Color proofs are typically examined under the color-corrected lights of a proofing booth. The faithful assume that all proofing booths are identical. They are not. And neither are monitors. They are approximations.
Where do you look at color? I’m not talking about just proofs here—but the finished product. I’ll bet its on your sofa, maybe outside, in your office or kitchen; anywhere except in the even stabbing death-light of a proofing booth. Welcome to the real world.
Chasing the Dragon
Not too long ago I went into a small agency that had a big problem. The printed ads they had designed didn’t look anything like their proofs. The owner was sweating, as this was their Big Client.
We went through a list of culprits that could originate in the agency:
- unprofiled Photoshop source images
- un- or mis-profiled layout documents (here it was Quark 7)
- monitors in and out of calibration
- checking the profiles of the exported pdfs
- looking at the RIP choices on the Epson 9600, using the ColorBurst rip.
- possible color shift in the proofing paper
As I pulled test proofs, it became clear once we’d tightened up Quark, the color proofs looked pretty much like the source data. I say pretty much, because photons gunning out of a monitor and and a dithered proof are two dissimilar environment. Note: it always looks good on your monitor.
Now came the fun part. According to what I was seeing, the agency was sending accurate color to the pub. And the pub was hosing the agency.
The proof was in the same ad printed three days apart. Friday’s ad was yellow. Monday’s ad was red. A closer examination of both issues showed that the respective red and yellow contamination ran throughout the entire book.
Nice. Now the tail was wagging the dog. The anxiety was compounded by the fact that clients typically do not look at the entire book—they only look at their ad. And if the color visibly sucks, it becomes your problem.
Calls were made to the pub production manager, and the ensuing silence was disconcerting. Part of my job was to tell the agency that the pub was responsible for this wretched color. This is cold comfort when your proof is weighed against the tonnage of printed issues out there. Because in a perverse way, the bad color is more authoritative.
Fortunately the owner was a smart guy, and realized in his bones that setting up a color profile to match a wandering pub’s was not a realistic option. If the color was consistently red, different story. He then called the client, and the client was realistic. They knew that the pub was a rag in every respect except the prices they charged to run the ad. That was world-class. It was an unfortunate part of doing business in a closed trade environment.
A Color Proofing Environment of Note
In 1973, I was a lucky young guy, touring the Flor de Partagas cigar factory in Havana, Cuba. Towards the end of the tour we came to a cigar-sorter’s closet-sized workspace. The sorter’s job was to sort a never-ending stream of like-typed cigars (Coronas, Panatelas, Churchills, etc) by the color of the wrapper. They ranged from greenish black on the left to a tawny tan to the right. When she had twenty of the right range, they went into a waiting box. And so on.
She proofed her color under a weak fluorescent tube. The walls were painted an elderly lime-green. Yes, the fluorescent is also heavily blue-green, the walls don’t help, but all the color was range-consistent when it left her cubbyhole. This was a stable proofing environment. Her choices held up once they were boxed.