The proof is in… your email?

Lately, my employer has seen an increase in the amount of clients who are now insisting on seeing PDF proofs of their artwork only. The irony is that the clients had provided PDF art to begin with, and in many instances, the same file sent to the printer is literally emailed straight back to the client.

This is a dangerous practice. Proofs like this will not:

  • determine whether the artwork was imposed or double-sided correctly by the printer;
  • show the colour quality of a printed proof;
  • reveal any corruptions, incorrect trapping or unwanted overprints which have been either created or processed by the printer’s RIP;

It also assumes that the client is going to view the PDF in Adobe Acrobat Reader or Pro. How about if the client chooses to open the PDF:

  • Using Mac’s Preview software; or
  • Nitro PDF (or any other third party PDF developer); or
  • within an internet browser such as Safari or Internet Explorer?

It further assumes that the client is viewing the PDF in conditions identical to that of the author, such as overprint preview being enabled.

Here is an example to demonstrate how the same PDF can look differently with something as simple as “overprint preview” being enabled. Download this PDF and try to view the PDF:

  • Using Adobe Acrobat Professional with Output Preview turned on;
  • Using Adobe Acrobat Reader (only the default settings);
  • within any internet browser; and
  • Using Mac’s Preview software.

Did the image look like:

or did the PDF look like

The bottom example is how the table would have likely printed, given that it had fill overprints enabled in the table setup:

But it is more likely that the file actually looked like the first example in Acrobat Reader or via Mac’s Preview option.

Yes, customers can be given instructions to make sure that when they are looking at PDF proofs (using Acrobat Reader) to ensure that their overprint preview is turned on… if you can find it. It seems to be in a different menu or dialog depending which version and operating system they are using. It also assumes that an overprint preview option is available… what if they are viewing the PDF via an internet browser or mac preview – where is overprint preview there?

[EDIT: 9 February 2012]: The VIGC (Flemish Innovation Center for Graphic Communication) has posted an article which echoes the sentiments posted in this one concerning PDF previewers for print purposes. Click here to read the full article.

Nowadays, with many providers being interstate or overseas, printed proofs are not always an option or convenience.

Luckily, any printer worth their salt will be able to provide PDF proofs generated by their respective RIPs which will reveal any issues raised in the third bullet point above. PDFs proofed in this fashion typically display a rasterised file of how the artwork was interpreted by the RIP. If clients are familiar with impositions, this method may also solve the issues raised in the first bullet point. In terms of proofing colour… a printed proof will always be better.

Ultimately, if your hand is forced by your client, insist that the printer provide imposed proofs generated by the RIP rather than PDFs which had been sent to the printer in the first place.


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