Connecting the Dots
Remember the candy called, "Dots"? I'm not talking about the gummy candy actually called "Dots" that you can still buy in movie theaters. Those are too much like gooey thimbles that stick to your teeth so you end up eating them for like, four days. And besides, eating anything other than popcorn in a movie theater is un-American. No, I'm talking about the little tiny dots of candy that came on strips of white paper. Some people called them Candy Buttons, but they were in fact, dots. They even had a line screen of like 2dpi, and a dot shape of round - not square or elliptical. They tasted great... Okay, they weren't that great. In fact they didn't even taste that good. They tasted like...paper. You always ended up eating some of the paper if you tried to bite them off. But I suppose a little extra fiber in your diet never really hurt. Those dots were a real classic retro candy.
So why am I talking about candy? Well, dot-structured proofs have taken on much of the flavor of that retro classic Dot candy. They even have a paper taste (Don't ask me how I know that.). Over the last ten years, continuous tone ink jet proofing has supplanted dot proofs in most workflows. By dot proofs I am talking about halftone digital color proofing systems like Kodak Approvals, Fuji FinalProofs, etc..
These devices were popular throughout the 1990s as direct -to-plate technology gradually took over traditional film-based plating methods. Although the dots in these proofs did not necessarily match the same dots that the platesetter was generating, they were widely accepted on press because the dots could be viewed under a loupe.
When ink jet technology started being used as contract proofs around eight years ago, the press operators were not exactly jumping for joy because they were loosing the ability to compare dots on the proofs with the press sheet. Over the last decade, as the RIPs (Raster Image Processors - the software that drives the ink jet devices) improved along with the ink sets and the devices themselves, they began to offer the ability to generate halftone dots within the ink jet proof. But in an ink jet proof, the halftone dots are just dots made out of many smaller dots that are sprayed onto the paper. The size of the individual dots on a typical ink jet proof nowadays is around 3.5 picoliters. That is so small, that if you put around 4.3 million of those dots end to end it would equal the length of the piece of red licorice I am eating right now. Actually, I just made that up. But trust me, those ink jet dots are very small. So small, in fact, that ink jet proofs are considered continuous tone proofs. To the naked eye, you can't see any dots. Color proofs are for color, not dots.
In recent years, press rooms have warmed up to continuous tone ink jet proofing. The main reason the industry has migrated to ink jet proofing is simple - cost and time. The ink jet devices are a fraction of the cost of the halftone digital color proofing systems. The paper and ink costs much less than the various consumables that were required to make say, a Kodak Approval proof. And ink jet proofs can be produced much faster and in larger sizes. The devices also don't require expensive maintenance contracts like some of the other proofers used to, thanks to fewer moving parts and the absence of lasers.
Today's ink jet proofers can be very accurate and consistent, especially with the right combination of device, ink set, media and RIP. At Widen, we use Epson Stylus Pro 9880s and an HP DesignJet Z6100 driven by a GMG ColorProof RIP. We verify all proofs with GMG ProofControl to ensure each proof we produce meets industry specs from SWOP and GRACoL.
Dots on Paper
One of the advantages of the halftone digital color proofing systems when they came out in the late 80s and early 90s was that they were able to image right on the actual press stock through a lamination process. This was an advantage over previous proofing methods like 3M Matchprint and Dupont Chromalin. Today, the paper we use in our ink jet proofers is very stable. It does not yellow as many other papers have with our old Kodak Approvals. We simulate GRACoL, SWOP3, and SWOP5 by spraying a fine tint on the paper as it is proofed. Other media is becoming available that is manufactured to the SWOP and GRACoL specs, so no paper simulation is necessary.
The next evolution in proofing is eliminating the paper all together and viewing the color on a computer display - known as a soft proof. I'll cover that topic in future posts.
I am going to skip soft proofing technology all together, and hold out for hologram proofs when they become available somewhere around 2023. Or maybe I will just go back to the candy Dot proofs. That's kicking it old-school...