged by clients to come up with less expensive solutions that still make them look like a a big player. With the broad availability of online printing, it becoming really easy for just about anyone to produce their marketing materials in four-color. The problem is that some vendors are running digitally and others are printing traditionally. Those of us who buy a lot of printing know and appreciate the difference. Most of my clients do not. So it is my job to play gate keeper.

I firmly believe there is a right and a wrong place to use both of these processes. And while all printers print from the same set of inks, not all printing is created equal. And that is why you need to be careful.

 I’ve been testing online printers lately looking for vendors to complement my trusted local partners. I have had some good experiences (, found some high quality performers (like and been burned ( So here’s what you need to understand before you place an order:

Chances are if you are getting great prices online, your job is either being run digitally or gang run with other work. Find out which one you are getting. Digital can get you good quality but the image probably won’t be as crisp as if you were to run it traditionally (yes, there are some exceptions) and your options for paper stock are often fewer. Traditional printing looks sharper but if the printer isn’t careful about what projects are run together, there can be huge variations between the color red (or blue or green) you specified and what comes out on paper.

Ask about the paper. Very few online printers will give you a choice on paper stock. If something other than a #2 white sheet is your preference, then online may not be for you.

Check the coating. Many printers will “flood” varnish or UV-coat your documents. The reason they do this is because it makes the ink dry faster and then they can cut sooner. The result for you is usually a really shiny and now slightly thicker card. The problem is that if you had planned to write on that card, the kind of finish used may make this impossible. (As a rule, I stay away from UV-coating on anything except pocket folders.)

Odd sizes. I’ve noticed lately a proliferation of vendors producing cards in non-standard sizes. The post office will let you mail up to a 4.25″ x 6″ for a postcard rate but some vendors (like express copy) will make the card smaller because it allows them to get more cards out of a sheet of paper. That may be cheaper for them but costs you precious advertising space in the long run.

Just like fat-free latte, diet potato chips and weigh watchers’ pizza, there are just some things that are too good to be true. By now most of us know better than to use the free business cards from Vista Print for promoting anything other than perhaps our son’s dog sitting service. So when you’re having a tough time figuring out the best process for your printing, do what I often do: take a sample of that great piece you got in the mail to 2 different vendors and get their estimate. You can try this with online folks, too. They actually have CSRs and the ones that don’t, you probably don’t want to work with.