Here is the question at hand: hard copy proofs or digital proofs? And we have some answers. Well, really more of a guideline and explanation of when, why and how much sense it makes when opting for hard copy proofs on your print projects. 

Have you sent in a large run print piece only to be asked “would you like to see a hard copy proof?” Or had one of our account reps or customer service team suggest that you review a hard copy for your project? More often than not, one of these scenarios has triggered our spidey senses to offer this option:

(1) You’ve placed a high-volume order
(2) You’ve placed a multi-piece order with branded artwork
(3) You’ve placed an order and mentioned concerns with color-matching
(4) You’ve placed a small order, but have plans to make it a recurring project
(5) You’ve consulted with us on a piece that will require custom shapes/cutouts, special finishes, or an experimental substrate/material
(6) You’ve never placed an order with us and want to see how a file will reproduce on a variety of materials

Hard copy proofs offer clients an opportunity to see exactly what they’re investing in firsthand. It offers customers project protection, a means to make critical adjustments to color, image effects (like drop shadows or image masks), fold lines, material/paper stock, etc. BEFORE committing to a full print run. This is an opportunity to QC your brand, and make sure that you are protecting all the work you’ve put into prepping a print piece (and your branding guidelines/identity) when it goes to press. Producing a hard copy proof also provides a means of recourse should you require a reprint or have concerns about quality once the project has been produced. 

Does it take extra time? Yes. But not a lot. And considering the value of having a printed “go-by” sample that can save monetary and branding headaches down the line, that extra day or two for a printed proof is absolutely something you should consider building into your project timeline when possible. Obviously, this isn’t possible with a true “rush” print job, but considering this option in your initial project/budget planning or vendor RFQs is ideal.  

Does it cost money? Yes. The reason is very simple – whether we’re printing one or 100 pieces, we have to put in the time to prep/pre-press the file, dip into the correct paper stock(s), run the machine and apply any finishes required so you’re viewing a TRUE hard copy proof of your job. We’re not trying to make money off of a printed proof; our primary goal as a vendor is to produce the best end result on your final full print run.

What should you look for when you review your proof? We suggest going over the hard copy proofs in multiple passes and reviewing it separately for the points that concern you most: color (ex: matching a brand value, saturation, vibrancy), fold placement, margins, custom shape cutouts, material/paper stock, etc. Look at it for color on the first pass, review margins on the second pass, and so on. If you have time, get another set of eyes to help – a co-worker, manager or group review on important documents or mass volume pieces for feedback is a great goal. If your document is a multi-page catalog, report or mailer, allow yourself enough time to review, then come back to it with fresh eyes. Compile your notes and prep revisions or questions you have and set an appointment with us (or any print vendor) for in-person review. 

We don’t recommend you use the hard copy proof as a primary source to spellcheck or make content changes, but think of it more as a final check for the more technical elements of your project. Of course, fixing glaring spelling errors is recommended (and we try to catch those when we see them in pre-press), but making lots of small changes to print-ready files leads to added time when completing your job.

What if I have revisions to make? Relay any and all changes to your account rep or pre-press designer so there aren’t any questions about your concerns with your hard copy proofs and the desired outcome. When possible, we try to arrange for our client to chat in-person with the designer making the fixes on our end so everyone is on the same page. Clear, concise instructions and action plans will get us all closer to the finish line. And by all means, never hesitate to ask for a second printed proof/sample if you want one; we don’t take it personally, and our end goal as a vendor is to make our clients happy.

Pro tip: After the print project has been completed and all the fixes have been made, you can request a copy of the final PDF or changes made to native design files during the proofing process. Should you need to reprint, or make adjustments to a new version in the future, you will be using the most recent copy of your file and you will reduce encountering the same pre-press issues with your next project. Our designers and production team are happy to answer questions about file setup and improving your experience prepping print files to make life easier. So don’t be afraid to ask us for tips or technical assistance.

Still have questions? Reach out to us at marketing [at] and we’ll be happy to answer your inquiries about design and setup!