3 Ways to Proof Your Work

Most people printing their work whether it be a painting reproduction, photograph or even digital art are going want to get the most out of their print. They want it to reflect everything about the original image as accurately as possible. If you are like me, whenever I used to print some of my art or photography there was always a little bit of apprehension as to how it would turn out. Perhaps also like me you would ask these questions: Will my image look crisp and sharp? Will my colors match my original or what I see on my computer screen? Will it have the impact and emotional appeal I want based on the size I chose? All these are valid questions. I know I was not the only one because we hear these same questions all the time. So what do you do about this? I have observed 3 ways artists and photographers at FinerWorks approach this: An artist’s proof, a contact sheet, and soft proofing.

A Hardcopy Artist's Proof

I think the artist’s proof is the most common method. Some might see it as a throw of the dice way of doing things since they are making a hardcopy print from their digital file blindly just hoping it turns out the way they want. I also call this printing by trial and error. An artist proof is basically a print to see how colors will look and if the printed image has the details you want. It used to be if some adjustments needed to be made the artist or photographer would discuss these changes with the printmaker or photo lab. Now days where artists and photographers do more of their own printing they will make the changes themselves with their favorite image editing program. This might be in the form of changing the brightness level, tweaking colors, adjust cropping, or a whatever else it takes to get the print they want. When doing a limited edition run an artist proof will be the print which is used to base all other prints for that run. And if the artist is planning on selling the proof they usually sell it at a higher rate than the rest of the run. A range of 10 to 20% higher seems to be what most artists price it at. A couple of things you should be aware of when you use this method. Don’t expect every paper, every printer to show the same results so make sure you proof on the same paper and printer model. Different factors can influence how the print will come out even when printed from the same file so some slight variations when printing on different paper types can easily occur. Our tip to you if you want to try this method is to go ahead and print it at home first and create a preliminary “home proof” using your inkjet photo quality printer. I recommend using some sort of matte photo paper and print it as large as your printer will allow. Look at the image and see if it meets your expectations. A print gives you a perspective that you otherwise would not have and let’s you see some of the major issues (if any) you might need to address. Adjust your image file and print it again if you need to. Keep doing this until you are satisfied with the results. At that time you are ready to submit your order at FinerWorks with your adjusted image. While this is not the perfect method since you could still see some differences in what you determined was your final home proof compared to your final print at FinerWorks, most people tell us that doing this works well for them.

Contact Sheets

Contact sheets are another hardcopy proofing method. A contact sheet will be a series of images all nested together in rows and columns. They will be thumbnails which means they will be smaller than the original. There is no specific size they have to be. We see people make each thumbnail anywhere from 2×3 up to 8×10 inches. They are simply used to get a very general idea of how colors will look on the particular paper or canvas they will be printed on. It is a good method if you have a many images you want to proof but don’t want the expense of doing a full size print for each. Where it really helps the most is it will at least let you see if your digital images are overly bright or overly dark. There are some drawbacks you should be aware of. The contact sheet concentrates details and colors in a smaller space so if you are concerned about accuracy in some of the minor details of your image, this might not be the way to go. For instance if you have subtle changes in the gradient of a sky going from a light to darker blue, you might not be able to clearly see the full range of blue tones you want. You may also have some elements in the image which are just too small to even see if your thumbnail images are overly small. Lastly it won’t let you know how crisp and sharp your original image is since the images being printed are much smaller. There is a solution to that problem. Instead of printing the entire image in each thumbnail you might want to make a contact sheet of just sections of each image scaled to match an area in the final print. For example, if your final prints will be 8×10 inches, crop out a 2×2 inch section from each image and print that as a 2×2 inch thumbnail.

Soft Proofing

Soft proofing is perhaps the best method and one we recommend if you plan to print different images on a regular basis but don’t want to expense of printing a proof for each image. Printing either at home or through a professional lab can get expensive which is why this makes sense. Soft proofing involves simulating the following three factors which influence output in print: paper color, inks and printer, all in a software based environment on a calibrated monitor. Photoshop is perhaps the most widely used program for soft proofing. When done correctly (and the word “correctly” must be emphasized) softproofing can give you an accurate representation and control. It allows you to tweak those tones, colors and other details before you actually print it. Because soft proofing requires you to invest in not only the software needed but also the hardware to properly calibrate your screen you should go this route if you are making serious efforts to sell and distribute your work. For more about softproofing we recommend doing a Google/YouTube search. There are many great tutorials on this. 

Hopefully this will give you some ideas on how to proceed if you are just getting started with printing your work professionally. Even if you have been printing at FinerWorks for sometime but feel you should be able to get a little more out of your prints consider one of the above methods to help.

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