The Promise of Remote Proofing

Remote proofing encompasses two different approaches: either sharing files between designers, customers and printers which are output on a digital printer/proofer of some sort, or soft proofing the file which is done via a calibrated monitor.

Soft-proofing methods can range from the basic PDF files transferred via email or FTP sites and systems that allow users to review content and layout to more complex color-managed systems that seek to emulate hard-copy proofs.

Literally in Real Time
Whichever remote proofing system you choose, the real challenge for designers, printers and clients, is finding a way to efficiently send and retrieve large files without bogging the system down. The challenge is to find an easy way to exchange files via an Internet-based delivery system. Some companies have risen to this challenge.

RealTimeImage’s RealTimeProof-based technology is finding that their clients are taking to it. Explained company spokesperson, Dan Haygood, "No matter where my clients are, if they have access to the Internet, we can easily collaborate. We’ve even worked successfully with clients on location in Europe. Since the system we are using uses a regular Web browser our clients aren’t intimidated by it. It’s as easy as checking e-mail. And it’s flexible. They can choose to simply view the image, or take advantage of the toolset to annotate, color check, or even download the high-resolution file,"
Quick file transfer is a major part of WAM!Net’s solutions. Among them is a product called Wam!Proof, which allows designers, printers and clients to output files to proofing devices in real time. On the soft proofing side, Wam!Net has teamed up with RealTimeImage to offer RealTimeProof, featuring a proprietary pixels-on-demand technology, which allows designers, printer and clients to view large, high resolution images over modest bandwidth connections.

Color Management Challenges
Remote proofing presents challenges for printers with color critical customers, but new technologies are rising to meet those challenges.

One of the main challenges of soft proofing, is showing CMYK simulation on a RGB monitor. For color managed remote proofing to succeed, you need to profile monitors and printers/proofers to a common standard. Everyone has to agree to one profile and stick with it.

Bestcolor has introduced a product called RemoteProof. The process involves both sender and receiver outputting a specially developed control strip when they print the proof. Using Best Eye (spectrophotometer) and Best Remote Control (comparison software), you can measure this control strip colorimetrically and compare the results – any inconsistencies are recorded as Delta-E values and compared with a pre-defined tolerance. Only proofs that lie within this tolerance are considered "correct".

Controlled Lighting Environment
What ever solution you choose, make sure your lighting conditions are controlled. Replace your lighting with 5000k fluorescent tubes, or look at all your proofs in a controlled viewing booth.

High-end color-managed systems

The complexity and color accuracy of some systems, such as Virtual Matchprint Proofing System and Global Graphics’ Remote Director, allow them to emulate hard-copy contract-proofing systems. Imation’s monitor-based system attempts to simulate the appearance of the company’s hard-copy Matchprint, a standard for contract proofs. Both systems rely on precisely calibrated color monitors and controlled-viewing environments to ensure color accuracy.

In addition to inkjet options, there are also devices such as Fuji’s PictroProof, which features a proprietary laser exposure/thermal development and dye transfer system. PictroProof can be combined with Fujifilm’s soft-proofing tools. incorporates Group Logics’s file transfer and Imagexpo software, as well as Markzware’s online proofing application. "Hard proofs can be sent directly to your clients’ proofing device or posted on for clients to download," explains Shellie Hall, spokesperson.

Cost Effective Inkjet Proofers
If you can’t afford to invest in a high-end digital halftone proofer, then the lower-cost inkjet proofers, like the Epson Stylus 2200 (13” x 19”), 7600 (24”) or 9600 (44”) can deliver excellent prints with seven color high print resolution.

These printers are powerful proofing tools, capable of output that simulates analog proofs, thanks to color profiling and the ability to print on special media. Third-party software RIP vendors, such as BESTcolor, are designing Rips that allow these inkjets to print halftone dots as well as continuous tone screening. The Stylus 2200 with a Bestcolor Designer RIP costs around $2,200, whereas the 24” Stylus 7600u with a Best ColorProof RIP runs around $8,800 and a 44” Stylus 9600u with Best ColorProof RIP can cost around $12,400 (All prices are Canadian)

While users may eagerly adopt soft proofing as a workflow tool to speed production, whether they embrace it as a replacement for the hard-copy contract proof depends on the comfort level of printers and print buyers. But signs are promising that we are heading in the right direction.