Where is the debate over virtual proofing? The technology is already being used by every major publication printer and one of the largest commercial printers in the United States. Similarly, a number of advertising agencies have incorporated the technology into their studios. At least one major printer is now actively selling this as a service to all of their customers. There really can’t be a question about whether it works or not. However, there is the question of how long it will take the publishing community to adopt this technology. No matter where you stand on this topic now, here’s what you should consider as you think about how to move forward. [For more on virtual proofing, click here]

It Actually Works

Have confidence that the technology works. Maybe more than any other statement, the fact that this technology is operating in pressrooms today stands as clear evidence that this works. At Time Inc. we converted Time, People, Sports Illustrated and Entertainment Weekly to 100 percent virtual proofing in the fall of 2005. We are now in the process of converting monthly titles to this technology and should have that process complete by the end of the first quarter 2007. It’s worth making the point that we would not move forward unless we were confident that the technology could meet our needs and the requirements of our advertisers.

This doesn’t mean we have to ignore a realistic assessment of its strengths and weaknesses. For example, virtual proofing systems are not readily portable. Hard proofs offer exactly that convenience;they can be brought to wherever it is convenient to view the proof. The practical impact is that printers need multiple virtual proofing systems in order to cover their color viewing needs in the pressroom. Publishers and agencies are also limited to using these systems in environments where it makes sense for the viewer to come to the virtual proof. Still, this isn’t an argument against virtual proofing. Rather, it’s a realistic conclusion that the technology does not lend itself to every application where proofs are required.

Virtual Proofs Beat Hard Proofs

Virtual proofing is a better predictor of color than hard proofs. That’s a bold statement, but here’s why it’s true. In the real world, publishers receive all sorts of advertising proofs. Many are of the highest quality, but even in that group a significant number will be submitted on commercial grade stock. That limits their effectiveness for publication printing. Some proofs come from systems that were not calibrated, or are such poor quality that they actually present a hindrance to successful color reproduction. Worst of all are the proofs that were generated from a file other than the one submitted for publication.

On the editorial side, printers face many of the same issues. In the publication pressroom, it’s the printers who struggle to match that variety, and every time they do so they are passing a subjective judgment on what they think the color should look like. Virtual proofing eliminates the variation, and presents the printer with a single reference for color, or a better predictor than the mishmash of hard proofs.

You Can’t Get There Without It

Would anyone really argue the value of a fully digital environment that supports print advertising? That’s where we need to get to. A fully digital infrastructure makes print stronger, more flexible, and easier to manage. Virtual proofing doesn’t equal e-commerce, but in digitizing proofing, publishers take an important step toward making that happen.

How? Eliminating the hardcopy proof means advertisers can begin transmitting files to publishers. If files are received over the Internet and do not require an accompanying proof, it’s fairly easy to start automating the process of receiving files, dropping them into design templates, and then routing them out to the printer. It’s so easy that it’s already being done.

Of course, there is still a major missing link;the electronic insertion order. Work is under way there as well, but imagine for a moment how much stronger the argument will be for moving forward on e-commerce if the content stream is already fully digital? It’s a lot easier to think about creating electronic insertion orders if you are already transmitting ad files and doing it without ad proofs.


Guy Gleysteen is Vice President, Paper & Digital Development at Time Inc.

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