Hard facts about soft proofs

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One last barrier keeps publishers from having fully digital work flows: the issue of soft proofs.

As publishers digitize their work flow, advertising agencies, advertisers and publishers themselves have been systematically eliminating hard proofs for both time and dollar savings. But soft proofs at the printer don't always match up with the soft proof in the publisher's office or at the advertising agency.

"One man's orange isn't necessarily another man's orange," said Bill Amstutz, senior VP-operations at CMP Media.

CMP requires all advertisers to send in files on a disk with a hard proof. "We have to have that in order to match things up," Amstutz said. "And really, why would an advertiser want to save the couple hundred dollars on producing and mailing hard proofs on an ad campaign that's worth $100,000?"

Rich Zweiback, corporate director of manufacturing at Lebhar-Friedman, said: "Most of our advertisers don't send in hard proofs. We can ask for them, but at a certain point we need to move forward in the process."

Soft proofing may be coming soon, thanks to a push by such major players as Time Inc., which plans to be fully soft proofing with its printing suppliers in the next six months. The International Digital Enterprise Alliance (IDEAlliance), a nonprofit group that focuses on IT issues in the publishing industry, has also been an advocate for the technology.

David Steinhardt, president-CEO of IDEAlliance, said there are two main issues that need to be dealt with before an industry standard can be established for soft proofing.

The first is to find an agreed-upon "color space," so that publishers across the globe are working from the same palette. "Once this happens," Steinhardt said, "a lot of other things can really fall into place."

Steinhardt recently met with a number of international publishers and printers to hammer out some of these color details. "There is a lot of interest," he said.

The second issue is finding a common methodology. It is likely that there will be different methodologies across different media-magazines, newspapers, packaging, etc.-but they still need to be agreed upon, Steinhardt said. IDEAlliance just finished four press runs testing different methodologies, and it has four more planned.

Another barrier is that hard proofs have a business model attached to them. "No one likes to give up a revenue stream," Steinhardt said. Also, some costs will be incurred that need to be accounted for. "If you move to soft proofing, the printers will need computers and screens right at the print site," he said. "Who's going to pay for that?"

Steinhardt expects IDEAlliance will finalize details of its chosen methodology in the next three to six months and the tech issues will be worked out in the next six to nine months. He is now waiting to see who will be the next major soft proofer after Time Inc. "Major advertising firms are really looking at it as a way to take cost out of the chain. So it's going to happen one way or the other," he said.

Some publishers believe soft proofing may be an interim step toward a world with no proofs. "If we're fully digitizing and automating, people think we should get to a point where that's possible," Steinhardt said. "It's intriguing, but that's still just a part of the conversation." 

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