Another Printing Disasters—and How to Avoid Them story..

I spent a busy September managing a series of print projects for a Seattle ad agency, including small-scale self-mailers, postcards and invitations; medium-scale posters and large-scale outdoor banners and billboards.

Reviewing all of the proofs for these diverse products got me to thinking about proofing from an audience or end-user perspective.

We print specialists and designers tend to view proofs with our noses pressed right up against them to spot even the most microscopic flaw. It’s necessary to give the proof close-up scrutiny, of course, but it’s also important to hold the proof farther away, too, in order to see it the same way the intended viewer will. Are you seeing what your reader will see? Just remind yourself that most people don’t own a loupe!

In The Eye of the Beholder

Proof reviews for posters, banners and billboards require a different perspective—and perhaps a few tricks.

The billboard proof I reviewed last week was just one-sixth of the billboard’s final size. To get an accurate idea of how it would read at full size, the outdoor advertising company rep recommended standing 30 feet back from the proof! In response to this challenging visualizing exercise, the creative director asked, “How can they call this ‘a proof’ when it isn’t the same as the finished product?”

I wish I had a satisfactory answer for him! Unfortunately, it’s just too expensive for a printing company to make a full-size proof of larger format pieces.

Here is an example that demonstrates the difference viewing distance can make.

Every week this truck delivers uniforms to the hospital near my house. I pass within about three feet of it as my dog and I take our morning walk. From this viewing distance, I can see the gawd-awful glowing halos around these cheerful medical professionals.

But viewed from 20 feet away, those halos (yes, they are on all three sides of the truck!) are nearly invisible. Thank goodness!

Disaster Avoidance Tips

  • Check all proofs close-up for problems like registration, consistent line widths, type and leading styles, etc.
  • View a full-size proof from the same distance the audience will view the final product. This is the most accurate way to see how the final product will be perceived.
  • When this is not feasible (like for big banners or outdoor boards), order both a full-size proof of a critical segment of the design and a reduced proof of the entire piece. This combination of proofs isn’t perfect, but between the two proofs you will get a pretty good idea of how that big design will read.
  • Learn about the design considerations for oversize pieces like outdoor boards. This set of Creative Guidelines from Clear Channel Outdoor is a good place to start.

Have you discovered proofing tricks that work well for oversize products? Please share them by clicking on Leave a Comment at the top of the page.

© 2010 Nani Paape