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The evolution of the press check

Jan 1, 2005 12:00 AM

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Practical tips for a changing process

Press checks have been a mainstay of print buyers’ job requirements since the advent of commercial printing. Now that the portable document format (PDF) and the Internet enable printers to quickly transmit increasingly accurate proofs anywhere in the world, the onsite press check is no longer the only game in town. However, some print buyers—particularly those with challenging print jobs—still expect press-side proofs.

The demand for quality color
Vision Graphics, a 53-year-old sheetfed printer in Loveland, CO, provides commercial printing and finishing services for the Rocky Mountain region. Founded with a half-size press, the company has since built a 50,000-sq.-ft. facility and bought a six-color Roland 900 56-inch press with coater. Vision Graphics runs three other MAN Roland presses with the Printnet/PECOM operating system for computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM). The full-service printer recently acquired a mailing house to add marketing distribution services capabilities to its menu.

When it’s time to proof a print job, company president Mark Steputis says, "Very few of our customers view proofs for color. Most of the proofing process is regarding content." He adds that while it’s costly to correct text content on a proof, that’s a discipline issue for the client.

Although the company’s largest corporate clients don’t tend to check press sheets as often as smaller design clients, Steputis says that between two and four customers a day visit to conduct a press check. "They come here to check color, if that’s what they’re all about," he explains.

Ray Prince, senior technical consultant for the Graphic Arts Technology Foundation (GATF) (Sewickley, PA), also notes the continuing importance of the press check for print buyers who are concerned about color accuracy. He says that compared to ten years ago, "We’re not [doing] press checks for publications or medium-quality print; we’re sending the client a PDF of the file.

"But the business-to-business segment requires just as many press checks," Prince adds, "as do certain business-to-consumer markets where there is a concern about color—such as securities, travel and hospitality, and real estate sales."

A well prepared job
The top four toughest offset print jobs, according to Prince:

  • Big, even screen prints.
  • Large areas of solid color.
  • Product color matching.
  • Corporate colors.

"When printing a delicate job for the first time, a lot of printers will press proof it the day before the press check," says Prince. "They’ll make up a set of plates with all of the key subjects, pop it on press, pull up the standard density, level it off and just double-check it."

Although it’s an expensive precaution, it’s difficult to put a price on peace of mind. "It ensures that the job is going to come out right, and you can pass the cost on to the client," Prince explains. "The client is the one who should be requesting a press proof. And you’re not holding up production, because all the color is done before the pages are assembled, way ahead of that job being on press. The color is often done before the content of the document is ready."

Vision Graphics’ prepress staff works in teams with its customer service representatives to specify jobs accurately up front. According to Steputis, "It’s important to get clients involved long before the job goes to prepress and to the pressroom." The company has been working for more than a decade to help automate its customers’ print job design processes.

Vision requires its sales people to submit all job specs electronically via EFI’s Printcafe PrinterSite Internal. On the client side, the prepress staff is implementing Creo’s Synapse Prepare and InSite software, which will enable the company to provide feedback to its clients in a collaborative workflow.

Steputis notes one unexpected benefit: Some clients are using InSite for internal annotation/collaboration well before submitting the job to Vision Graphics. As a result, the printer is getting cleaner files and faster approvals. Steputis adds that his company is working closely with its customers’ IT departments, building a competitive advantage.

Building trust
Just as inkjet proof accuracy relies on machine calibration and maintenance, viewing a PDF file on screen for color requires the monitor to be calibrated correctly. Prince notes that sophisticated programs can alert the host when a user’s monitor is not calibrated correctly. He adds that soft proofing can be a successful collaborative process (rather than shipping a corrected inkjet proof to the printer) with ICC-profiled soft proofing applications such as ICS’ Remote Director or KPG’s Matchprint Virtual. (See "Soft proofing: seeing is believing," in the September 2004 issue of AMERICAN PRINTER.)

"It’s a matter of trust," says Prince. "If the client knows the printer well, knows the shop is running to standard and has a good history with it—as long as the soft proof is ICC-profiled and looks good—the client might be willing to say, ‘Fine! I trust you. Go ahead with it.’ But if it’s just a non-ICC proof, the client would go for the press check, particularly if they’re very concerned with color."

Keeping the horse ahead of the cart Prince offers one caveat for matching PMS colors: "Do not compare a PMS book to the press sheet. Go to your ink company and give them the stock for the job. Pull a proof of their ink on that stock and match it on press. Forget the PMS book. It’s very useful to spec out a color, but it isn’t that specific ink on that paper, and it isn’t printed by the same process."

Prince says maintaining a press well and putting on new blankets can ensure good quality at a low cost. Nonetheless, he says, "A print business is set up for a given level of quality. If the shop gets a job that needs to be much higher quality, that shop shouldn’t be doing the job."

Whether you’re conducting onsite press checks or transitioning to electronic approval options, good communication remains essential. Expectations should be established long before the first press pull. Ongoing collaboration between customers, prepress and the pressroom can help ensure speedy approvals on press.

The customer is always right
Vision Graphics is determined to break away from the print-as-a-commodity trap. Its jobs are printed using Creo’s 20-micron Staccato FM screening technology. Benefits reportedly include deeper reds, brighter blues and vibrant yellows without banding or moirĂ© problems. Logo and graphic elements appear as crisp vector images.

Vision Graphics doesn’t charge more for what it describes as the equivalent of a 340-line screen. A few customers, however, prefer not to take advantage of this value-added service. It seems the stochastic version is better than jobs produced a couple of years ago, and both must match. For more about Vision Graphics, visit

Guidebook for client press checks
PIA/GATF’s bookstore ( offers a reference tool for print buyers written by Diane Biegert, president of Biegert Consulting, Inc., a developer of training workshops and seminars for the printing industry. 9 Steps to Effective & Efficient Press Oks walks the buyer through the process of preparing for and performing a press OK. It offers advice for issues such as determining the client’s expectations and identifying potential problem areas, and explains how and when to sign off on a job.

Denise Kapel is managing editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at