Virtual proofing and advancements in technology have eased the proofing process somewhat over the past few years, reducing time commitment, cutting costs and decreasing aggravation. However, even with a virtual proofing system in place, dropped logos, color checks, font corruption and 92 megabyte files stuck in broadband black holes can still hinder your workflow. As a result, production staffers are dropping their prepress houses, bringing high-quality printers in-house and asking for bundled prepress packages from their print suppliers. And for some, Web-based technology offerings from vendors new to the market are looking more and more like the best option.

Areas of Concern
Color and content continue to be the most pressing issues. Stephanie Johnson, graphics and production director for The Brewers Association, oversees production of two bi-monthly magazines, as well as books, reprints, brochures, posters and other marketing materials for the association. For certain products, where color is vital, Johnson requests higher-quality proofs from her prepress house, which can cost between $15 and $30. "Color digital proofs vary from printer to printer, some better than others. With PDF soft proofs, I’m never really sure about the color with 100 percent accuracy since I’m just looking at my screen," she says.

But color, says Barbara Shale, production director for Ocean Drive Media Group, is nothing to worry about in the virtual age. Dropped elements and obscured images can also easily appear normal on the screen and then print incorrectly. This technological problem however, is getting rarer. "It’s to the point where you don’t need a hardcopy proof any longer," she says. "Color is not an issue any more because there is integrity in the file itself and color builds into that. All the way down the line, the original integrity of the file is what the designer puts into it."

Virtual proofing frequently is the solution for high costs and production scheduling problems. Production people are concerned, however, about printing houses and advertisers that have yet to get onboard with the technology. Presses need to be equipped with monitors so pressmen can look at the same virtual proofs as the production person. "Until advertisers start sending materials that meet SWOP standards, it’s pointless to fine-tune editorial proofs if all the ads are coming in with non-contract proofs and advertisers are still demanding perfection on press," says Fran Fox, senior director of production and manufacturing for Dwell.

Breaking Up with Prepress
Dumping your prepress house for a newer, sexier proofer or color printer is all the rage for smaller and mid-sized publishers. Time-consuming and costly relationships with prepress houses are a thing of the past, due to the rapid pace at which imaging-product companies are churning out new technology. Publishers realize that although these systems may be expensive in the long-run, it’s worth it.

Shale brought HP Design Jet 30 printers to Ocean Drive, and prints proofs on Dupont Chromapro XP Semi Matte paper, which she says produces the equivalent of a high-end proof. What used to cost $50,000 a month to output one magazine through a prepress house now costs a few thousand dollars. "Life is so much easier having all the processing done in-house," says Shale. "We now do 12 magazines with the same number of production people that we had for three. I highly recommend that everyone take the leap."

Dwell also brought the prepress process in-house. Fox used to buy approval proofs and editorial proofs from a vendor. The prepress vendor had a 48-hour turnaround and 24-hour incurred overtime charges. Through a renegotiated deal with her printer, Fox now has two Epson proofers of her own. "We cut our pricing down 50 percent," says Fox. "Our prices were high and it was much more economical to start bringing stuff in-house."

Making a Deal with Your Printer
Another problem Fox had was the blame game between her printer and her prepress house when an error was made. While ads went directly from the publisher to the printer, editorial was sent through prepress and then to the printer. If there was faulty calibration, heavy inking or poor retouching, problems arose. "I wouldn’t say there was friction between them but there was some finger-pointing when we had a problem with editorial on press," says Fox. "It wasn’t the happy family I would have preferred."

In late 2005, Fox decided her prepress house and printer services should be merged. Leveraging a vendor-heavy market, she reached out to five printers that bid for both prepress and printing services, and, in the end, decided on her original printer, Montreal-based Quebecor World.

A contract for both printing and prepress is a big job for a printer to snag, and Fox was persistent in getting the best deal possible. She requested that as part of the contract, Quebecor sponsor two Epson proofers to bring in-house;one for regular use and one for back-up. Fox and her team are now doing 90 percent of the production work in-house. She also got Quebecor to pay for shipping with no automatic extra charge for 24-hour turnaround on pages. "Our old prepress house had to make all their profit on prepress. However, when you include it with printing it’s a package deal," says Fox. "Our prices have dropped dramatically because we’re giving them added value."

New Technology
Cary, North Carolina-based Proof-it-Online, an online proofing and approval management system, is a hosted application that allows proofs to be not only viewed but marked and edited within a browser. The application uses Flash so all parties can view and edit the proof, and each view and edit is noted in a log.

Samara Padilla, president of Pixsym Marketing, runs an independent production company for a number of independently-owned regional real estate magazines, including the Real Estate Book. Padilla serves as a mediator between her clients (the independent publishers) and their clients (individual realtors who submit listings to the magazine). When a proof is ready to be reviewed, Padilla uploads the PDF to the Proof-it-Online system and an automatic e-mail form letter is sent to the publisher notifying them that there is a proof available. The publisher can then access the proof from their own workspace and they can send it to the realtor who has submitted a listing to proof.

Both the publisher and the realtor can open the proof in their browser and edit it using the virtual toolbar which includes tools like pens, markers, and even virtual sticky-notes. "They can tell me to make changes, edit the spelling, or put an ‘X’ across something," says Padilla.

Padilla says she didn’t even have a proofing system three years ago, because the magazines are published every 28 days, which left no time to send proofs back and forth. From there she began e-mailing PDF files, which she says was a headache, due to lost files, large files and other technical problems. She tried an FTP server but says it added several hours to her production schedule and was problematic for her clients to have to upload files. Six months ago, she switched to the online system. "It’s like day and night," says Padilla. "My clients get a personalized e-mail and then the enduser, the realtor, gets an e-mail with a link in it. They just click and they they’re looking at the proof."

The most beneficial feature for Padilla is the log history tracker. She accesses information on who viewed the proof, who changed what and who approved the changes at what time and what date. "If there’s an error I can actually tell if someone saw it or not," says Padilla.

Pricing starts at $1.50 per proof, and decreases depending on volume, according to Padilla. For her 200-page books, it costs her about $300 per magazine.Says Padilla, "If time is money, I save money."