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Years ago when I was working on my book Real World Photoshop, with the late great Bruce Fraser, our publisher Peachpit Press came to us and said, "We are going to print the whole thing direct to press. No film, no film proofs". At that time, it was really no good way to get a printed proof at all in this workflow. So we did the next best thing. We proofed our book on screen. And you know what? It worked great. In fact, in many cases the images look more accurate on screen to what we finally got on press than we had ever seen in a match print.
We were sold. Proofing on screen, also called soft proofing, can be an excellent proofing solution. Note that I said 'can be.' There is just no way you are going to get accurate color on screen unless you create a custom monitor profile. And you want to do that with a hardware device such as the X-Rite i1. But those aren't that expensive anymore. It's really a good investment. But once you have a custom monitor profile, and you are viewing your monitor in a reasonably dim room so there aren't major reflections all over the place, and you have a good profile that describes your output device, then you are in good shape to do soft proofing.
Here is what you do. First, go to the View menu and choose Proof Setup. Right now, it's set to Document CMYK, which is the U.S. Web Coated SWOP color space. But if we know that we are going to be printing to a very specific color profile, then we want to choose Custom instead. The first thing we need to do here is choose from the Device to Simulate menu. You can choose any device that you have a profile for. For example, if your final output is going to an Inkjet printer like an HP or an Epson, then you should just choose its color profile from this list. Of course, you will only see that if you have installed the drivers and the profiles from that device manufacturer.
So if you have a custom profile for your particular output target then choose it here. In this case, I am just going to pick the U.S. Sheetfed Uncoated because I know it's going to be printed on uncoated paper on a sheetfed press. So this is as close as I can get right now. When the Preserve CMYK Numbers checkbox is on here, I am telling InDesign that I am going to be using preserved numbers in my print or export as PDF dialog box. That is, I am not going to let InDesign convert my CMYK images to some other profile. I am just going to push the numbers through to the printer as they are. I am saying that the numbers in the CMYK swatches and images are more important than the exact appearance. And that's typically the safe choice. So I am going to leave that turned on.
Now we need to choose whether to simulate the Paper Color and the Black Ink. I almost always simulate the Black Ink because I know that the black ink on screen and black ink in print are very different. On a printing press, black ink tends to be more like charcoal gray. So it's helpful to simulate that in my proof. Simulate Paper Color on the other hand, well; in general I leave that turned off. If I am soft proofing in Photoshop, I will typically turn that on. It's easier to get a better idea of a particular image when Simulate Paper Color is on.
But in InDesign, I usually leave it off because it's too dramatic a change and I can't get any perspective on what the final thing is really going to look like. Especially, when I compare it to the user interface elements around the menus, and panels, and so on. So I am going to leave that turned off. On the other hand, I might turn it on if my final paper color is going to be very not white. Let's say, if I am printing on yellow paper color or maybe it's a really blue paper. If my color profile reflects that paper color, then I would want to turn Simulate Paper Color on. But in this case, I am just going to leave it turned off. Now I am about to click OK but before I do, I want to teach you a trick that Bruce Fraser taught me. It's a wonderful trick. I use this all the time. Close your eyes first. Before you click OK, close your eyes, and then click OK, and then open your eyes. The reason is when you click OK the whole document is going to get kind of dull and dim and not very fun to look at.
But if you don't see it change, it's not quite as emotionally painful to see. More precisely our eyes are very good at adjusting to the brightest thing in our field of view. So it's a good idea to close your eyes first, click OK, then open them. And our eyes will adjust pretty quickly to the new colors on screen. This is even better if you can hide your panels first. So I am going to click OK with my eyes closed. Everyone got your eyes closed? All right, I am going to click OK, and then I open my eyes, and yes, I can see the colors got more dim. They are not as bright and saturated. But it's accurate for what this will look like if I am printing on uncoated stock on a sheetfed press.
And you still have to take this with a bit of grain of salt because you are still looking at photons going into your eyes as opposed to seeing things bounce off a paper. So it's never going to be exactly the same but it does give you a little bit accurate preview of your final output. I should also point out that in the View menu, you can turn on and off Proof Colors. So once again it's better to do this with your eyes closed. So you don't see the change being quite so dramatic. But if you turn that off, you see the Normal InDesign mode; turn it back on again and it uses the Soft Proof mode.
If you are going to have trouble with your colors, it's much better to get that news sooner rather than later. And this Proof Colors feature can definitely help when you are trying to optimize your color output.
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