A long time ago (longer than I care to admit), the prepress department used tools like QuarkXpress, PageMaker and FrameMaker to generate postscript (.ps) files. We’d send these monstrous mountains of mystery to a Harlequin RIP (Raster Image Processor) with our fingers crossed, our prayers whispered, and a heavy sense of impending doom. Life was a crapshoot in those days; you had to have nerves of steel and a stomach of iron if you were going to make it in the prepress game.
I saw some pretty amazing things happen – and fail to happen. I’ve seen platefuls of coded mumbo-jumbo take the place of an image, and I’ve seen entire paragraphs of type simply disappear, if the file RIPped at all. It’s maddening enough to see anomalies at the plating stage, but to not catch them until there are thirty skids of folded signatures out back, well, that’s enough to make a grown man cry!
Fonts were a huge culprit; many of them were simply indecipherable to the RIP. One bullet, one dingbat, or one underscore, was enough to blow your deadline out of the water! Another problem was that there were lots of layout applications out there, and each was desperately trying to write postscript code that wouldn’t be found offensive by an equal abundance of RIP software manufacturers. Errors could lurk in the depths of a postscript file and not rear their ugly heads until that brief, hair-raising “beep” of the RIP sounded; the signal that it had spat the file back out in disgust. And even if the RIP was successful, the output needed to be carefully perused and approved, making sure that it looked exactly the way the customer expected it to look.
Today, we sail in calmer waters. Like VHS vs. Betamax, Adobe PDFs won out over postscript files in the output wars. Now, with PDF files, RIP errors are very few, and very far in between; almost unheard of! But if you’re expecting me to say that proofing has become redundant, hold that thought…
Proofing is about looking at something to ensure it’s correct. But, it’s important to understand what you’re looking at, and how it came to be.
How Postscript Shaped Print Proofing
Postscript is also an Adobe creation. But, it’s a page description language. If you were to draw a shape on a page, your layout application was busy behind the scenes—behind the graphical user interface—coding in postscript where the shape appeared on the page, where its corners and edges fell, what its border looked like, what its contents looked like, etc. Fonts and their characters were described in the exact same way. Of course, any language is just gobbledygook until it’s interpreted and understood by its recipient, and here that’s the RIP (Raster Image Processor).
You probably have a small postscript printer with an onboard RIP in your office. That RIP reverses the postscript coding process, and renders graphically what the language described in code. Est voilà! There’s your shape on the page! And, in addition to sending the postscript language from your desktop to a printer, it can also be “captured” in a file (a .ps or .eps file) and sent elsewhere for output. These files are what we used to send so hopefully to our RIPs.
So What is a PDF?
OK, so what’s a PDF file, then? Well, it’s postscript, interpreted. When you “Save As…” or “Print To…” a PDF file using an Adobe plug-in or distiller, you’re interpreting the postscript that your layout application has been writing behind the scenes. You’re actually distilling the code into its graphical result; you’re RIPping it right there at your workstation.
You can be confident that the PDF is an accurate graphical reflection of the page the postscript describes. Very confident. It’s a portable, graphical representation of its underlying postscript, and you’re essentially proofing as you go!
Ripped Proofs vs. ROOM Proofs
But… a PDF still has to be printed. And, in order to print a PDF, it has to be interpreted by a RIP. Again! Luckily, much of the stress and worry has been alleviated by the fact that it’s already been interpreted once by the distiller, and we know what it’s going to look like. But, RIPping is RIPping, and the prepress gods can be cruel, remember? Who’s to say (aside from overwhelming odds) that’s it’s going to be interpreted exactly the same way again? Nothing. So we produce a proof. And at Enfigo, we insist on a ROOM proof.
That’s RIP Once, Output Many. A ROOM proof isn’t just a post-RIP proof, it’s a proof that uses the actual plate files as it’s source. Different printers might send you all kinds of different proofs: some are ROOM proofs, some are RIPped proofs, and some are just plain old PDFs.
Again, everything under the sun points to these printing proofs all looking exactly the same, but there’s only one that – beyond any doubt, absolutely guaranteed, swear on your mother’s grave – will never differ from the final output: and that’s the ROOM Proof. Have I ever seen a RIPped proof lie? No, I haven’t. Is it impossible? Virtually. However, you’ll never (and I mean never) get anyone at Adobe, or Fuji, or Agfa, or Heidelberg, or Kodak, or Screen, or ‘insert name here,’ to give you an absolute guarantee. They can’t, and they won’t. That’s why we fall in the ROOM camp. Which one of the following will give you a restful sleep?
1) A RIPped proof is a proof that’s been made in a parallel flow to the one that’s interpreting the file for final output. It takes the same file and runs it through the same RIP, but in a separate RIPPing instance. 2) A ROOM proof takes the final output that’s being used to create the plates and uses it to make a hardcopy proof, like an Epson, or a soft proof; there’s only been one RIPping instance! 3) A PDF proof is simply a PDF. It’s been interpreted by the distiller, but hasn’t been RIPped for output yet. (But bear in mind, all three of these proofing types can be delivered in the form of a PDF file.)
At Enfigo, we can offer a third form of ROOM proof: a 3-D Java proof! It’s another representation of the very information that’s on the printing plate. . This one’s my favourite. It goes to the RIPped plate files, pulls the pages apart, then literally (or is it figuratively?) folds them and collates them as per the assigned imposition, and presents the job in it’s final form! It’s every bit as valid – and a lot faster and cheaper – than creating and proofing an old fashioned dylux.
So, maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s all those years I spent in the foxholes of electronic prepress’s infancy and growing pains. And, while postscript is no longer a part of my life, the scars remain. I like to sleep at night. I like a sure thing. I don’t bet on the horses, and I won’t settle for anything less than a ROOM proof – and I’m not even the customer!
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