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Publication printers hop on SWOP

Apr 1, 2002 12:00 AM

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Unless a publisher doesn't accept advertising, or creates all of its ads, publication printers must cope with ad proofs coming from dozens of sources. To ensure that this hodgepodge of proofs will work together on press, everyone — from designers to ad agencies to magazine publishers to printers — must adhere to industry guidelines, such as GRACoL and SWOP. GRACoL (General Requirements for Applications in Commercial Offset Lithography) and SWOP (Specifications for Web Offset Publications) are the closest tool sets we have to actual standards.

The need for SWOP emerged in the mid-1970s, when engravers were selling “pretty” proofs that could not be matched on press. In 1975, to standardize materials supplied to web-offset publications, a group of experts representing printers, engravers, publishers, agencies, proofing and other graphic-arts vendors got together and published an initial set of specifications. A steep learning curve followed — during these years, printers rejected an incredible number of ads for nonconformance to specs.

SWOP, incorporated in 1988 as a not-for-profit organization, has continually adapted its specifications to reflect changing technologies. Its latest booklet, “SWOP for the New Millennium: 2001,” addresses the issues associated with digital workflows and emphasizes specifying standard file formats for data exchange (PDF/X-1 and TIFF/IT-P1).


The following vendor proofing systems are officially certified (or pending certification) by SWOP: Agfa Pressmatch Aqueous Negative and Pressmatch Dry Negative; DuPont WaterProof and Digital WaterProof; Fuji Color-Art System CR-T4 SWOP, PictroProof and FinalProof; Kodak Polychrome Graphics (KPG) (formerly Imation) Matchprint Negative, Matchprint Positive and Digital Halftone; KPG Approval Digital Color, Iris Pro SWOP; and Polaroid PolaProof Digital Halftone.

As the preceding list indicates, a SWOP-certified system isn't necessarily expensive. In addition to the high-end digital halftone systems, there are several SWOP-certified midrange proofing systems, including Fuji's PictroProof and KPG's Matchprint Professional Server running on a Xerox DocuColor 12-color printer/copier. And on the inkjet side, CGS Publishing Technologies International's (Minneapolis) ORIS digital proofing system (ORIS Color Tuner software, CGS media and CGS ink) for Epson printers recently achieved SWOP certification.

Of course, there's no guarantee that a particular proof is SWOP-compliant just because it was pulled on a SWOP-certified system. A SWOP-compliant proof must have a color bar that can be measured to verify conformance to SWOP-specified solid-ink densities, tone value increase (TVI) and print contrast. The color bar also provides a visual indication of the proof's gray balance.


Unfortunately, home-grown digital proofs are a reality, especially for special-interest, trade and association magazines. Most of these publications' advertisers have never heard of gamut, SWOP and dot gain, let alone TVI. Many simply use a desktop inkjet printer to print their ads on glossy paper purchased from an office-supply store. This situation won't change unless printers educate print buyers and advertisers.

Here are suggestions for better publication proofs:

  1. Publishers can specify only SWOP-compliant proofs are acceptable. If a non-SWOP proof is supplied, the advertiser can be given a choice: Either a SWOP proof will be made at the advertiser's expense, or the publication (and printer) can't be held responsible for the reproduction quality of the ad.

    Some publishers may be reluctant to risk offending advertisers when ad budgets are so tight, and may ultimately absorb the cost of a SWOP proof. Nonetheless, all proofs should be evaluated before reaching the press. Ideally, publishers' production departments should identify and replace bad proofs when the ads are received.

  2. All proofs must contain a color bar and proofing system identification. How are we going to learn which proofs are the best without knowing what we're looking at? A digital color-proofing control bar is available for download at

  3. If non-SWOP proofs are sent to the printer to follow for color, all concerned must agree on the on-press procedure. Usually this means matching the inline page if there is a SWOP proof available, and running to standard SWOP densities. If the press is not equipped with an automated color-control system, don't hesitate to reach for the densitometer and measure solid-ink densities.

  4. All printers must have a reliable SWOP-certified proofing system.