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The final 4

Apr 1, 2006 12:00 AM


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Prepress

Soft proofing is used primarily for two purposes: content or contract approval. A content-only soft proof shows the position of elements on a page in full color; it is not color accurate. Contract-color soft proofing systems use a computer monitor to accurately display color.

Soft proofing can reduce and, in some cases, eliminate hard-copy proofs in a production cycle. Soft proofing also saves courier costs as well as time that was previously wasted waiting for shipped proofs to arrive. As an added bonus, monitor-based proofing systems capture clients’ comments and approvals, data that can be used for billing or audit trails.

Nonetheless, onscreen proofing does present certain challenges. It’s unclear, for example, how printers can make money by offering soft proofing. And while few printers or clients will miss the expense and longer production cycles associated with traditional hard proofs, the new method might require some adjustments for those who have spent years poring over old-style proofs.

5 soft proofing systems
Currently, five systems are available for contract-color soft proofing: CGS ORIS, DALiM DiALOGUE, ICS Remote Director, Kodak MATCHPRINT Virtual Proofing System and Kodak MATCHPRINT Virtual for InSite. What makes these systems contract-color? Each is SWOP-certified. (SWOP is a registered trademark of IDEAlliance—see www.swop.org.) A key element of the SWOP certification process concerns a visual evaluation: Five judges compare a soft proof to a SWOP press sheet for color match. The decision must be unanimous. Succeeding with contract-color soft proofing requires careful attention to four major components: hardware, software, profiles and the viewing area.

The hardware: CPU, measurement device and monitor
In addition to a CPU, hardware requirements include a measurement device and a display. Not just any measurement device or display will suffice. Each system requires specific hardware components to achieve a color-accurate soft proof. These requirements are similar to a strict recipe—if you want an accurate proof, you can’t make any substitutions or leave anything out. (See “SWOP-certified soft proofing system specifications” charts below.)

Kodak MATCHPRINT Virtual Proofing System (www.kodak.com)
Operating System | Mac OS X 10.3.3 or higher
Computer Requirements | PowerMac G4 or G5
Internet Browser | Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 for Mac, Netscape 7.x, Safari 1.2
Recommended Display Calibrator | MATCHPRINT Virtual Monitor Calibrator
Recommended Displays | Apple Cinema 20-inch LCD Display with metal bezel—Apple Model M9177LL/A
Apple Cinema 20-inch LCD Display with plastic bezel—Apple Model M8893ZM/A
Apple Cinema 23-inch LCD Display with metal bezel—Apple Model M9178LL/A
EIZO ColorEdge CG21 LCD Display
EIZO CG 210 LCD Display
Apple Cinema 30-inch LCD Display—Apple Model M9179LL/A
Kodak MATCHPRINT Virtual for InSite (www.kodak.com)
Operating System | Mac OS X 10.3 or higher
Computer Requirements | PowerMac G4 or G5
Internet Browser | Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 for Mac, Safari 1.2
Recommended Display Calibrator | MATCHPRINT Virtual Monitor Calibrator
Recommended Displays | Apple Cinema 20-inch LCD Display with metal bezel—Apple Model M9177LL/A
Apple Cinema 20-inch LCD display with plastic bezel—Apple Model M8893ZM/A
Apple Cinema 23-inch LCD Display with metal bezel—Apple Model M9178LL/A
Apple Cinema 30-inch LCD display—Apple Model M9179LL/A
EIZO ColorEdge CG21 LCD Display
EIZO CG 210 LCD Display
ICS Remote Director (www.icscolor.com)
Operating System | Mac OS X 10.3.X or higher, Microsoft Windows 2000 with service pack 3, Windows XP with service pack 2, Microsoft Windows 2003
Computer Requirements | PowerMac G4 or G5, Intel Pentium III or 4 processor
Recommended Display Calibrators | Gretag Macbeth EyeOne Monitor, Gretag Macbeth EyeOne Pro, Gretag Macbeth EyeOne Display, X-Rite Monaco Optix XR
Recommended Displays | Apple 20-inch LCD display—Apple Model M9177LL/A
Apple 23-inch Cinema HD Display—Apple Model M9178LL/A
Apple iMac G5 with built-in 20-inch display—Apple Model MA064LL/A
EIZO ColorEdge CG21 LCD display
EIZO ColorEdge CG210 LCD display
EIZO ColorEdge CG220 LCD Display
LaCie 321 LCD Monitor
Sony 23-inch SDM-P232W LCD display
CGS Publishing ORIS Soft Proof (www.oris-cgs.com)
Operating System | Windows Server (XP or 2003 recommended)
Client Operating System | Mac OS X (10.3.9 or higher recommended), Windows (XP or 2003 recommended)
Client Computer Requirements | Any computer capable of running Adobe Acrobat 6 or 7
Third-Party Software | Adobe Acrobat 6 or 7 (Standard or Professional)
Recommended Display Calibrators | Eizo Color Navigator (Eizo Monitors Only) with i1 Display2
i1 Pro
MonacoOPTIX GretagMacbeth i1Match or ProfileMaker with i1 Display 2 X-Rite MonacoPROFILER
MonacoOPTIX (software) with MonacoOPTIX (hardware)
Recommended Displays | Eizo ColorEdge CG220
Apple Cinema Display 20, 23, 30
DALiM DiALOGUE (www.dalim.com)
Operating System | Mac OS X 10.3.5 or higher
Computer Requirements | PowerMac G4 or G5
Internet Browser | Safari 1.5 or Firefox 1.0 web browser
Recommended Display Calibrator | Gretag Macbeth EyeOne Pro
Recommended Displays | Apple 20-inch LCD Display—Apple Model M9177LL/A
Apple 23-inch Cinema HD Display—Apple Model M9178LL/A
Apple 30-inch Cinema HD Display—Apple Model M9179LL/A

The measurement device is the hardware component used to calibrate the display. Each contract-color soft proofing system has qualified at least one of these devices for calibration, with prices ranging from $250 to $900. Many printers purchase these devices for their clients—it’s a small price to pay when you consider the previously mentioned savings.

Each SWOP-certified system has qualified at least one display for contract color. All five vendors’ systems share a common trait: All use LCD flat-panel displays, ranging from $800 to $2,600.

Brightness is a key argument for using LCD flat panels vs. CRTs. The brighter LCDs render color more accurately while eliminating the need to work in a cave-like environment. LCDs don’t flicker and they stay calibrated longer than CRTs. (Many manufacturers are phasing out CRTs. See “LCD vs. CRT,” March 2005.)

A 30-minute warm-up to stabilize the LCD display is recommended prior to viewing contract color. Users should disable any energy-saving features, because “sleep mode” has the same effect as turning off the display. Set the display to run a screen saver—this keeps the display energized and allows the user to view color immediately without waiting for warm-up time.

People frequently ask me how long an LCD will last. But the more relevant question is: “How long is the LCD display suitable for color-accurate viewing?” Consider how display brightness is determined. The brightness of an LCD display is measured in candelas per sq. m. (cd/m2). This measurement represents a luminous intensity of one candela radiating from a surface whose area is one square meter.

A new LCD display (such as any of the displays listed in the sidebar) rates at about 240 cd/m2. As the display ages, brightness begins to drop off gradually. The rate of this deterioration depends on how many hours per day the display is on. Essentially, once the display brightness falls below 120 cd/m2, it’s unsuitable for contract-color soft proofing. At this level, the display becomes susceptible to ambient lighting conditions. The display’s color looks weak, forcing the user to dim the lights within the room.

The software: Keep it simple
For clients who will be using the contract-color soft proofing system, the software must be easy to use for someone who knows nothing about color management and profiles. The client should simply launch the software, hang the calibration device on the screen, press a button, and view accurate color. All of the systems mentioned in this article meet those criteria.

Each system uses file streaming technology (also called pixel streaming, or pixels-on-demand) to deliver the soft proof. File streaming downloads only enough pixel information to the client’s display for viewing—not the entire high-resolution file. As the client navigates and zooms in and out, pixels are streamed from the soft proofing server as needed. This reduces bandwidth requirements needed to “deliver” the soft proof. For the client, this means a cable modem or DSL will provide enough bandwidth to view and navigate the soft proof efficiently.

The profile: Calibrate, calibrate, calibrate
A good profile is the cornerstone of a contract-color soft proofing system. The profile is used to render the color of the target device (typically the press) on the LCD display. A soft proofing profile can be created from a digital proofing device or from the press. It might seem that creating the profile from a proofing device makes the most sense (because it is more consistent than a press), but the reality is that the color on a digital proofing device is a generation away from the printed sheet you’re trying to match. The most accurate method is to profile the press, and because there are more variables in this process, more rigorous quality control procedures are required.

According to a PIA/GATF Research and Technology report, “The Pain of Color Management,” process control is the top problem in implementing color management. That’s because a profile is simply a color “fingerprint” of a device at any given moment in time. A profile is based on a set of conditions, and if any of these conditions changes, then the profile is invalid. For example, if you change the calibration of your plates on a profile that was based on a press run, then that’s a condition change. Change the ink set, that’s another condition change. Change the paper, and that’s another.

Eighty percent of what makes color management successful is calibration. This requires measuring plates, using the same ink set and running to an established printing guideline (such as SWOP or GRACoL) in the pressroom. Using measurement and calibration to achieve a repeatable and consistent process ensures the accuracy of a profile created from a press run.

The viewing area: Seeing the light
The final component to the successful implementation of contract-color soft proofing is the viewing area. Just as a viewing booth is critical for evaluating hard proofs, the environment in which contract-color soft proofs are viewed must be controlled. Printers should ensure that their client’s location is set up properly to accommodate a contract-color soft proofing workstation.

  • The display should not be in a room where the lighting conditions will change dramatically throughout the day.
  • Overhead (ceiling) lights are satisfactory as long as they are not drastically off-white, but a desk lamp in proximity to the LCD display is not.
  • If there are windows in the room, shades should be installed to eliminate sunlight or glare and provide a consistent environment.
  • If possible, the walls should be painted a neutral color to reduce the effects of the surrounding environment.
To ensure that the soft proof is an accurate match to the printed sheet, users should have a viewing booth adjacent to the display. (This is a bigger issue for the printers than for their clients.)

Both GTI (Newburgh, NY) (www.gtilite.com) and Just Normlicht (Bristol, PA) (www.just.de) have tabletop viewing booths designed specifically for soft proofing. There are two important features that make these viewing booths unique from standard tabletop viewing booths, both of which deal with control over lighting. First, these viewing booths contain lights at both the top and bottom. Because smaller viewing booths tend to exhibit uneven lighting, the additional lights installed at the bottom counteract this phenomenon and distribute light more evenly across the proof.

Second, the lights in these viewing booths are digitally dimmable. Even LCD displays cannot achieve the illumination intensity of a standard prepress viewing booth. As a result, a soft proof will appear to be very dark when compared to a hard-copy proof. The solution is to dim the viewing booth to match the intensity of the display that yields a more accurate color match.

A sensible proofing option
In a fast-turn world, contract-color soft proofing not only works, but makes a lot of sense. Designers and advertising agencies love soft proofing’s instant gratification. There will be a transitional period—much in the same way there was from analog hard proofs to digital hard proofs. But with ever-shrinking budgets and deadlines, contract-color soft proofing will likely only continue to grow and soon will become a standard method for color approvals.

Soft proofing FAQs
Can contract-color soft proofing completely replace hard proofs?

It’s already happening. Some printers have installed soft proofing at the press while others have abandoned proofing at the press completely and simply run to the numbers. Manufacturers of viewing booths already offer and continue to refine the viewing stations required for soft proofing in the pressroom. Most printers, though, are using contract-color soft proofing to eliminate the first, second, third, etc. rounds of proofs but still generate a hard proof for the press run.

What are the benefits of soft proofing for clients?
An accelerated workflow with the ability to show many rounds of proofs per day instead of days or even weeks. Because the job remains digital later in the production process, clients can make changes even later in the production process. Also, clients can collaborate simultaneously on the soft proof with other users.

How are printers charging for contract-color soft proofing?
There is no clear-cut answer. Some printers don’t charge their clients for soft proofs created in a production cycle, but they do charge for the final hard-copy proof. Other printers charge a nominal fee for the convenience of using contract-color soft proofing. These charges still are far less expensive than creating and mailing a hard proof.

Does soft proofing require additional training?
Customer service representatives and salespeople traditionally handle hard proofs. They must be trained on how to use these systems and to answer clients’ questions when problems arise. And, although software is essentially plug-and-play, some basic training must be provided to clients.

Is it possible to simulate the color of the paper stock on a soft proof?
Yes. The paper color data is embedded in the profile. The substrate is actually one of the measurements taken from a color management target (such as the ECI2002) to build a profile. The soft proofing system can use that paper measurement to simulate the color of the substrate on which the job will be printed.

If I’m successfully matching hard proofs, should I move to soft proofing?
Absolutely! If you’re consistently able to match digital hard proofs to the printed sheet, then you’ve successfully implemented quality control and are currently working with good profiles. Consistency and repeatability throughout the production process are key.



Joseph Marin is a senior prepress technologist and instructor for PIA/GATF. Contact him at jmarin@piagatf.org.