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Soft Proofing: Is It Hard?

Online approval speeds time to market and can identify errors earlier in the process.

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Online approval (a.k.a., "soft" or "virtual" proofing) represents a substantial advance in terms of shortening cycle times and documenting the history of packaging projects. Among the factors driving its acceptance are the significantly shortened product life cycle of consumer goods, coupled with a greatly accelerated rate of product development and market launch.

There also has been growing –acceptance of the medium—from both the print community as well as from clients—as people have become more accustomed to viewing files on a monitor. Underpinning these developments, of course, is an understanding that the transmission of proofs and prototypes by mail can substantially delay the proofing process. With time at a premium, companies involved in the development and approval phase of package design are under more pressure than ever to implement processes and process controls that will streamline and advance communication between the service provider and the customer—without incurring any degradation in quality.

The ideal—Unlike traditional hard copy proofing, in which handling and transmission of the physical proof increases both cycle time and the –potential for error, soft proofing –depends on workflows in which color-accurate proofs can be viewed on calibrated computer monitors under controlled lighting conditions.

The reality—Soft proofing options range from sending PDFs as email attachments for content approval to browser- or server-based collaborative solutions, whereby multiple –individuals may be invited to review and annotate a single file for reasons that range from compliance with legal labeling requirements to –language and shelf aesthetics. The most –sophisticated solutions on the market permit viewing for color and content, as well as –editing and annotating; predict how an image will print on a designated stock; and/or enable the viewing of spot colors, the comparison of proofs, and online collaboration. Homegrown systems may add elements reflecting the unique the characteristics of the business and its relationship to the customer. Properly implemented, all soft proofing options will reduce the number of pre-contract hard copy proofs, along with the cost of their creation and transport. Since there's no delay in printing out a proof and shipping it to the client, the instant a job has been produced, it can be made available for approval.

"Certified" PDFs are widely used for proofing in the packaging industry. These differ from "standard" PDFs in that each file contains a history, an edit log, tracking information, and is matched against predefined technical standards. Quality and traceability are the key concepts here. Benefits include shrinking production cycles, elimination of rework, faster time-to-market, and cost reduction.


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