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The Evolution of the Proof

The proofing process is progressing. Here’s an update on some of the latest ink-jet, toner and virtual solutions.

November 2007 By Tim Green
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TWENTY YEARS ago, professional proofing systems and materials represented a major capital investment that only large printing establishments could afford. Skilled employees were needed to operate these “high-end” systems. FedEx or couriers carried hard copy proofs between printers and customers to get approvals on jobs that required fast turnaround. Supplies used by those high-end systems were expensive.

Over time, a number of important market developments, most notably the introduction of high-quality, low-cost printing systems, have revolutionized the proofing process. These “low-end” printers are easier to use and cost just a few thousand dollars, providing low entry points and acceptable print quality for the vast majority of proofing applications. These low-end systems, and the ubiquity of the Internet, allowed printers to make low-cost proofs, or send digital files to print buyers, which they could output themselves.

NEW INK-JET TECHNOLOGIES

Recently there have been some significant product and strategy developments in the proofing market. On the printer side, the introduction of Epson ink-jet printers that use a new wider color gamut ink set is certainly big news. The wider gamut is provided by Epson’s new UltraChrome K3 Vivid Magenta ink. The new Epson 880 series comes in four widths: 17?, 24?, 44? and 64?.

Hewlett-Packard has been coming on strong in the ink-jet proofing market since launching its DesignJet Z-series printers last year. In addition to the Z-series’ new 12-color ink system, these printers also have an integrated spectrophotometer, color management software and intuitive automated profile writing software, making it easier for users to get predictable, repeatable output.

The Epson 880 series printers have selling prices starting at $1,995 for the 17? version while the HP DesignJet Z-series start at $3,400.

In addition to ink-jet printing systems, many in-plants also use their color laser printers to produce proofs. These printers produce acceptable quality for many organizations and are considerably less costly from a supplies perspective. Also, color laser printers can quite adequately mirror the performance of toner-based digital color presses.

Like ink-jet printers, the average selling prices of color laser printers have declined dramatically over the past 10 years. There is a limitation here, however.

“Interestingly, the color stability of laser devices is considerably less than today’s color ink-jet devices using pigment inks and sophisticated media coatings,” notes GMG Americas President Jim Summers, “so even companies using a digital color press for proofing could achieve a much more consistent match to the average performance of the laser device from ink-jet-based equipment for color checks and contract proofs.”
 

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