UX & Web Design tutorial: The secrets of soft and hard proofing

Proofing on screen and hard copy requires balancing light sources using a process called soft proofing. It can work miracles and here’s how

Imagine you need to design an advert for a printed newspaper. First, create a blank A4 document using Pages, Word or Illustrator. Now find a sheet of A4 copier paper; a typical stock used for proofing digital artwork.

Then get hold of a newspaper. Take a close look at the white of the blank on-screen document, compare it with the white of the copier paper and the colour of the newsprint. It’s very likely the three ‘whites’ won’t match. Their relative brightness will differ too. Lower your room’s lighting and your monitor will appear brighter and the copier paper darker.

Proofing on screen and hard copy requires balancing light sources using a process called soft proofing. It can work miracles and here’s how…


This tutorial illustrates the extra steps needed to turn correctly set-up monitors and printers into proofing devices. A monitor needs to be calibrated and profiled. Using a good-quality display and either a colorimeter or spectrophotometer, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to set up your monitor.


During the calibration process, print designers and photographers would be asked to set the luminance of their monitor to a range of 80 to 120cd/m. This ensures the brightest white of the display matches the brightness of a standard sheet of white paper. But these are only generic settings.

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Even without using a dedicated spectrophotometer, you can follow the rest of the tutorial from here. Though your results won’t be accurate, you should understand why we make monitors mimic print. The factory settings of new monitors can be very good, but they can always be refined.


What about the newsprint? Its whiteness and ink absorption is very different from copier paper. Soft proofing can make your monitor accurately mimic different paper types. To see how this works, first open a colourful image in Preview – one with some white areas is best.


Under Preview’s View menu, select Soft Proof With Profile. The list that pops up contains all the output colour profiles installed on your system. Select sRGB and nothing much should happen. Choose Coated FOGRA39 (ISO 12647-2:2004) and bright colours, such as reds, will lose saturation.

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Preview is showing you an approximate proof of your image if it were printed using a specific repro-print standard. Try selecting one of your inkjet printer’s profiles. We’ve chosen to soft proof Epson Fine Art Velvet on an Epson 3800 (Pro38 VFAP). Try different profiles to change the relative whiteness.


Aperture, Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign all have soft proofing. Although it doesn’t matter which application you’re using, make sure that you only switch on soft proofing when you’re preparing an output version of your work and tweaking its tone and colour for a specific print process.


The soft proofing setup is similar in all the Adobe applications that support it. We’ll use Photoshop and the same colour chart as before. With a file already open, go to View > Proof Setup > Custom. A dialog box will appear. Select a profile from the Device to Simulate menu.

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We’ve chosen the factory profile for printing Epson Velvet Fine Art paper using an Epson 3800 printer. Soft proofing’s success relies on an accurate monitor and printer setup and requires accurate profiles. Custom profiles made using a spectrophotometer give far better results than factory ones.


If the Device to Simulate is a standard inkjet, the output profile will be RGB. Tick the Preview box, but don’t tick Preserve RGB Numbers. Often the Black Point Compensation box should be ticked. Verify this by checking your paper’s printing instructions found on its manufacturer’s website.


Designers and photographers will often choose either Relative Colorimetric or Perceptual Rendering Intents. Ticking the Simulate Black Ink or Simulate Paper Color boxes can give an indication of a print’s altered tonal range. With newsprint or tinted paper, it’ll also indicate its likely colour cast.

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Soft proofing’s success relies on a good monitor/printer setup and accurate profiles. Using Colour Confidence’s Check Up Kit will help you verify how well you’ve tuned your system. Once verified, save your custom settings before closing the Customize Proof Conditions dialog box.


These are available for both RGB and CMYK output devices. Containing an electronic and printed target, they provide a benchmark reference, and answer the following questions. Does the printed target match the electronic version displayed on your system? Does your print match the target print?


Great prints make us happy, but a printed proof may need to be a distortion of a ‘great’ print. Consider proofing the newsprint artwork. In Photoshop, print your test file using variations of these parameters that suit your printer. Here, we’re asking the printer to mimic the colour of Working CMYK.

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Hopefully, the role of proofing has been clearly illustrated over the last three pages, even though we’ve only outlined the general principles. For a perfect proof it’s not enough just to profile your devices, because that doesn’t create a specific condition – only making soft and hard proofs will.


Mark Wood is a frequent contributor to Macworld UK.